Is Luke Akehurst Labour’s Untouchable ‘Bigot’?

Seems so.

by Rivkah Brown

7 June 2024

A red-haired man in a suit and red rosette knocks on doors
Photo: Luke Akehurst/X

Research shared with Novara Media has revealed a litany of antisemitism, anti-Black racism and misogyny among the now-deleted tweets and blog posts of Labour candidate Luke Akehurst.

In blog posts seen by Novara Media, Akehurst said that the late actress and Labour MP Glenda Jackson made him “want to puke” and “sets my gag reflex going”. He also suggested that Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee was “hysterical” and should “put a sock in it”.

In another blog post from 2008, Akehurst expressed strong support for Guantanamo Bay, the US offshore detention centre notorious for its use of torture, including waterboarding (one detainee recalled being subjected to the practice 83 times in a single month).

Akehurst wrote in the blog: “Some of these people also turned up in battle or after it in Afghanistan, having been involved with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. They were not part of an army so were not conventional POWs [prisoners of war].

“It would have been irresponsible beyond belief to let them loose to carry on with their terrorist careers. They needed to be kept somewhere where they couldn’t escape from and where they could be interrogated about what they knew about al-Qaeda and its plans. Hence the need for Guantanamo Bay.“

Deputy leader of the Green party Zack Polanski expressed dismay at the remarks: “No one from any party that could even claim to be progressive should have anything even remotely positive to say about Guantanamo Bay,” he told Novara Media. “I understand that many Labour members are extremely sceptical if this is Keir Starmer’s criteria for a ‘high-quality candidate’.”

A former Starmer shadow minister and party centrist told Novara Media they believe Akehurst should not represent the party at the next election, but that “given nominations close in less than an hour, I don’t see the decision being undone”.

An Amnesty International UK spokesperson told Novara Media that “all political parties and candidates should commit to policies that respect human rights frameworks and standards, whether in the UK or in our foreign policy on any global issue.”

The Oxford-based candidate for North Durham has already faced widespread criticism for his previous remarks, which have led some to call him a “bigot”.

In one instance, Akehurst, who is not Jewish, suggested that non- and anti-Zionist Jews “have abandoned very much of their Jewish identity”. “They don’t go to shul [synagogue] at all,” he said. “It’s become a purely cultural thing around a bowl of chicken soup.”

Commenting on Akehurst’s remarks to Novara Media, Polanski, who is Jewish, said: “It feels galling for this man – who isn’t a fellow Jew – to both be trying to police our Judaism and erase the contribution of leftwing Jews.”

Akehurst also imputed an “inner conflict” to a Black Jew who does not support Israel. Akehurst said Jackie Walker “has mixed antecedents. Jewish on one side and Caribbean on the other side. I can only interpret her remarks as somehow playing out some inner conflict.”

The mounting evidence against Akehurst – whom even the generally pro-Starmer Guardian has described as “controversial” – has so far not fazed the Labour leadership. Far from subjecting him to any disciplinary measures, Starmer has handed Akehurst a safe seat (a process that involved Akehurst, who sits on the party’s national executive committee, approving himself as a candidate).

Akehurst’s treatment by the party contrasts starkly with that of leftwing Labour MPs, particularly those of colour. Last year, Diane Abbott had the whip removed for saying that Jewish people and Travellers do not “all their lives” experience racism – despite swiftly withdrawing and apologising for her remarks. Akehurst, by contrast, has offered no such apologies.

The differing standards to which Akehurst and his peers are held are particularly visible in Akehurst’s comments about the Green party. In 2008, Akehurst penned a blog congratulating the Greens for their performance in the local elections. Faiza Shaheen was recently blocked from standing as a Labour candidate in Chingford and Woodford Green for liking a series of tweets, among them a 2014 post announcing her friend Griffin Carpenter’s Green councillor candidacy.

Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, worked with Akehurst for several years while he was a Labour councillor in Hackney. “I know Luke Akehurst well,” Abbott told Novara Media. “But we were never close politically or personally. And my understanding is that, on top of all his other activities, he devoted time as each general election came round to trying to get me deselected.”

A spokesperson for Momentum told Novara Media: “These deeply offensive comments expose the racist double standards at the heart of Starmer’s Labour. A leftwing Muslim woman is deselected after speaking out on Islamophobia within the party, while a rightwing white man can attack leftwing Jews, use misogynistic language and support Israeli war crimes with impunity.

“Far from listening to voters abandoning Labour over Islamophobia and Gaza, Starmer and his clique are sticking two fingers up at them.”

Keir Starmer has vowed to adopt a “zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism and racism” following what he claimed was a permissive environment for antisemitism under his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn.

In a report commissioned by Starmer in 2020 and finally published last year, Black British KC Martin Forde concluded that Starmer’s Labour was “in effect operating a hierarchy of racism or of discrimination”, placing antisemitism above anti-Black racism and Islamophobia.

Rivkah Brown is a commissioning editor and reporter at Novara Media.

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