By Joe Dyke and Ellie Buchdahl
A Labour shadow minister was last night facing calls for her dismissal after she was recorded saying that the Government “don’t want Muslims living in central London”. In an extraordinary attack, Karen Buck – Shadow Work and Pensions Minister – also said that ministers were “deeply hostile” to poor people having children. Last night the Conservative Party Chairman Baroness Warsi said the remarks were “deeply offensive” and called on Ed Miliband to remove her from Labour’s frontbench.
Ms Buck’s comments were made at a public meeting in Islington. Sharing a platform with local MPs, Ms Buck suggested that planned cuts to housing benefit were politically motivated to force poor, ethnic minority and Muslim families out of the centre of London.
She said: “[The Government] do not want lower-income women, families, children and, above all, let us be very clear – because we also know where the impact is hitting – they don’t want black women, they don’t want ethnic minority women and they don’t want Muslim women living in central London. They just don’t. They want people to be moving out of anywhere that is a more prosperous area into the fringes of London and into places like Barking and Newham. I have nothing against Barking and Newham. The problem is they are already full of people who are quite poor.”
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The shadow minister was speaking last Saturday at an event to coincide with International Women’s Week. She also accused the Tories of thinking families who earn less than £40,000 a year should not have children.
“The Government is one that is deeply hostile to middle- and lower-income women having children,” she said. “When you listen to the Tories speaking in Parliament, there is an arrogance and an ignorance that I have never known in my 13 years in Parliament: basically, thinking that anyone whose income is below the top rate of tax shouldn’t have children.”
Under Government plans, which come into force next month, housing benefit will be capped at £400 a week for the largest homes and £290 a week for two-bed flats, raising concerns that many poor families will no longer be able to afford the rent in inner cities.
A report for the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research suggested that – nationwide – up to 269,000 households will struggle to pay their rent, with an estimated half of these expected to lose their homes.
The plans will hit particularly hard in London, where average rents are higher than in any part of the country. London Councils estimate that 82,000 households across the capital will be at risk of losing their homes under the Government’s changes. In October last year, Mayor Boris Johnson caused a rift with ministers when he said he would resist all plans to enforce “Kosovo-style ethnic cleansing” in London.
Ms Buck’s remarks will be embarrassing for the Labour leadership, which has tried to control tightly what shadow front-bench spokespeople say in public. Last month Mr Miliband and Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, wrote to all the Labour front-benchers, warning that all speeches and press releases needed to be cleared with them in advance. In theory, the language used by Ms Buck should have been signed off.
Baroness Warsi said the remarks provided clear evidence that “Reactionary politics is alive and well in the Labour party”.
“For Karen Buck to use race, religion and class for political point-scoring is deeply offensive and irresponsible,” she added.
Last night Ms Buck said she stood by the substance of her remarks: “I am very, very concerned about the impact of these cuts on black, Muslim and ethnic minority households, in particular.
“In the passion of a political meeting I was wrong to imply motive on behalf of Government ministers. I can’t say what their intention and motives are.
“I can only say my concern is about the impact that these cuts will have.”