When did the Labour party give up on fighting racism?

by Atul Hatwal

There was a time when Labour was the party that stood for equality. For people in a minority community, those of a different colour or heritage, Labour was the party that would fight for them.

No more.

The basic principle of confronting racism, once an irreducible element of Labour’s core, has been greyed into a guideline.

During the past few weeks Labour politicians have been complicit in allowing Ukip to redefine what is acceptable in our national debate.

When Nigel Farage used an interview in the Guardian to brand Romanians as having a “culture of criminality,” and said that British people were right to be worried if Romanian families moved in on their street, there was barely a murmur from Labour.

The party’s silence has helped validate an extraordinary shift: it’s now politically legitimate to say Britons should be scared of foreigners moving in next door.

Politics has just regressed 40 years.

Back then, as now, fear of the foreigner was a defining aspect of political debate. Rather than eastern Europeans, the targets in the 1970s were Asian and Afro-Caribbean immigrants, but the sentiment was exactly the same.

I clearly remember being told by my parents how we didn’t get a council house because the council officers were worried about the reaction of other residents to an Asian family moving onto the road.

I recall in 1977, at the time of the Queen’s silver jubilee, the big street party that was held to celebrate. Except we were the only family on the street not invited.

And I remember the bored and disinterested demeanour of the policeman at our house, going through the motions of taking down our details yet again, after the National Front had chucked eggs and milk bottles at our house, yet again.

This is what happens when the fear of the foreigner infects politics. Where the assumption is that the outsider is undesirable and undeserving. Where it is legitimate to ostracise the immigrant simply because they are different.

It’s a world that Labour’s overwhelmingly white and middle class leadership will only have encountered in their college studies. But for those people who remember it, for my parents’ generation who struggled against it daily and whose lives were held back by it, this is no distant land.

The shadow of yesterday still looms over today and the pallid response of so many mainstream politicians to Ukip is all too familiar.

Forty years ago, Labour was the party that made a difference. The Race Relations act of 1976 was the work of the Labour government and over the subsequent years, it was the party’s commitment to equality that helped shift the bounds of what was acceptable.

My father always used to marvel at the passion of parts of the Labour movement. Those campaigners who worked so hard for migrants and minorities, to ensure a more equal country. Knowing voices would say that these people were the looney left and that a more measured approach was required. One that didn’t rock the boat so much.

But back then, for Labour, compromising on equality was not an option.

During the 1997 general election, I was press officer at head office and saw first-hand a small example of the legacy of Labour’s commitment to equality.

After the BBC aired the BNP’s first ever political election broadcast, the press office put the incoming lines on hold and set aside the work of the campaign to jam the BBC switchboard with complaints.

This wasn’t a tactical election move ordered by Labour’s senior managers. Quite the reverse, they would have been furious. It was the spontaneous reaction of good people, appalled by what had been broadcast, wanting to register their anger.

This is the Labour party that made me proud to be a member. Where the response to racism was to challenge and confront it.

After the spectacle of the last few weeks and the contortions of Labour’s leaders to avoid even mentioning the ‘R’ word to describe Ukip’ campaign, I fear this party is just a fading memory.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut and Director of the Migration Matters Trust

Tags: , , , ,

16 Responses to “When did the Labour party give up on fighting racism?”

  1. swatantra says:

    Labour hasn’t given up on fighting racism … not just yet anyway.
    Its foolish to blame immigrants for crime; have people forgotten the East End Krays and Frankie the Mad Axeman and Biggs etc who all became folk heros to the great unwashed? That criminal culture still lies there under society. its a kind of subculture.
    Unfortunately the Crime Debate has become mixed up with the Immigration Debate. Its true that a lot of unscrupolous people come across as soon as borders are relaxed along with genuine migrants refugees and asylum seekers. We see Nigerian scams multiply and Albanian Maffa and Romanian beggars multiply. Thats why we need to work internationally with Interpol and Agencies to weed out these miscreants from those seeking genuine immigration here. UKIP will want to smear all immigrants. Labour has to weed out the villans, from the genuine.

  2. bob says:

    This is a conflation if racism and immigration. It plays to the tune that if you are in favour of severe immigration if not a total moratorium on immigration, you are a racist. UKIP want immigration controls on everybody not just one racial/religious group.

    Immigration to the UK should be only on the basis that employment is conditional on the employer holds a non transferable work permit and is only allowed if there is no UK citizen is not found for the post even after a training period if required, mandatory health screening including HIV and Hepatitis testing and insurance, and if a crime is committed resulting in a prison sentence of greater than six months, immediate deportation. This happens elsewhere in the world, why not the UK.

    If someone, has been in the UK with a good record, then they maybe considered for possible naturalisation.

    This is not racist, just looking at the best option for the country as a whole, yes, I’m going to shouted down by all the usual suspects with cries of racism, I can take it.

  3. uglyfatbloke says:

    Sad but true I’m afraid.
    There was this interesting statement from Johann Lamont the other week that did n’t get much attention in the press and no response at all from the party….. Scottish people ‘are not genetically programmed to make political decisions’.

  4. Mavern Jones says:

    Unfortunately Atul, the blame for this resurgence of 1970s xenophobia and fear of the foreigner all stems from Labour’s time in office, as a direct result of their policies. Any members of ethnic minorities who feel more intimidated now than they did a few years ago would be well advised to remind themselves of why it’s 100% the Labour party’s fault. The damage done towards ethnic minorities by the Labour Party is immense.

    According to Andrew Neather, a former adviser to Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Blunkett, the Labour party wanted to “rub the right’s nose in diversity”. Aside from being incredibly dehumanising towards those so-called diverse members of society, treating them as mere fodder to annoy one’s political appointments, with absolutely no attempts whatsoever to integrate them into soceity, to create unity or social cohesion…the net effect of rubbing someone’s nose in something is to create a fully understandable, predictable backlash.

