Sir Keir Starmer has been widely criticised for reportedly failing to confront a "white supremacist rant" on Monday.
While taking phone-ins on Nick Ferrari's LBC show, the Labour leader was taken to task by a caller referring to herself as “Gemma” – she said her husband was among Millwall fans who booed football players taking the knee to support Black Lives Matter (BLM) last week.
She claimed her husband was called a racist for heckling the players. When asked by Ferrari why her partner decided to boo, she retorted by peddling a white nationalist conspiracy theory that white people will eventually become a minority.
"In the wake of organisations like BLM and other racial advocacy groups pushing what's best for their people, should white people also start playing identify politics now before they become a minority themselves by 2066," she asked.
Sir Keir responded by saying that he didn't think it was right to boo the kneeling footballers.
"I'm pretty struck actually that most, I think pretty well all clubs, all fans across the piece are applauding the taking of the knee," he said and added that Milwall was an outlier in their opposition.
"What this represents is a recognition of injustice that has gone on for many many years in relation to racial inequality," he added.
When Ferrari asked if the gesture has become "hollow," Sir Keir stressed that racial injustice and inequality becomes an issue "from time to time,” is looked at "for a few weeks, and then it goes away."
"This is an attempt to keep the focus on it until things really change," he added.
Ferrari then turned back to the caller and asked her to clarify why her husband chose to boo.
"Because if anything, the racial inequality is now against the indigenous people of Britain," she said, before repeating the unfounded claim that they are "set to become a minority in 2066."
She answered with "bringing the political sphere into the football arena…” before stopping short and saying that "Israel has a state law that they are the only people in that country to have self-determination."
"Well, why can't I as a white British female, have that same right," she asked.
The Labour leader responded by saying that "we all have those rights" and repeated that the gesture was about recognising an injustice that had "gone on for a very long time." He added that most people want a "more equal society."
Labour supporters were quick to point out that Starmer failed to take on the baseless claims made by the caller about white people becoming minorities and not having the right to self-determination.
Guardian journalist Owen Jones demanded an immediate explanation and apology for his "diabolical failure to challenge full-blown white supremacism on national radio.”
— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) December 14, 2020
Aaron Bastani, a progressive author and Labour member, said that the party should "at the very least" be capable of combating the "organised far-right."
In an earlier tweet, Bastani called the response "terrible" and that "'Great Replacement theories have been behind mass killings" and have given "nothing of substance."
— Aaron Bastani (@AaronBastani) December 14, 2020
Labour MP for Norwich South, Clive Lewis, called the failure of both host Nick Ferrari and Starmer to condemn the caller "appalling."
— Clive Lewis MP (@labourlewis) December 14, 2020
Supporters of former leader Jeremy Corbyn - who was himself hit by accusations of permitting anti-semitism in the Labour Party - were incensed at Sir Keir's failure to address the white supremacist claims.
— Daniel Grigg (@Daniel_Grigg) December 14, 2020
However, others said that the criticism was unnecessary and that Starmer avoiding an argument about the conspiracy theory was the best option.
— Labour Patriot 🇬🇧🌹 (@LabourPatriot) December 14, 2020
Some pointed out that Sir Keir was not responsible for the racist statements of the caller.
I can't believe I have to say this but Keir Starmer isn't responsible for racist things that other people say in much the same way that Corbyn wasn't.— Jim Sherwood (@PilateInStereo) December 14, 2020
An 'Organised' Incident?
Independent outlet Red Flame later appeared to have discovered that the caller was in fact part of a collective effort by white nationalist activists to call into the show and promote racist conspiracy theories.
“Gemma,” who's real name is apparently Jody Swingler, is a yoga teacher and musician now living in Ibiza, Spain. She’s thought to be a supporter of fascist organisation Patriotic Alternative (PA), which was founded by former members of the British National Party (BNP) in September 2019.
— Red Flare (@redflareinfo) December 14, 2020
PA was set up by neo-Nazi Mark Collett, who previously served as the director of the BNP and is known for pushing anti-semitic conspiracy theories.
Under the pseudonym 'Jody Kaye', Swingler set up a Youtube channel which includes "White Lives Matter" in videos in which she can be seen alongside Collett and other PA founders.
— Red Flare (@redflareinfo) December 14, 2020
The “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory is popular among white nationalist groups and claims that active mass immigration into Europe will see Europeans become a minority on the continent and intentionally "replaced."
While the theory is not unsupported by any real evidence, a number of terrorist incidents like last year's Christchurch Mosque killings, the 2015 Charleston church shootings, and the 2011 Norway domestic attacks were partly inspired by the belief.