Two opposing attitudes to racism

by Liam Murphy

The entire Tory party conference was a jarring tune played on a racist dog whistle. By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn’s Leader’s speech to Labour Party Conference set out the opposite approach and challenged the wave of xenophobia and racism that has swept the country since the Brexit referendum outcome.

The British economy remains in crisis and it is clear after six years of Tory economic policy that austerity has not led to recovery. Following the referendum it is also evident that the Tories have no economic plan at all. The post 2007 crisis is being compounded by the effects of the Brexit vote itself. The pound is falling and raising inflation. Major employers, like the car makers, are threatening to move overseas and large chunks of the City are considering whether they will have to relocate.

The Tory answer to this is to ratchet up anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric to UKIP/Front National levels. Public services such as the NHS would be decimated by an anti-foreigner drive. Companies are to be ‘named and shamed’ for employing foreigners, and overseas students, who bring both huge revenues and expertise to the British economy, are to be deterred. This are policies that could only further impoverish the overwhelming majority of society and the racist scapegoating will be commensurately extreme.

In anticipation, many former Blairite MPs had ramped up their own anti-immigrant rhetoric. Many of these MPs, aping business propaganda, were formerly pro-EU, pro-immigrant and criticised Corbyn for not campaigning enthusiastically enough for Remain. Now, in line with the agenda of the Tory party, and to disrupt Corbyn’s leadership, they have made a spectacular volte-face, arguing that in order to curb immigration we should leave the Single Market.

Corbyn is taking a very different approach, which he set out in his speech to Labour’s conference. Firstly, he was clear that racist attacks and hate crimes have increased since the Brexit vote saying that: ‘It has been shaming to our multicultural society that assaults on migrants have increased sharply since the referendum campaign a campaign that peddled myths and whipped up division’. He went on to lay the blame for the crisis squarely where it belongs. ‘It isn’t migrants that drive down wages, it’s exploitative employers and the politicians who deregulate the labour market and rip up trade union rights. It isn’t migrants who put a strain on our NHS, it only keeps going because of the migrant nurses and doctors who come here filling the gaps left by politicians who have failed to invest in training. It isn’t migrants that have caused a housing crisis; it’s a Tory government that has failed to build homes.’

In the morning round of media ahead of his conference speech Corbyn repeatedly pointed to the NHS as an example of how much society as a whole relies on overseas workers, along with many other sectors of the economy. Diane Abbott, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, made this point forcefully in her speech to the conference the previous day.

The reality is the British economy needs to be in the Single Market and is a huge beneficiary of Freedom of Movement. The overwhelming majority of society will be worse off without either. Workers living standards are already falling as a result of Brexit and large numbers of jobs will be lost if Britain withdraws from the Single Market.

Britain needs to be in the Single Market with Freedom of Movement in order to avoid a sharp deterioration in living standards. Given that being in the Single Market but not in the EU gives you no say over the Market’s laws and rules and could possibly require a higher budget contribution, the only sensible position is for Britain to stay in the EU.

The Tory party has set out on a clear racist and xenophobic path, which will further undermine the economy. Corbyn is setting out in the opposite direction, in blaming the Tories and their allies for the economic crisis and rejecting the racist assault.  The Tory attack will be relentless. A fully coherent alternative is required, that embraces the EU, the Single Market, Freedom of Movement, along with a state investment-led programme for economic recovery.