It’s up to us to make sure the nasty party pays for its crimes, argues Lindsey German
I saw the singer Beverley Knight being interviewed on Channel 4 news last week and was struck by how clearly and defiantly she expressed her anger, as a child of Windrush generation parents, at what is happening to far too many people from the Caribbean who are being deported, sacked, refused housing and medical treatment, as a result of the ‘hostile environment’ created by the Home Office towards all migrants (except for the very rich who are given a free pass to live here if they have enough money). She also opposed a commemorative plaque to the old racist Enoch Powell in her native Wolverhampton.
Right on both counts. Racism is at the heart of the ‘Windrush saga’ as Amber Rudd so revealingly called it. We know this from the vile pronouncements by Theresa May over the years, her determination to play up anti-immigrant feeling to gain political advantage, her sending of the notorious ‘go home’ vans targeting ‘illegal immigrants’, and her continued backing for this policy which has ruined so many lives.
And we know it from the response to this present government crisis by both May and Rudd. I listened to May’s responses to Jeremy Corbyn at last week’s Prime Minister's Questions. Every response to questions on Windrush was to talk about illegal immigration. The subtext is so clear: for every ‘deserving migrant’ (in which category they grudgingly put the Windrush generation and their descendants), there are hordes of ‘illegals’ who must be rounded up, hounded, deported, criminalised and used as scapegoats.
This is a deliberate resort to racism in order to shore up Tory support and to dodge accountability for what is a scandal of truly shocking proportions. Desperate to evade blame for it, Amber Rudd promised everything and anything - apart from the obvious remedies which were her resignation and the repeal of the 2014 Act which has extended immigration control to landlords, employers and health providers, and which has led to targets for deportations.
Rudd and May resisted the first option until it became impossible not to. Her resignation is a victory for us all and a sign that most ordinary people in this country detest the overt racism we saw over Windrush. And everyone knows that behind Rudd, May is the true architect of this barbaric policy. Now Rudd has gone, the spotlight will fall on her. Throughout this scandal, the Tories were aided by a supine press which seems to think it’s no big deal that a minister who has been found to have lied to parliament, who has repeatedly claimed in the most unconvincing manner that she knew nothing about the zero-tolerance policy she presided over, and who was determined to prove herself more heartless even than her boss, should be able to stay in office.
The second option, of repealing the 2014 act, is not easy but much more doable than we might have thought a few months ago. Immigration has long been a very difficult political issue, and one which is used by right-wing politicians and media to divide and rule and to divert opposition to Tory policies. This hasn’t been helped by Labour’s decades-long capitulation over the issue. Labour’s anti-immigration mugs must be the nadir of that process, which had the effect of dragging British politics further to the right on this issue, which of course helped to benefit the far right in the form of UKIP electorally. Only a handful of Labour MPs voted against the Act in 2014, including David Lammy, who has been so good on this question, along with Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott.
Under Corbyn’s leadership, policies have shifted and will continue to do so. But the truth is that the whole immigration system is riddled with racism. It assumes migrants are a ‘problem’, ignores the central role migrants play in the British economy and society, blames them for government created shortages of housing, healthcare and schools. Most importantly, it ignores the hardships and often tragic circumstances that migrants have endured to get here, as well as the often great danger they face if deported.
Racism is created and recreated as part of the means that capital uses to divide and rule working people in order to ensure that we stay subordinate, and in order to increase our exploitation. It takes many different forms, and perhaps the individual forms of racism through abuse and attacks are the most personally upsetting. But we should never forget that much of the racism directed towards people in Britain is created and driven by government and its institutions. Prevent, Windrush, stop and search, the reaction to Grenfell - all made in Westminster. And the fight against it has to be central to our concerns. Let’s create a hostile environment for the government.
