Jeremy Corbyn is correct to oppose Islamophobia
Last week Labour’s former Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Sarah Champion resigned her front bench position. This followed the publication of a comment piece by her in The Sun titled ‘British Pakistani men ARE raping and exploiting white girls … and it’s time we faced up to it’. It was entirely right for Labour’s Leader Jeremy Corbyn to expect her resignation. A Labour Party that is fighting for equality clearly has to oppose Islamophobia and racism.
Labour should take a firm stand against bigotry and scapegoating first of all because they are morally wrong. But there is also an important electoral reason to oppose racism: Labour needs to strengthen the progressive coalition of support it gained in June this year to deliver a victory at the next General Election, which means, inter alia, building on the surge of support for Labour among ethnic minority and other voters in 2017.
Labour’s approach to issues of racism at this June’s General Election stood was in stark contrast to the previous general election. Unlike the 2015 campaign, when one of Labour’s five key pledges was on ‘controls on immigration’ with the associated mug to promote the pledge, in 2017 the manifesto expressed a positive view about the impact of immigration, and pledged not to demonise migrants or use them as scapegoats.
The radical approach taken in the 2017 manifesto galvanised wide layers in society to vote Labour, leading to the 9.6 per cent overall increase in vote share over 2015. As part of that there was a swing amongst black and minority ethnic voters to Labour, rising by 6% since 2015 to Labour securing 73% of the vote in June 2017. Turnout among Black and minority and ethnic voters also increased by 6%.
Labour’s huge electoral advance this year included a significant surge in support amongst both young and ethnic minority voters. Corbyn’s consistent opposition to racism is a key factor in broadening Labour’s electoral coalition.
It is important to stand up against the reactionary campaign attacking Champion’s departure from Labour’s front bench, which is being waged by the Tories, including the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid, and some right wing Labour MPs. If Corbyn reinstated Champion it would send a clear signal that Labour is backing off from opposing racism. Many of those calling for her reinstatement defend the arguments she put forward in the Sun and promote the fiction that there is a causal link between ethnicity/religion and the perpetrators of sexual violence against girls.
The claim that men of Asian or Muslim heritage are more likely to commit sex crimes than men of other ethnicities or religions is entirely a racist myth. Horrific sexual violence against girls and women is sadly a systematic feature of British society, in which men of all ethnicities and religions are perpetrators. Every year across the UK 3 million women experience gendered violence including domestic violence, rape, stalking, sexual exploitation and trafficking.
According to research by Sheffield Hallam University, the majority of sex offenders in the UK are white, at 81.9% and that 5.6% of offenders are of South Asian heritage (2007).
Furthermore, the independent Inquiry into child sex exploitation in Rotherham in 2014 by Alexis Jay OBE confirmed that: ‘As has been stated many times before, there is no simple link between race and child sex exploitation.’ To assert otherwise is a great disservice to women.
Tackling these appalling crimes of sexual violence against girls and women is a vitally important issue and crucial to building a fair and equal society. It is unhelpful to seize on the ethnicity and religion of perpetrators in a recent trial to extrapolate false generalisations about particular cultures or religions, and which also stir up racism and hostility towards Muslims and Asians overall. Making such appeals to racism, as the tabloid press frequently does, only distracts attention from the vital tasks necessary to protect women and it spreads confusion as to what are the real causes of these crimes. Society has for far too long tolerated the systematic oppression of women and girls by men, and covered up the abuse when it is carried out by the powerful or within families.
Labour can build on its advance in June with clear policies that bear down on all sexual crime against girls and women, irrespective of who are the perpetrators. No concession should be made to Islamophobia as Labour’s aim should be to protect women, not persecute Muslims and Asians. It is a moral issue, which can add to Labour support when it takes the right position.
Stand Up To Racism is holding a conference on Saturday 21 October 10.30am to 4.30pm, at Friends Meeting House London NW1. It will be a useful event for Labour movement activists and supporters of equality, that will discuss combating racism and Islamophobia. Book here.
The ‘position papers’ so far published by the Tory government indicate its continued addiction to fudging every Brexit issue. Politically, they attempt the impossible trick of reassuring their business backers that no disaster will occur as a result of Brexit, while at the same time threatening precisely that to please some its own supporters.
The government has indicated that there will be ten position papers in total. Those so far published on the question of the Irish border and on new customs arrangements are wholly unrealistic and unworkable.
On Ireland, it is clear that the Tories intend to blame the European and Irish negotiators for the fall-out of its Brexit policy. The paper states there will be no change to the border whatsoever, despite Northern Ireland leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union. The promise is that there will be ‘no new infrastructure’ at the border, yet at the same time unspecified new technology will be able to monitor the country of origin contents of all goods. One Irish MEP said it is an attempt of the British government to ‘have its cake and eat ours’.
Similarly fantastical claims are made in the paper on the customs union, where the Tories want to be both in it (for the purposes of selling UK goods) and out of it (to conclude separate trade deals from the EU). All customs unions operate tariff-free trade within them, while operating a common set of tariffs externally, for trade with third countries. No member of any customs union can agree its own set of rules and tariffs, otherwise the customs union would be breached.
Repeated references to ‘frictionless trade’ between Norway and Sweden are wilfully ignorant. This is only possible because both are members of the Single Market. Philip Hammond and Liam Fox suggest all wings of the Tory leadership intend to leave both the Single Market and the customs union. The claim that this will reassure business, and so staunch the inevitable outflow of jobs is nonsense, as there is no certainty on what the future UK-EU arrangements will be. The UK CEO of Siemens says that, ‘As we leave the most advanced tariff free single market in the world, people are fed utter nonsense like this (claims that the UK economy will benefit by £135 billion boost)’.
The forthcoming paper on legal oversight and the role of the European Court of just (ECJ) is unlikely to represent an improvement. The false claim is made that the referendum vote was a mandate to leave the ECJ’s jurisdiction, despite it never having featured in the Brexit campaign. It represents a failure to address reality. All international trade agreements require some supranational body with jurisdiction to oversee it. The UK will be subject to World Trade Organisation rules if Brexit does not include an EU trade deal. The WTO disputes procedure is onerous and bureaucratic, and frequently leads to tit-for-tat protectionism. The EU is unlikely to agree to any new mechanism where it must submit to a new jurisdiction simply to please Brexiteers.
The Tory government has failed to reach agreement on the three key issues identified by the EU; Ireland, EU nationals and the divorce bill. The government papers were a delayed response to the EU’s own papers. Tory ministers now say that that do not intend to negotiate further until after the German elections on 24 September. This will leave only a year to resolve all outstanding issues, as the ratification process must begin six months before the Brexit deadline of 29 March 2019.
The Tory government is not conducting these negotiations in a sober or considered manner. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are potentially at stake, and the living standards of the entire population are under threat. The absence of serious negotiation means that the likely outcomes are dramatically narrowing, either to a disastrous crashing out of the EU, Single Market and customs union, or a prolonged transition period to halt the process so that a responsible approach can be adopted.