Robert Jenrick in Birmingham, July 2021. Photo: Flickr/Tim Hammond

Lindsey German takes the mid-winter political temperature

It’s getting full Enoch Powell in the Tory party. The immigration minister Robert Jenrick, who resigned over the Rwanda bill, has said that migrants can’t integrate properly and that they lead ‘parallel lives’ in Britain. Astonishingly, the example of this ‘failure to integrate’ that he gives is the marches for Palestine, demanding a ceasefire in Gaza. This is a view espoused by a majority of the population, according to polling. So surely it is Jenrick who isn’t integrated and is leading a parallel life?

The implication is that the demonstrations are mainly Muslims, following a different political agenda from those espousing ‘British values’. But any cursory examination of the marches shows that, while they contain large numbers of Muslims, they are also composed of people from all races, religions and ages. The school students walking out are white. Black and Asian. The trade unionists are from all backgrounds.

That however doesn’t fit the narrative of these as ‘hate marches’, or ‘mobs’ which we are getting from Tory politicians, the police and groups like the Campaign against Anti-Semitism which wants the marches banned. At root the description of these marches and the surrounding politics has much more than a whiff of Islamophobia. We saw the way in which Suella Braverman used dog whistle politics to urge fascist and far right groups onto the streets in order to ‘protect the Cenotaph’.

There has been a rise in antisemitism since October 7th but there has also been a rise in anti-Muslim hatred and prejudice. While opposition to the former has official sanction and even money allocated to preventing it in the Autumn Statement, there is a very different approach to Islamophobia.

Much of the hysteria about refugees and asylum seekers has at its root that many such people will be Muslims and therefore not welcome. The assumption that Muslim equals extremist is widely promoted in the right-wing media. And there is a serious attempt to at best marginalise and at worst criminalise protest over Palestine.

Children walking out of school for Palestine are being referred to Prevent or subject to talks about extremism. Three students’ union officers at Kings College London have been suspended from their posts for daring to call what is happening in Gaza ‘genocide’. Cultural events are being cancelled and academic talks stopped on the most spurious grounds. The false equation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism is being used to stifle debate and dissent over what is a major issue of our time. Those on the right who bemoan ‘cancel culture’ and demand free speech in universities are remarkably silent in defending the rights of those who want to stand up for Palestine.

It ties in too with the latest weaponization of the immigration question to force some of the most vulnerable people to go to Rwanda, and to deny entry to the UK to working class migrants, who are now being told that they can’t fall in love with anyone British unless they earn well above the average wage. Such is the level of tragedy if not farce around this that the government is planning legislation which declares Rwanda a safe country even though the courts have said it is not.

This absolutely shambolic and rotten government we are lumbered with keeps surprising with its sheer venality. This week we’re watching it in plain sight, and it is not a pretty picture. It is deeply divided over Rwanda but all sides support restrictions and penalties on immigration, as does the Labour opposition which repeatedly proclaims its greater efficiency in dealing with the ‘problems’. The vote on Tuesday may result in defeat for Sunak but this narrative will continue. And the far right are wating in the wings for after the election and the immediate crisis caused by a Starmer right wing Labour government.

Racism and imperialist support for the war in Gaza go hand in hand. Of all the countries on the UN Security Council, only Britain and the US refused to back an emergency resolution on Friday calling for a ceasefire. This isn’t surprising – the British government has no independent foreign policy and the US regularly vetoes motions critical of Israel. Britain was also backed by the US when it regularly vetoed resolutions criticising apartheid South Africa.

But this is at a time when it is obvious that Israel’s assault is one of the worst on civilians in our age. According to a study in the liberal Israeli paper Haaretz, the bombing is the most indiscriminate in terms of civilian casualties in recent years, and that in the first three weeks of the conflict the civilian proportion of deaths was at 61%.  Another study by +972 magazine showed deliberate targeting of civilians in order to weaken support for Hamas.

Deliberate targeting also of journalists, of whom 60 have died in this war. Meanwhile the estimated number of deaths since the war began is rising to close on 20,000 including thousands of children.

The shame of the British government – and opposition – refusing to call for a ceasefire is now on display worldwide. So is its overt racism in the Rwanda policy.  There has never been a time when a left alternative is more needed. The Palestine movement shows that this is possible, but it needs to be strengthened, especially in the organised working-class movement, which is lagging behind the mobilisations.

The movement faces that challenge and the growing threats of censorship and outright repression from the establishment. We need to respond to both by campaigning within the working-class movement both against racism and war. Anyone who doesn’t do that is weakening our own movement and allowing our own imperialist government to get away with murder.

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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’.

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