May's Go Home campaign. Photo: Rick Findler May's Go Home campaign. Photo: Rick Findler

The Tories are astonishingly trying to turn the windrush scandal into a knock for Labour and Shabbir Lakha argues that it must not stick

Astonishingly, Michael Gove has claimed that the Labour Party is weaponising the Windrush scandal in an attempt to distract from their failure to deal with antisemitism.

Let’s break this down.

The Windrush scandal is not an innocent mistake or an unfortunate failure of bureaucracy, it is the outcome of deliberate government policy. Every day more and more is revealed about how many people have been affected, how badly they’ve been treated, and how central Amber Rudd and Theresa May have been to creating this situation.

If that isn’t bad enough, Amber Rudd has been caught out lying since the scandal first began. She repeatedly said in clear terms to Parliament that the Home Office did not have ‘removal targets’. It has now been revealed that not only do these targets exist, but Amber Rudd was copied into a memo that stated the department had set a target of 12,800 “enforced removals”. Worse still, the memo claims that the Home Office have exceeded this target and are on a “path towards the 10% increased performance on enforced returns, which we promised the home secretary earlier this year” (added emphasis). I wonder how she managed to be unaware of that.

If this isn’t proof enough, in September last year Amber Rudd was found in contempt of court for deliberately ignoring a High Court order and forcibly deporting an Afghan refugee. There can be no doubt that Amber Rudd was in full knowledge of exactly what her policies have achieved.

Even if Amber Rudd didn’t know what was going on in her own department, she should be sacked for gross incompetence. But with the mounting evidence that she did know and repeatedly lied about it, means that it is an absolute farce that she hasn’t been sacked already.

Where Windrush generation immigrants and their children, as well as other Commonwealth and non-EU immigrants, have been wrongly deported, denied documentation that has prevented them from accessing healthcare, employment, housing and from travelling, all of which have caused untold suffering, Amber Rudd’s lies and feeble apologies are reprehensible.

So what part of this is weaponised?

Not only is it outrageous for Michael Gove to suggest that the Windrush Scandal has been weaponised, but his assertion that it is because Labour (and by Labour he means Corbyn) are trying to distract from failings on antisemitism is the exact opposite of the truth. It is in fact the charges of antisemitism that have been weaponised to attack Corbyn and the left that the Tories are using to distract from their monumental crisis around the Windrush scandal.

And it isn’t just Gove who has tried to use the antisemitism smears to detract from their party’s own blatant racism. Last week at Prime Minister’s Questions, Jeremy Corbyn raised the treatment of Windrush immigrants and called the government “callous and incompetent”. In response, Theresa May said:

I will not take an accusation of callous from a man who allows antisemitism to run rife in his party.

This is the reality of the damage that the antisemitism smear campaign is doing – to Corbyn, to the fight against the Tories and to the fight against racism. Moreover, on Friday the Labour Party’s National Constitutional Committee ruled to expel British-Caribbean and celebrated antiracist activist Marc Wadsworth – on the grounds of “bringing the party into disrepute” with the underlying reason being alleged antisemitism.

Without any sense of shame or irony, Ruth Smeeth was ‘shielded’ by 40 Labour MPs – mostly white, middle-class politicians – in a gross PR stunt as she went to the trial to testify against Wadsworth, a black working class activist. This is how low these MPs will sink.

For a comment claiming she had been working with the Telegraph. It’s no groundbreaking or controversial news that Labour right MPs have been working with the right wing media to undermine Corbyn. From the then-Shadow Cabinet MPs that launched the chicken coup by resigning via live news one every hour, to John Mann setting up a media sting to confront Ken Livingstone to Jess Phillips boasting to the Huffington Post that she told Diane Abbott to ‘f*** off’, there’s nothing untrue or antisemitic about what Marc Wadsworth has said.

And the sad truth is that a black antiracist campaigner has been hung out to dry and the Tories are able to limit damage to themselves for their despicable actions because the response to the smear campaign has been so defensive and accommodating. These smears should have been confronted head on and called out for what they are.

Going forward, we cannot give an inch to those cynically using antisemitism as a political football – and one that attacks black people and undermines antiracism no less. We must be on the offensive about what the Labour right are doing and stop being apologetic. The Board of Deputies made their intentions abundantly clear when they defended the massacres of Palestinian people and in their meeting with Corbyn demanded he adopt a definition of antisemitism that conflates it with anti-Zionism. We cannot give them an inch.

And this goes hand in hand with channelling the uproar around the Windrush scandal into on-the-ground opposition to this racist government. The scandal is only growing and we cannot allow the Tories to get away with it, nor let the Labour right undermine our opposition to it.

Shabbir Lakha

Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.