By Tom O’Donnell
In stagnant waters all sorts of virulent organisms can grow. As Britain’s economy continues to stagnate racism is spreading and becoming more poisonous.
Cameron now says that the British economy is likely to deteriorate once more, prolonging the crisis, but none of the mainstream political parties offers any policy which would resolve it. The economic stagnation will continue and so too will the unrelenting racist propaganda campaign.
That campaign marks a new negative departure in British politics. Of course, none of the main Westminster parties has ever been explicitly anti-racist, have frequently adopted racist legislation and studiously ignored institutional racism, such as racist policing. But there were strict limits in terms of promoting overt racism, so that Tory leader Ted Heath sacked Enoch Powell after his infamous ‘rivers of blood speech’ in 1968. By contrast now the mainstream parties attempt to outdo each on the issue of immigration, which is always a cover for racism in British political debate.
The current campaign is a relentless and many-sided one, bringing in immigration, Islamophobia, outlandish claims about ‘benefits tourism’ and general hostility to the EU. For many black and Asian people in this country it is increasingly experienced as routine abuse, attacks in the street, school bullying, and discrimination when it comes to access to jobs and public services.
A recent speech by former Tory leader John Major is emblematic of the turn towards racism, as he pleaded with the EU for a ‘temporary suspension’ of the right to freedom of movement for labour. It was clearly a pathetic attempt to rescue his successor Cameron before polling day in May, who has repeatedly made wild promises on curbing immigration that he cannot deliver. But Major had previously claimed that as a son of Brixton he was comfortable with and supported multiculturalism. His conversion to the reactionary cause of curbing the right of workers to move to jobs is indicative of a far wider trend.
In a similar vein the Financial Times, previously a strong advocate of freedom of movement for its own reasons, is now largely silent as the mainstream Westminster parties become increasingly xenophobic in their rhetoric and even seem to risk EU membership in this reactionary crusade. A single opinion piece in the FT from the head of the CBI calling for a more rational debate on immigration was notable for the absence of editorial endorsement.
The FT also argues now that the Tories (and by implication Labour) should do nothing to combat the rise of UKIP. But the logic is flawed, and the hope they will return to voting Tory misplaced. UKIP’s rise is not ‘mysterious’ as is suggested in the FT, UKIP is the most extreme electoral expression of the racist tide in British politics. If all the media and all the mainstream parties are arguing that immigration is the source of the current crisis, the party most closely associated with this agenda unsurprisingly wins votes. Any reinforcing of UKIP’s arguments simply reinforces UKIP.
Austerity and Immigration
The interests of workers and of business, of labour and capital are not always diametrically opposed. The introduction of democratic freedoms, such as voting, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and so on was necessary in order to foster the growth of capitalism. But workers and all of the oppressed can use those freedoms to advance their interests. Similarly, freedom of movement of labour within the EU was introduced as part of the creation of the ‘single market’ and its associated ‘four freedoms’ (free movement of labour, goods, services and capital). It is central to the proper functioning of the EU as a single market. Workers lose out if freedom of movement is curbed, being obliged to take worse, or lower-paid jobs at home and so driving down wages.
But these freedoms are not absolute. Just as parliamentary democracy can be suspended and dictatorial rule introduced (and most of southern Europe was ruled by generals within living memory), in extremis our rulers prove themselves not to be democrats after all. This is because the preservation of their rule is paramount, and trumps all other considerations.
In the current context, all the mainstream parties, the entire press, the think tanks and commentators are all agreed that there is no alternative to austerity. Thousands of columns and speeches have been devoted to this or that unfortunate aspect of austerity – falling real wages, or rising hospital waiting lists, or the renewed rise in the deficit and so on. But no significant forces challenging for power have advanced the one policy that could end it, which is wresting a significant portion of capital from its current owners and the state using these resources for investment. So the ownership of capital must remain sacrosanct and the stagnation continues.
This also explains why the virus of racism continues to grow. It is being actively promoted as an alternative to resolving the economic crisis. For those who refuse to address the cause of the crisis it is the necessary political diversion from it. However it is dressed up, ultimately it offers the big lie that real wages are falling because of immigrants, that they are responsible for rising waiting lists, they are a drain on public finances and so on. As campaigners rightly and valiantly try to point out these lies, the response is increasingly ‘it’s not about numbers, but cultural values’. The proper name for this is racism.
The British ruling class is united in its support for the austerity project. The campaign of racism is a necessary distraction while the project is pursued. There may be one or two dissenting voices on this or that aspect of the campaign (and there is no prospect of the US letting the British Trojan Horse leave the EU), but the overwhelming bulk of the British ruling class accepts that promoting racism is a necessary expedient in the current situation. This in turn infects the labour movement, which by and large does not think independently for itself.
This places a very great onus on all those who are willing to combat the growing racist menace. The first is that they must act to unite the broadest possible forces that are willing to take up the struggle, putting minor disagreements over tactics in their proper place. The second is to continue to state clearly that the menace we are fighting is racism, not being diverted by those want to avoid this central issue.
Initiatives organised to counter this racist offensive should be supported, amongst which are: the Unite Against Fascism National Conference on 21 Feb 2015; and the Stand Up To Racism march and rally on 21 March 2015 (UN Anti Racism Day).