By Tim Robinson
With the economy showing no signs of returning to respectable growth and both living standards and the government’s popularity continuing to fall, the Tories responded by playing the race card on 1 July.
In a high profile speech, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said that to reduce unemployment, immigration needed to be tightened and companies needed to put British workers first. He claimed: “Controlling immigration is critical or we will risk losing another generation to dependency and hopelessness.” The tone of this speech was summed up neatly in a Sky News headline saying Smith was calling for businesses to: “Give Brits Jobs, Not Migrants”.
The immediate backdrop to the speech was the largest bout of industrial action since the Tories came to power last May, with hundreds of thousands striking on 30 June, the day before Ian Duncan Smith made his intervention. Importantly, the unions have gained strong public support in opposing cuts on their pension rights.
Iain Duncan Smith’s speech was a clear attempt to weaken such mass responses to the government’s economic policies, using racism to distract from the real causes of the economic stagnation by encouraging sections of the population to blame migrants and ethnic minorities rather than capitalists for their economic difficulties. It followed similar speeches placing racism and immigration at the heart of the political debate by David Cameron in February where he claimed multiculturalism has failed and in April, in the run-up to the local elections, when Cameron gave a key speech on immigration.
Despite Smith’s attempts to blame migrants and others, the reality is that unemployment is a consequence of the government’s failing economic policies. The Office of National Statistics latest figures state that there are 2.43 million unemployed people and only “456,000 job vacancies in the three months to May 2011”. An inadequate number of jobs are being created and increasing number of redundancies are resulting from the governments economic policies, especially its failure to stimulate growth through investment and the slashing of the public sector, which it is estimated will cause 800,000 people in the private and public sectors to lose their jobs.
Iain Duncan-Smith claims that the life chances of a generation of young people have been damaged by immigration of recent years ignores the evidence, from the TUC and others, on how immigration makes a significant overall contribution to the British economy, aiding growth which in turn helps to raise living standards of everybody.
In focussing on race and immigration, the Tories are also no doubt hoping to specifically maintain support amongst its right-wing voter base and win over those backing the far-right. As Conservative Home’s Tim Montgomerie wrote in April following Cameron’s immigration speech: “David Cameron has had his worst week since entering Downing Street. Tensions between his party grassroots and with the centre right press have never been greater… Cameron will attempt to steady a panicking ship with a tough speech on immigration.”
As the economic crisis continues to bite and the government’s unpopularity falls further, there will be increasing attempts to demonise, scapegoat and divide and rule to undermine the response of the working class to the Tory assault. Racism is a powerful tool with which the Tories will seek to drive through its reactionary cuts agenda. It is essential that the labour and the wider anti-cuts movements ensure that racist ideas are contested and are not conceded to as a central part of the struggle against the cuts.
Any concessions from Labour or currents within it will only strengthen the far-right, boost the Tories attempt to distract from the government’s role in attacking living standards and will weaken the struggles needed by the labour movement to reverse the cuts agenda.