Keir Starmer has been criticised for failing to directly challenge the white supremacist views of an LBC caller who joined his ‘Call Keir’ session this morning and promoted a conspiracy theory advocated by racists.
The Labour leader made clear repeatedly that he disagreed with the view that football players taking the knee should be booed, but he did not confront the other dangerous comments of the caller today.
Update, 3.10pm: Asked for comment on the LBC exchange this morning, a Labour spokesperson told LabourList: “Keir completely rejects the racist conspiracy theory that this caller espoused.
“A long history of migration has made Britain the great country it is today. Under Keir’s leadership, the Labour Party stands for a patriotism that is built on the total inclusion of Brits from all ethnic backgrounds.
“Keir gave a robust defence of sportspeople taking the knee to shine a light on the deep racial inequalities and injustices against Black, Asian and minority ethnic people that exist in our society.
“Keir believes that these public displays of support have kept this vital cause front and centre of public consciousness and hopes it continues.”
The caller, who said her husband joined the booing of Millwall players for protesting racism, asked whether white people should “also start playing identity politics now before they become a minority themselves by 2066”.
In asking the question, the caller introduced as Gemma promoted the white replacement conspiracy theory advanced by white nationalists and the far right. Neither host Nick Ferrari nor Starmer picked up on it.
Responding to the initial question, Starmer said: “Gemma, I don’t think it was right to boo, there’s no getting away from that. I really don’t think it was the right thing to do.”
She interrupted to ask: “But do you agree with freedom of expression, should people have the right to do that?”
Starmer replied: “Of course I agree with freedom of expression, but that is also the freedom for me to say I think it’s the wrong thing to do.
“Gemma, I’m really struck actually that most – I think pretty well all – clubs, all fans, across the piece are applauding the taking of the knee, certainly all the clubs that I’ve seen are applauding that. I think Millwall was an outlier in that respect.
“I think it was wrong. What this represents is a recognition of injustice that has gone on for many, many years in relation to racial inequality. It’s come to a head this year, as everybody knows. We just need to hold on to that.”
Ferrari later asked the caller why her husband chose to boo the players. She repeated the belief that “racial inequality is now against the indigenous people of Britain because we are set to become a minority by 2066”.
The caller added: “We just have to look across to the Middle East. Israel has a state law that they are the only people in that country to have self-determination. Why can’t I, as a white British female, have that same right?”
Starmer replied: “Gemma, we all have those rights. This is about recognising some injustices that have gone on for a very long time, and I think people were genuinely moved this year and want to make sure that that injustice is dealt with.
“People will look at it different ways but I think the vast majority of people do want a more equal society.”
Commenting on the exchange, Labour MP Clive Lewis said: “For neither the presenter nor Keir to, at the very least, explore further, unpack and robustly challenge such an extreme statement is frankly appalling.”
Nadia Whittome MP said: “This is a ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory as old as time. We must be able to recognise and robustly challenge white supremacy – especially when it is promoted on national radio.”
Zarah Sultana MP said: “When white supremacist conspiracy theories and racist undemocratic laws are promoted on national radio, they must be called-out and vigorously challenged. That’s a duty on presenters and on politicians.”
Labour national executive committee member Mish Rahman referred to the unconscious bias training taken by Starmer, saying: “What’s missing in unconscious bias training is the ability to condemn outright white supremacy.”
Matthew McGregor of HOPE not hate said: “Politicians of every stripe need to be able to spot fascist chat and call it out there and then. The sort of language Keir was confronted with today needs to be challenged every time it gets an airing.”