Labour MP Claudia Webbe, whose candidature in Leicester East – better known as ‘Little India’ – in the December 2019 election generated much resentment in the party, was on Monday charged with harassment against a woman and now faces a trial.
Webbe, reputed to be close to former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, was nominated for the seat represented since 1987 by Keith Vaz. Claims of Indian-origin candidates such as Sundip Meghani were ignored in favour of Webbe, who went on to win in the Labour stronghold with a smaller margin.
Jenny Hopkins of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: “The CPS has today decided that Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East, should be charged with an offence of harassment against one female”.
“The CPS made the decision after receiving a file of evidence from the Metropolitan Police”.
“Criminal proceedings against Ms Webbe are now active and she has the right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings,” she added.
The identity of the woman who was allegedly harassed by Webbe was not disclosed.
Webbe, who was suspended by Labour after the CPS statement, said: “I am innocent of any wrongdoing and look forward to proving this in court. I will be vigorously defending myself against these claims.”
Meghani, who resigned from Labour in August after 20 years in the party, was among several Indian-origin candidates who were ignored by Labour in the 2019 election, including Navin Shah and Kailash Chand. It was another point of ennui for the Indian community that was already upset with the party’s pro-interventionist resolution on Jammu and Kashmir.
Labour Friends of India, a prominent lobby group within the party, had expressed its dismay over candidate selection and warned the leadership under Corbyn not to take the support of the 1.5 million-strong Indian community for granted.
“We express regret that the Labour party has selected just one candidate of Indian heritage in 39 safe seats, and no Indian heritage candidate in 100 target seats…Despite shortlisting or selecting candidates in areas with a large Indian community such as Leicester, Ealing, Ilford, West Bromwich and Derby, no Indian-heritage candidates were selected”, the group had said.
“There is a risk this failure to increase representation of Indians in parliament could hit Labour further…The Labour party must ensure it is never seen to take the support of the Indian community for granted”, it added.
Keir Starmer, who replaced Corbyn as the party leader earlier this year, has promised a new leadership style that draws a line under the conflicts triggered during his predecessor’s tenure. He has since made pro-India and pro-Indian community overtures since taking over.