by Dan Hodges
JUDGMENT day for Phil Woolas. Though not for his accusers in the liberal mob – their verdict was passed long ago. “He is guilty. Those leaflets pandered to prejudice. They have no place in the new politics”.
Save your breath. Woolas was never anything more than a patsy. The fall guy. Ritual sacrifice to our conscience.
His campaign was “toxic” according to the Telegraph. Made him “unfit to sit on the front bench” said Liberal Conspiracy. Even Trevor Philips found himself moved to describe the leaflets as “unhelpful”.
In the eyes of the law, Woolas stood charged with misrepresentation, not inflaming racial tensions. Sharp political practice. Not racism. But that was always a detail.
Yes, we can take our positions. Swap stories from Oldham with similar tales of electoral skulduggery in marginal seats the length and breadth of the land. Debate the constitutional implications of the judiciary imposing their judgment over that of the electorate.
It would be an exercise in irrelevance. This case was not about clumsy photo shopping mixed with a few equally crude allegations. It was about the politics of immigration, religion and race. Or more accurately, about the Labour party’s shameful failure to adopt a coherent, let alone moral, stance on any of these issues.
It has become fashionable for those on both the left and the right to call for an “honest debate” about immigration. In the leadership election it became a mantra. Andy Burnham:
We were in denial. We were behind the issue all the time, and myths were allowed to develop. There’s still an ambivalence among some in Labour about discussing immigration. I’ve been accused of dog-whistle politics for doing so.
The new generation recognises that we did not do enough to address concerns about some of the consequences of globalisation, including migration. All of us heard it. Like the man I met in my constituency who told me he had seen his mates’ wages driven down by the consequences of migration. If we don’t understand why he would feel angry—and it wasn’t about prejudice—then we are failing to serve those who we are in politics to represent.
And then nothing. We must debate. We must listen. If really pushed, we must acknowledge policy failures of the past.
But what we should actually do. What we should say. What stance we should adopt – collectively as a party and a movement – to face these supposedly definitive challenges. Silence.
People want an “honest debate”? Fine. Let’s have one.
When Phil Woolas’ campaign took the decision to “get the white vote angry” it wasn’t an aberration. They were deploying a localised variation of a national strategy. When we, as a party, call for British jobs for British workers, or a ‘debate’ on immigration, we are speaking in code. And when the code is deciphered it says, “we think you’re racist, but we don’t care. We want you to vote for us anyway”.
When did Andy, Ed and the other leadership contenders develop their keen interest in the socio-economic implications of mass migration? Where are Andy’s pamphlets? When were Ed’s adjournment debates? Their speeches, fringes, seminars? These are senior representatives of the mother of parliaments. If they really wanted a ‘debate’ they, more than anyone, have had ample opportunity to engage in one.
We don’t want a debate. We want votes. And frankly, my dear, we don’t give a damn where they come from.
When the battle for the leadership reached its crescendo, who did David Miliband wheel out as one of his final endorsers? Mrs Duffy. “This new government is not on the side of people like Gillian Duffy”, he said, “I am determined the Labour party will be”.
When his brother had finished his leadership speech, whose was one of the first adulatory hands he clasped? Gillian Duffy’s. Asked whether she thought he shared her views on immigration, she replied “Most probably yes, it was very good”. Ed’s office said he was hoping to grab a cup of tea with her later.
Pandering to white working class prejudice isn’t the preserve of one junior immigration minister. It’s Labour’s official line to take.
Every time the BNP makes a breakthrough, our response is the same; it’s a reaction, a cry for help. People are just protesting against the system. They’re not racist.
The hell they’re not. At the last election the BNP secured 1.9% of the vote. Two percent of the country racist? We should be so lucky.
Of course the debate about race and immigration is complex. Yes, the rise of the BNP is influenced by a range of factors. We all know the check list. Housing. Unemployment. Loss of community. Fracturing class identity.
But another of those factors is good old fashioned working class racism. The great Labour taboo.
Twitter was running hot a few weeks ago when a working class mother appeared on the Today program assaulting the government over benefit cuts. For a brief moment she was the heroine of the Twitterati. Then she launched an attack on the immigrants who come to our shores, stealing her benefits. Twitter fell into silence. Reproach came there none.
Do we defeat prejudice by running around screaming, “Racist!” at the top of our lungs. No. But nor do we tackle it by pretending it doesn’t exist, or that Nick Griffin is its sole practitioner. An essential tool in the fight against racism is to occasionally have the guts to call it when we see it.
Attacks on Polish workers. Voting BNP. These are acts of prejudice. End of story. If we sometimes have to respond to them in a politically intelligent way, so be it. But they don’t need to be rewarded with a pat on the back and a cheery cuppa.
Enoch Powell made his rivers of blood speech in 1968. Four decades later, at the height of the election campaign, Frank Field again marched to the banks of the Tiber. “Our political leaders must allow the ballot box to decide this issue before anger over the scale of immigration spreads to our streets”, he told the Telegraph. It was, he proclaimed boldly, “the issue that dare not speak its name”.
No court cases for our Frank. Not even a quiet word from the whip’s office. Frank’s just being Frank.
No. We will stick with Woolas. Our sacrifice. Sacrifice to a new generation.
A generation that will not pander. A generation that will have honest, open debate. A generation that will learn to speak again to the working class. Especially the white working class. A new breed, who will keep a polite distance from the Fields and the Blunketts. Whilst being pluralistic. And perhaps finding a discreet way to represent their point of view.
But all that’s for the future. Today, we have visitors. That nice Mrs Duffy is popping round for tea.
Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.