by LAUREN CODLING
LABOUR leader Jeremy Corbyn revealed he has had “positive” conversations with the high commissioners of India and Pakistan about Kashmir, as he stressed that a Labour government would prioritise family reunions under a reformed migration system.
In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye on Tuesday (3), the leader of the opposition added that a “constructive relationship with India was very important”.
He promised easier visas for migrants from south Asia, should Labour win the general election next week.
In a wide-ranging interview, he discussed Labour’s policies on tackling hate crime and increasing diversity in British society.
In addition, Corbyn paid tribute to the contribution of migrants to the UK’s public services and economy.
Revealing that he had “positive” phone conversations with Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan on Kashmir, Corbyn also said he had communicated with the high commissioners of both India and Pakistan.
India revoked the special status of Kashmir in August, prompting protests in Pakistan. At its annual party conference in the summer, Labour passed a resolution on Kashmir that caused anger among many in Britain’s Indian community.
Asked if he understood how British Indians reacted to the Labour resolution, Corbyn said: “I do understand the depth of feeling on the issues of Kashmir, which is why I am urging that there be talks between Pakistan and India (relating to) the de-escalation and stress surrounding it, and respect for the human rights for all people in Kashmir.”
Labour chairman Ian Lavery said that the motion had caused offence and confirmed the party would not interfere as it was a “bilateral matter” between India and Pakistan.
Corbyn said he would seek a constructive relationship with India and added that it was “very important” to a Labour administration.
Addressing the difficulties in the visa system for skilled south Asians, particularly from India who were hoping to work in the UK, Corbyn said the system needed to be made easier for them.
Asserting that he wanted to help Indian students who wished to study in the UK, Corbyn added he hoped to give them a chance to pursue work experience when they were qualified.
“When someone qualifies in law or architecture, for instance, they need that practice time, and it would be good if they got that here,” he said.
The Labour leader also argued that more needs to be done to tackle issues around family reunion.
Corbyn, who has led the Labour party since 2015, said: “At the moment, there is an income cap to allow migrants to bring their family with them (or not, if they don’t meet the criteria), which means many Indians working in the UK cannot bring their family here, even though they’ve got settled status themselves. We would get rid of that requirement and say, if you’ve got settled status, you should be able to bring your family here.”
Although he agreed there was “some merit” in the introduction of a points-based system for immigration – which the Conservative party pledged in their election campaign manifesto – Corbyn stressed his party were more interested in the family reunion issue and recognising the economic needs of the UK. He has previously insisted that he would not put an arbitrary target on immigration numbers.
Noting the contribution made by overseas workers in the UK’s health and education industry, Corbyn added: “We have to respect and recognise that we live in an interdependent world.”
Talking about the rise in hate crime, Corbyn insisted Labour would “do everything” to ensure places of worship such as synagogues and temples were properly protected. He
also pledged more police and transport operators who were trained to deal with issues of hate crime or abuse on public transport, as well as more education in schools on racism
“Hate crimes don’t come from nowhere,” the Labour leader said. “It comes from racism, nastiness and the far right who are stoking it up, so we have to be very strong and robust about this.”
On discrimination in the workplace, Corbyn believed it was down to the “levels of discrimination and attitudes which exist” in society.
“It is very obvious from any public or private organisation that you go to that diversity is at its greatest at the lowest paid levels of these organisations,” he said.
Corbyn supported the idea of anonymous application forms for jobs, where candidates were judged on their experience and skills. He also wanted to implement an audit for all companies to expose their employment practice and pay levels.
“Clearly there are still levels of discrimination within our country and we can’t go on like this,” Corbyn said.
In recent weeks, the Labour party has been widely criticised after it named Claudia Webbe as the parliamentary party candidate for Leicester East, a constituency with a large south Asian population. The seat was held by British Indian MP Keith Vaz, who stepped down shortly after the announcement of a December general election.
At the time, former Labour city councillor Sundip Meghani voiced his disapproval of Webbe, saying her selection was “a slap in the face for the Indian community in Leicester.”
He said: “Any other decent candidate would have been suitable – it didn’t necessarily have to be me – but by selecting such an inappropriate candidate for Leicester East, Labour has chosen to rub salt in the wound it has created among British Indians.”
Coming to Webbe’s defence, Corbyn, who does not personally select parliamentary candidates, called her an “effective campaigner”.
“I’m sure she will represent the area very well,” he said.