UK: Ex-Labour councillor blocked from standing for parliament after liking tweets

Sharmen Rahman, who is now standing for the Greens in Leicester, was reprimanded for liking, amongst others, a tweet which criticised media coverage of a report on racism in Labour

Imran Mulla

Sharmen Rahman was barred from standing as an MP for Labour after she liked tweets, which amongst other things, criticised media coverage the Forde report (AFP/File photo)

A UK Green Party parliamentary candidate has revealed that she was barred from standing for the Labour Party after she liked tweets which, amongst other things, criticised media coverage of a report on Labour and racism.

Sharmen Rahman, who has since left Labour and is standing for the Greens in Leicester South, was blocked from a parliamentary longlist after her online activity was highlighted in a due diligence document by the East Midlands Labour Party, seen by Middle East Eye.

Rahman, then a Labour councillor who had put herself forward as a parliamentary candidate for Loughborough, Leicestershire, received an email from East Midlands Labour on 4 November 2022 raising concerns about her online activity. 

In her first interview on the topic since she was barred from standing for Labour in 2022, and just a week after former Labour candidate Faiza Shaheen was deselected for a similar offence, Rahman told MEE that she was questioned by a panel of two East Midlands regional executive members and one National Executive Committee (NEC) member on 7 November 2022.

The panel asked her about a tweet by journalist Aaron Bastani criticising media coverage of barrister Martin Forde’s report on racism in Labour, which was commissioned by party leader Keir Starmer. She was told the tweet contained antisemitic tropes. 

In the tweet, dated 24 July 2022, Bastani wrote: “One of the most thorough investigations into the internal workings of a major British political party – the Forde Report – has been ignored across much of the media. Imagine the coverage if the findings concerned a left-wing leadership instead.”

The tweet was accompanied by a video showing Bastani making the same point.

The Forde report, released in July 2022, identified a “racist, sexist and otherwise discriminatory culture” in the Labour Party. Specifically, it accused the opposition of not taking anti-Black racism and Islamophobia as seriously as antisemitism.

It also found that allegations of antisemitism within the party were “treated as a factional weapon” by both officials in Labour’s party headquarters, and in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership office.

‘This is a party that’s likely to govern. If they can be this cruel to one of their own [Faiza Shaheen], what will they do to the rest of us?’

– Sharmen Rahman

Rahman herself strongly rejects the notion that Bastani’s tweet contained antisemitic tropes. “To this day, I don’t understand it,” she told MEE.

“As a person of colour and a Muslim within Labour, I felt it was really important the Forde report was talked about. Leicester is Europe’s first majority-minority city. 

“It was important for the communities Labour has taken the votes of for many years that the report should have been given attention.

“Instead, it was ignored,” she added.

Rahman said that in the meeting, she pushed back on the panel’s claim that Bastani’s tweet contained an antisemitic trope, and said the panel dismissed her objection and would not explain what the trope was. 

Other critical tweets

During the meeting, the panel also highlighted a tweet Rahman had liked criticising Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s conference speech in September 2021.

They also pointed to a tweet she liked which said “Zionism is racism” and criticised the Jewish Labour Movement for being affiliated with an Israel advocacy group that co-organised an Israel solidarity rally in May 2021 that was attended by far-right activist Tommy Robinson. The organisers all distanced themselves from Robinson.

Those were the only social media posts Rahman says she was asked about in the meeting.

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The highlighted material in the due diligence document, seen by MEE, included other tweets liked by Rahman which criticised Starmer, the party leadership and Israel.

An article Rahman had written in 2020 criticising the party leadership’s handling of racism within Labour was highlighted in the document too, as well as a local newspaper article in August 2022 which quoted her and other councillors questioning the mayor of Leicester’s spending decisions. 

Later in the day, after the meeting, Rahman received a letter from East Midlands Labour informing her that she would not be put on the parliamentary longlist.

The letter, seen by MEE, said the decision was due to recent online material that was serious and included antisemitic tropes.

According to Rahman, Bastani’s tweet was the only one that she was told contained antisemitic tropes.

In March 2023, Rahman was one of 19 Labour councillors in Leicester, about 40 percent of councillors in the city, who were deselected ahead of the local elections in May. This came after the party decided to appoint an NEC board to choose the council candidates, who had previously been chosen by local members. 

The party faced widespread criticism because most of the deselected councillors were from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Faiza Shaheen parallels

Rahman told MEE the experience was stressful and difficult and compared it to the recent case of Faiza Shaheen, who was deselected as Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green last week.

MEE reported that Shaheen was deselected over a series of social media posts which expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), praised former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and backed candidates running for the Green Party, among other issues.

“Faiza and my cases are probably two of many,” Rahman said. “What’s awful about Faiza’s is the absence of any duty of care towards her. She was a new mum – and she had actively worked that seat and made it winnable for Labour. 

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“To drop her after she went through that process was one of the cruellest things.

“This is a party that’s likely to govern. If they can be this cruel to one of their own, what will they do to the rest of us? It’s an important marker of what type of government we’re likely to get.”

Bastani, a journalist and co-founder of the left-wing Novara Media website, said he would be personally contacting both the Labour Party and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) about the matter.

“It’s patently absurd to anyone who reads it to claim that my tweet was antisemitic. Furthermore, any organisation which thinks it is shows an almost bizarre lack of integrity, intelligence and professionalism,” he said.

“It is quite obvious that this was little more than a nonsensical excuse to block a candidate – and a woman of colour at that – rather than about tackling racism.

“I find such an accusation all the more galling as I am referring to the treatment of racism within the media – and am myself a British-Iranian. Labour’s factional bureaucrats simply do not care about this stuff.”

MEE contacted the Labour press office and East Midlands Labour for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Ex-Labour councillor blocked from standing for parliament after liking tweets

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