    Had Labour not “rubbed the right’s nose in diversity”, I’m absolutely convinced the right (or certain disaffected elements within it) would not now be “rubbing the left’s nose in anti-diversity”. If only the Labour party had carefully, sensitively and compassionately worked towards building a fully integrated, colourblind, all-inclusive society instead of spending 13 years of government and a further 4 years of opposition dividing people, setting one minority against another, sending incredibly mixed messages about Islam (according to Tony Blair, fundamental Islam is a threat to the West’s way of life, so can you really blame the citizens for becoming more scared of Islam????).

    It’s truly terrible how far Labour has set back the lives of people from ethnic minorities, while simultaneously shouting loudly about how anti-racist it is.

    Luckily many people from ethnic minorities are starting to turn to UKIP, because they can see with their own eyes that UKIP can actually be of benefit to those immigrants who want to contribute to British society and who believe in this wonderful country.

  5. John Reid says:

    Marvern Jones, while I accept that labour trying to gerrymander the electorate by inviting more immigrants, has caused a Ukips vote to surge, and some of Ukip, have said racist things,, icant see how labour getting I wrong on immigration,is responsible for some of the individual racist comments that some Ukip have made, Swantantra and bob are spot on, Atul your article is passionate, but what has the racism of the past.got to do with Ukip now, and how can labour not criticising, more some of the individual racist comments that Ukip have made, mean that Labour isn’t doing enough to tackle racism.

  6. Tafia says:

    Balls. We need far tighter passport controls – we need to know and physically check and record the identity of every person entering and leaving the country.

    Immigration should be on an ‘as required’ basis and they should be fit, healthy and of working age with a job to go to, sponsored by an employer that is vetted. They should not have rights to the full welfare state until they have been here 2 years at least – longer for access to social housing. And they should be forced to integrate fully or leave. It is piss-poor pointless Labour shadow Ministers bemoaning the youth unemployment whilst at the same time the fields of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk are awash with east europeans and the London-registered Ferries plying the channel, Irish Sea and and North Sea are crewed by Filpinos, Indonesians and Poles and Baltics.

    @Mavern – Interesting last paragraph. I know a lot of asian muslims around Oldham, Bury & Heywood that are voting UKIP in May. They are being crucified in the job market and are being priced-out of their usual lo-skill jobs (taxi driver, fast food worker etc) by east europeans who will do it for even less.

  7. Vern says:

    Now who is being the scaremonger? Atul, i see little difference in your rant here and those of Farage which you seek to dismiss. Labour messed up on immigration and it looks like it will take a seizmic shift (possibly UKiP) to fix it because the main parties dont want to talk about it.

  8. paul barker says:

    While I recognise your picture of many Labour members I remember the Party itself very differently. Immigrants were another client group, to be groomed then abandoned once their support was nailed in place. My guess is that many current Labour MPs & activists think that ethnic minorities have nowhere else to go & can be left on one side.

  9. Marc Black says:

    Racism? Good one!
    Romanians (and eastern europe) are a majority white Caucasian country.
    It is very clear that you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about..

  10. Ex Labour says:

    @Mavern Jones

    A+ excellent

    @ Tafia

    A + excellent

    @ Atul

    D- go and stand in the corner until I give you permission to come back.

    You’ve really had a ‘heads gone’ moment with this one. You confuse immigration concerns and racism. Labours secret open door policy of letting in everyone has changed the face of many towns, cities and small communities across the UK at a staggering pace. Dont blame the public when they dont like it or want it. Labour are to blame.

  11. Jenny says:

    I agree with everything Atul wrote and am sure that in the end the only way to take UKIP on is by maintaining an ethical and moral stand.

  12. Tafia says:

    Jenny, any political party that deliberately floods it’s own country with cheap imported labour and thus deliberately creates unemployment amongst it’s own low paid is neither ethical nor moral. Especially not when it is waging wars based on deliberate lies.

    You are not seriously going to try and claim Blunkett is moral? Harmann? Blears?Mandelson? Blair ethical? How about Miliband – do you think serving under Blair as a Minister in the full knowledge that he stood up and lied to Parliament is the mark of an ethical or moral man? If you do you have disgracefully low standards.

  13. Dave Roberts says:

    Better not have an immigration policy then Jenny?

  14. Jenny says:

    Odd replies to my earlier note. Atul is writing about racism. The UKIP stand is racist even if this is covered up by Nigel Farage’s bonhomie. We can never beat him in the argument about immigration on his terms. That is what I mean about taking an ethical and moral stance to immigration policy: that does not mean no immigration policy but one that treats asylum seekers fairly and does not discriminate against the poorer European countries or indulge in nasty propaganda about the Roma people.

  15. Dave Roberts says:

    The Roam aren’t refugees, they are economic migrants who arrive with no skills and are an immediate drain on our already limited resources.

    While I am on the subject could I ask what racism is? I think I used to know but the term has been so used and abused that I’m no longer sure.

  16. Ex Labour says:

    @ Jenny

    Does your moral indignation stretch to the Labour government who deliberately deceived the British public with their secret open door immigration policy ?

    There are currently around 12,000 foreign prisoners in our system and 200+ foreign murderers and rapists walking our streets according to government reports. Many are eastern Europeans. We have no check on these people because they can walk in with no checks via EU regulations.

    Farage has highlighted this, whereas Siliband avoids the issue. The problem with bleeding heart do gooders from the Left is they cry “racist” to shut down any sort of immigration debate.

Leave a Reply