Michael Gove at Downing Street, September 2021. Photo: Flickr/Simon Dawson Michael Gove at Downing Street, September 2021. Photo: Flickr/Simon Dawson

Lindsey German on war, bigotry and Tory disintegration

As Benjamin Netanyahu pressed on with his invasion plans and the forced removal of Palestinians from Rafah, he had the nerve to berate his western allies for denying the right of Israel to ‘defend itself.’ But even the keenest supporters of Israel, who are enabling a genocide with a constant supply of arms and moral support, must feel more than a little nervous as the barbarous assault on Gaza breaks all records.

According to a report issued in January, ‘In just over two months, researchers say the offensive has wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, or Ukraine’s Mariupol, or, proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II. It has killed more civilians than the U.S.-led coalition did in its three-year campaign against the Islamic State group.’ As we enter the sixth month of Israel’s war, we can be certain that this onslaught is creating records of bombardment, death and injury, and now man-made famine.

Rather than doing anything about stopping this genocide, governments mouth muted concerns while stepping up their own assaults on those protesting in support of the Palestinians. So the racist plans of the Tories are becoming more clear.

The new definition of ‘extremism’ announced behind the cover of parliamentary privilege last week by Michael Gove continues government policy of trying to demonise and criminalise protestors, especially those from the Muslim community. Despite Gove throwing in a couple of tinpot fascist operations in his list of those who might be consider ‘extremist’ his target was clear: Muslim organisations and in particular the massive protest movement around Gaza.

In widening the definition Gove aimed his fire at anyone who dares to question the tenets and practice of parliamentary democracy, despite its very obvious and manifest shortcomings.

‘Extremism is the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance, that aims to negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; or undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights.’

This definition is profoundly disturbing. It suggests that any attempt to organise for a better world or to imagine a utopia can be deemed criminal or extremist. A whole number of groups who operate outside parliamentary activity could fall under its remit, including socialists, climate campaigners, anti-war campaigners and anti-fascists. All reject the idea that change will or can come mainly through parliament. They stand in a long tradition of protest which took many years to force parliament to allow working class people and all women the vote, or to legalise trade unions. There is also a long tradition of trying to imagine a better world, from Thomas More’s Utopia to William Morris’s News from Nowhere

In addition, Gove must have been rather disappointed at the reception given to his new definition of extremism. It was, for one, rather overshadowed by the row over Tory donor Frank Hester whose remarks about Diane Abbott constituted extremism even by Tory party standards. It also saw quite a lot of pushback, including from the archbishops of Canterbury and York, from people who clearly recognised that this move was both a crude Tory ‘culture wars’ manoeuvre and a direct Islamophobic attack on the Muslim community.

In the end, he named fewer organisations than had previously been leaked but did include the Muslim Association of Britain, which is one of the main organisers of the Palestine marches, and which has been involved in campaigning, especially over Palestine and Iraq, for decades. We should all show solidarity with them and with the whole Muslim community.  The sinister motivation behind the definition is clear: to marginalise and demonise those protesting and to cover for the government’s own support for a genocidal regime and for its own failings.

This is a government which denounces us as extreme but itself is a remarkable home for extremists – and the extent to which the Tories are prepared to tolerate racism and fan its flames is quite remarkable. The party’s leadership and government ministers refused to call Lee Anderson racist or Islamophobic but ‘wrong’ when he launched attacks on London’s Muslim mayor. The same word was used for Hester’s racism until Sunak was forced to retreat by one of his own ministers, Kemi Badenoch.

Tory MPs repeatedly claim that they are ‘saying the unsayable’ when in fact they are repeating bigoted remarks from various prejudiced press outlets and right wing social media.  

We must see Gove’s gambit as deliberate election policy since the Tories are politically bankrupt and in disarray. This is the most racist government ever and the election campaign will be the most racist ever. To combat that we need to build the Gaza movement much more widely inside the trade unions and the working-class movement. And we need to challenge Labour’s capitulation to the Tory agenda on nearly every issue. That means linking our protests to the concerns over cost of living, jobs and the decay of public services.  

Diane Abbott – sexualised racism

I attended the rally in Hackney on Friday night in solidarity with Diane Abbott. However familiar these racist attacks on her are, they are threatening and hideous for nay individual to have to endure. There are three points I think are relevant here.

The first is that the Tories hide behind a right-wing version of diversity, which is that having ethnic minority faces in power means you are absolved of racism. They are living proof of the opposite – and it’s clear that £15m donations from Frank Hester mean more to Sunak than even calling out these vile attacks as racist.

The second is that there has always been a sexualised element to racism, especially to black people but also to Jews. Black women in particular are both seen as a threat but also treated in an especially degraded way. Diane Abbott, as an articulate and pathbreaking black woman, is obviously a particular target for this type of racism. She has, according to the Forde Report, been subject to this from Labour officials, as well as right wingers.

The third is to highlight the particularly disgraceful role of Keir Starmer in all this. He has suspended Diane from the Labour whip for nearly a year, obviously intending to prevent her standing as a Labour candidate in the election. She instantly apologised for a misguided letter that she wrote, but that only works if you’re on the right of the party. Abbott has been mocked and attacked over the years by prominent MPs such as Jess Philips, and neither her fellow Hackney MP (in whose constituency the demo was) nor the woman Labour mayor of the borough bothered to turn up in her support.

Starmer should reinstate her as Labour MP now and deal with the racism highlighted in the Forde Report. If he doesn’t, I hope very much that Diane will stand as an independent. I’m pretty sure that she would win – and every anti-racist would support her.   

Guns not butter

The war in Ukraine is forcing political and economic crises on the EU. The demands of the military machine that every member must spend at least 2% of its total wealth on the military is creating huge tensions. Borrowing has become more costly, and many countries already have considerable debt and budget deficits. Neoliberal rules decree they can’t increase these so there is one alternative – cut other areas of public spending.

This means the ongoing assaults on services from health to education to housing will accelerate, with predicable opposition from the people of Europe. But that won’t prevent the warmongers, many of them wearing social democratic or Green hats. It will however fuel far right politics. The left must stand up against this forced militarisation of Europe and argue that it doesn’t create more security but makes us all more unsafe.

This week: I have a lot of writing to do but will be watching how events unfold in Rafah and mobilising for the next major demo on 30th March. I am also really looking forward to seeing Clarke Peters playing the Fool in King Lear.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.