By Seema Chandwani | Secretary of Tottenham CLP
Being in Labour as someone from an Ethnic Minority has been a frustrating experience prior to Corbyn becoming Leader. The attitude towards immigrants by our party left little to be desired. This stretches past the infamous ‘immigration mugs’, for example in 2012 Yvette Cooper as Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary challenged Theresa May over ‘immigration queues spreading to Stansted Airport”; In 2013 she called for ‘stricter rules on immigrants claiming benefits’ and in Nov 2013 she proposed ‘EU benefit restrictions’.
Yvette was not alone, many on our front-bench pushed ‘tougher than the Tories’ policies to pander to the UKIP vote.
This rhetoric emboldened the Far Right, enabled a mainstream party to give credibility to fringe views and it diverted the attention from failing Tory economic policies to the working classes blaming immigrants for their current situation. In May 2018, Tendayi Achiume, the UN’s special rapporteur on racism stated that austerity made people ‘more vulnerable to racial discrimination and intolerance’.
Labour has to take responsibility for their failure not to challenge this rhetoric when it was in its early stages, and for contributing to it.
Now things have progressed, we have a Corbyn-led Labour party, a Leader unafraid and unashamed to defend and welcome immigrants. Our fantastic Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, a long time minority voice inside the Labour party is challenging this government on their hostile environment policies.
I wonder if the likes of Corbyn and Abbott were leading the party from 2010 onwards, what sort of country we would have now, whether Brexit would have been a thing, and whether the rise of the Far-Right would be as substantial. However we are where we are.
Now Labour must think about how we will tackle the growth in racism and fascism. What role will we play? Too often, the words are there, but it stops short in action. Of course, when we have a Labour Government, then in power we can change our economic and social policies to curb racism, we understand that. But what is the plan in the meantime?
I have no doubt about Jeremy’s and Diane’s commitment to tackling racism, their history speaks for itself. They stood on the front line many times and Jeremy often cites the Battle of Wood Green which occurred in my hometown (where we fought the neo-nazi National Front off the streets in 1977) and I will be forever grateful.
But fascism is not a story of the past, there is a very dangerous rise of fascism on our streets, in the Summer the Football Lads Alliance and the ‘Free Tommy’ campaign attracted over 40,000. It’s organized with links between Steve Bannon and the Far Right growing in Europe. The far right wants to divide communities and scapegoat minorities rather than identifying the real root causes of our social and economic problems. This is no longer a fight that can be left to communities alone, it requires political intervention and support.
Labour is a mass movement and it must mobilize and galvanise its movement to join the Trade Unionsists taking action and get actively involved in anti-fascist resistance. This is not mere ‘protest politics’ as one prominent non-Corbyn supporting Labour member tweeted me yesterday from his privilege as a White Male. This is a serious threat to our safety and security that takes place on the street not in a policy forum.
This weekend, I joined my local Labour party in Tottenham and we attended the DFLA counter demo. It was supported by Trade Unions and Momentum. Other CLPs also attended from Hackney, Hornsey and Wood Green, Dulwich, Battersea, Westminster and Young Labour to name a few. Emma Dent Coad MP and Umnesh Desai were the only two publicly elected Labour politicians I saw at the demonstration.
It took us a lot of effort to mobilize our members, but our CLP attends every demo come rain, sun or snow.
However, whilst individual actions led locally by CLPs, this is not being adequately supported by the National Party. A couple of emails and Tweets could have doubled our presence. A call to arms to all CLPs in London could have focused our resource.
The two CLPs in Haringey are now mobilizing our members. On 3rd November we are launching Rise Against Racism and I know Newham are planning something similar. But this is down to local members and we need to have a national move by the Labour party to get our members active in fighting the growth in fascism.
We must insist our Labour Party is fully supporting efforts on the ground to defeat the rise of racism on our streets.
To find out more about Rise Against Racism and book your tickets please click here