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Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party, speaks at the Annual Women’s Conference at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool in 2023.

UK elections: 7 minority rights priorities for Starmer’s Labour government

5 July 2024

After fourteen years of Tory rule, Keir Starmer’s Labour party has won, albeit with historic levels of unpopularity with ethnic minorities (something he shares with ex-PM Sunak).

Public and political life has recently been dominated by polarising narratives, the growing influence of extremism in mainstream politics, and a ‘culture war’ stoked by the right that amplifies and ossifies the divisions between progressives and those who think that ‘political correctness has gone too far’.

The right to protest has been seriously degraded, international human rights law extensively disregarded and the very notion of international, inalienable rights denigrated by politicians.

So where should Starmer go from here? The following is a (non-exhaustive!) list of seven minority rights priorities for the former human rights lawyer to get started with.

  1. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights

Britain’s Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities face discrimination so pervasive it is often called ‘the last acceptable form of racism’. Though other minorities would probably disagree, statistics show that 91% of GRT individuals have experienced discrimination, whilst 44% of wider society seems comfortable being discriminatory towards them. From education and health to housing and incarceration, this is borne out in their life experiences.

Starmer’s first step to change this could be to repeal the authoritarian 2022 Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which, along with the ramping up of police powers and the erosion of the right to protest, effectively criminalized nomadism, an intrinsic part of GRT identity.

  1. Safe routes now

‘Stop the boats’ has become a resounding cry from the right in a country overwhelmed not with people seeking safety on its shores, but with xenophobic rhetoric. Politicians and the media alike scapegoat the comparatively few asylum seekers who make it here as an invading mob. The Rwanda plan, far-right mobs outside migrant accommodation, missing children – it only seems to get more and more inhuman for asylum seekers in Britain.

Starmer has previously rejected the idea of opening safe routes that would allow migrants to seek safety here without making dangerous small boat crossings. While he has pledged to do away with the Rwanda plan, he remains open to offshore processing. A recent shocking move was welcoming Natalie Elphicke, the hard-right, anti-migrant MP for Dover into the Labour fold. So while he’s not exactly off to a reassuring start, Starmer needs to implement a compassionate, humane asylum system whilst rooting out the far right.

  1. Justice for Chagossians

Between 1967 and 1973, the UK forcibly removed all native inhabitants of the Chagos Islands to build a military base there. Chagossians now live in poverty and marginalisation in Mauritius, Seychelles and the UK. Adequate provision was never made by the UK for their housing, employment, healthcare, social needs or community facilities. The scandal is one of the lesser-known stains on Britain’s minority rights record. Starmer has a chance to turn the tide, hand back Britain’s last African colony and deliver recognition, reparations and return for the Chagossians.

  1. Give it all back

Every year, thousands of tourists come to London to gaze upon the spoils of the British empire, objects of immense cultural, historical and often spiritual value to peoples across the world. This includes thousands of  human remains.

Repealing the law that makes returning these items illegal, repatriating them and apologising for their theft would be an opportunity for Starmer to send a strong message that Britain stands for the common humanity of all peoples, and against the supposed superiority of Western cultures that was the cradle of colonialism.

And this isn’t just a matter of optics – many present-day minority or indigenous rights abuses, such as the horrors of fortress conservation or the treatment of the Chagossians, are allowed to occur because of the persistence of colonial worldviews.

  1. Ceasefire in Palestine

Three in four Brits support a ceasefire, and the UK has an obligation under international law to prevent and punish the crime of genocide. As a global power, and one that played a significant role in Israel’s creation, it is Britain’s urgent responsibility to actively ensure a permanent ceasefire, that the judgments of the ICC and ICJ are upheld, that the war, occupation and apartheid end, that UNRWA funding is restored, and that the UK gives up for good its material and ideological complicity in Israel’s war.

  1. Combat islamophobia, antisemitism and cut through the polarisation

The war in Gaza has precipitated a tragic rise in both antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crimes in the UK. The focus given to this, however, feels comparatively minor when compared with the way in which Israel/Palestine seems to have become yet another front in Britain’s culture war. Support for Palestine is seen to signify ‘wokery’, bolstering right-wing disdain for activists and students. Pro-Palestine protests have been described as ‘hate marches’ or ‘no-go zones for Jews’, a phrasing that surely consciously repurposes from the familiar right-wing myth about ‘no-go zones for whites’, (non-existent) areas of Britain supposedly controlled by Muslims.

To fight hate crime and religious intolerance in general we need to cultivate solidarity between communities. That can’t be done when the discourse is so divisive and disingenuous, or when real issues of racism are co-opted for political point-scoring or headline clicks.

  1. Black Lives Matter

Central issues for Britain’s Black communities remain the ongoing Windrush scandal, wherein thousands of Brits of Caribbean origin found themselves suddenly targeted as ‘illegal’ immigrants, excluded from basic health services and threatened with deportation; the institutional racism in our criminal justice system, such as the scandal of joint enterprise, under which Black people, often young men, are 16 times more likely than white peers to be prosecuted for being guilty by association; or the stark healthcare inequalities suffered by Black Brits – perhaps most poignantly in psychiatry and infant mortality.

Where should Starmer start? He’ll have to restore the trust in his party lost among some Black voters over his heavy-handed treatment of veteran Black MP Diane Abbott. A Race Equality Act, promised in 2020 in the wake of Black Lives Matter, seems like a good place to start – although there are worries it wouldn’t be properly enforceable.

As Labour takes the reins after fourteen years of Conservative rule, addressing these seven pressing minority issues are crucial to fulfil Labour’s promises, heal divisions and build a more equitable society for all Britons.


Miriam Lawson

Communications Officer

Minority Rights Group