The politics behind the accusations
Marc Wadsworth’s expulsion from Labour is a disgrace. His actions and words are well documented. There was, as far as I can see, no question of anti-Semitism here. Even the charge was not about anti-Semitism, but that hasn’t stopped the media from using the word in all their headlines and reports. What happened between him and the MP Ruth Smeeth was what has happened in all too many press conferences and meetings. It should not have been a disciplinary proceeding nor should it have resulted in expulsion.
This whole issue of anti-Semitism is fraught now in Labour. But it seems to me that there are different issues which need to be separated out. The first is that anti-Semitism is an issue which appears to be growing, but which is not the preserve of one party. It exists throughout society, as do all forms of racism. Any instance of anti-Semitism must be dealt with promptly but after due process. This is important, because at present any opposition to claims of anti-Semitism is regarded by some as anti-Semitic in itself. Yet it is nothing of the sort, and if you are smeared then you should be able to say so and defend yourself.
There cannot just be a blanket charge of anti-Semitism. Take the example of a tweet by Matt Pound from Labour First, which claimed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign ‘actively recruited from groups like STWC which harbour anti-Semitic views’. This is a smear, a slur and a lie. I would expect any similarly accused of anti-Semitism to defend themselves robustly. It is clear that for some on Labour's right this charge is being instrumentalised for political reasons. I can’t think of a more damaging thing to do in terms of fighting genuine anti-Semitism. It also beggars belief that a black anti-racist activist can be pilloried in this way without evidence, especially given the Windrush scandal.
Behind this are two wider political issues. The first is the issue of Palestine. There have been increasing pressures to conflate criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with anti-Semitism. We have to be able to clearly distinguish between the two. And we have to say that while anti-Semitism is entirely unjustified and reprehensible, criticism of Israel on this question, and the demand for justice for the Palestinians, is entirely justified and indeed essential if we are to show solidarity.
The second question is about the continued political attacks on Jeremy Corbyn from a consistent grouping of the Parliamentary Labour Party who are determined to oppose him come what may. They were momentarily silenced after his surprise strong showing in last year’s election (well surprise to them anyway.) The recent attacks on Corbyn over Russia, Syria, and anti-Semitism, tend to come from the same people. They are incorrigible, doing everything that they can to defeat him. They are aided by large sections of the print and broadcast media, most of whom foster all sorts of racist ideas. The London Evening Standard - edited by former Tory chancellor George Osborne - led its front page last week with Jeremy Corbyn’s apology over anti-Semitism. We will wait a long time for their own apology for the months-long racist campaign against London’s mayor Sadiq Khan.
I believe her
The outpouring of rage over the acquittal of rape charges by a group of men in Pamplona Spain, has echoes of similar protests and anger over the Belfast rape case some weeks ago. Both cases involved men in more powerful positions (in Belfast, well-known rugby players, in Pamplona at least one member of the Guardia Civil paramilitary police). In both cases, the woman concerned was sexually assaulted by more than one male friend. In both cases, the women’s character came under attack. In both cases, the slogan of the campaigns was ‘I believe her’.
As we should believe these women. The act of rape is hideous, but as many women have testified, their treatment at the hands of the legal system has been a further and often terrifying ordeal which all too often does not result in conviction on these charges. Since the 1970s there have been campaigns to end the worst aspects of these cases - such as cross-examination about former relationships or behaviour - but it looks like we are returning to the bad old days.
The heartening thing to come out of these terrible cases is that they are once again becoming a political issue, and a new generation of women are demanding the right to behave as they want without finding themselves under threat of rape or sexual assault. Attitudes in Spain and Ireland have changed dramatically over a generation. This new women’s movement is a big step forward and deserves our support.
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’.
More articles from this author
- Immigration: it’s not about statistics, it’s about racism – election briefing 15 November
- Unelected judges deny the right to strike - election briefing 14 November
- Bolivia: whose side are you on? - election briefing 13 November
- The nasty parties unite to stop Corbyn - election briefing 12 November
- The world turned upside down - election briefing 11 November
- Why have the Greens joined an anti-Labour alliance? - election briefing 8 November
- The mask keeps slipping - election briefing 7 November