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Saturday, March 30, 2024

Not flying the flag

Keir Starmer's attempt to rebrand the Labour Party as a more moderate form of the Conservatives has hit a snag, his members are revolting at the idea.

The Guardian reports that the Labour leader is facing discontent from Labour MPs over the dominant use of the union flag in election campaign material amid concern it may alienate ethnic minority voters and others.

They say that concerns were raised at recent meetings of the party’s black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) group at Westminster and also by London members of the parliamentary Labour party. There is also unhappiness among some activists who are reluctant to handle the material:

There was criticism from those at a meeting of MPs from ethnic minority backgrounds, including Starmer’s chief of staff, Sue Gray, and the chief whip, Alan Campbell, of freepost leaflets that were – as one MP put it – “plastered with union jacks”.

There is also increasing unhappiness about the lengthy delay to the investigation into Diane Abbott, who had the Labour whip removed almost a year ago, as well as discontent over the party’s progress on BAME representation.

Unease about the party’s use of the flag also came up at a meeting of London MPs that was attended by Morgan McSweeney, Labour’s director of campaigns, and Ellie Reeves, its deputy national campaign coordinator.

The union flag has taken on an increasingly prominent role under Starmer as he seeks to emphasise Labour’s “patriotic” credentials to assert that the party has changed from the Jeremy Corbyn era.

However, some Labour MPs have suggested that the prominence of red, white and blue still has negative connotations among ethnic minority communities targeted by the far right. They asked why material provided could not be more tailored to specific constituencies.

One MP said: “We are all really proud of our country but this can be a complex issue for some communities and we have to navigate that more carefully.”

“For a lot of communities we are talking about colours that are associated with the National Front or another far-right group. Using the flag might be great for trying to reach those ‘hero voters’ but why can’t we have segmented branding,” they added, using a phrase Labour strategists coined for the slice of the electorate who swing directly from Tory to Labour and who tend to be more socially conservative and pro-Brexit.

“I can see how it would work in some places but it’s definitely detrimental in university towns, and in heavily BAME seats,” said another MP who attended one of the meetings and who added that “multiple colleagues” had told him of activists refusing to give out the leaflets.

“They just look like union jacks really, with a bit of red on the side. There’s not even a Labour rose. You don’t need to prove your patriotism by wrapping yourself in the union jack,” they added.

This doesn't augur well for the Tory-lite agenda Labour have planned for when they come into government.
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