Labour confronts the Tories’ racism

By Bridget Anderson

Under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn the Labour Party is opposing the Tories’ racist agenda that scapegoats immigrants for people’s deteriorating living standards.

Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, in a speech last week, outlined some essential reforms to the immigration system. She announced that a Labour government would end the break-up of families and stated: ‘currently the government grants a small number of child refugees each year right to remain but then denies some of their parents or carers leave to stay. At the same time some parents with the right to be here suffer the heartbreak of seeing their children deported because they have turned 18 and are no longer legally dependent. We all know it’s tough for kids now to make their way in the world at 18 and that applies to all kids.’

Abbott said: ‘Labour in government will end these policies. If you are a child granted the right to be her so will your parents or carers; if you have been brought up by carers or parents who have a right to be here you will still have that right, even after you turn 18. This commitment underlines our commitment to human rights, this is the application of Labour values and it’s the right thing to do.’

Abbott said that, as part of a fair and reasonable immigration system, Labour would scrap the Tories’ arbitrary net migration target of 100,000 people or less. This random target is exacerbating staff shortages in the NHS – as migrant doctors and nurses are turned away whilst the number of NHS staff vacancies continues to rise.

The Tories’ political propaganda on immigration aims to bolster their party’s support with appeals to racism. These constant attacks on ‘foreigners’ are a central pillar of their campaigning agenda.

The reality is that immigration to Britain supports and improves the population’s living standards and is a positive contributor to the overall economy. Without it growth would be lower and would public services suffer from even greater staff shortages.

Attacking the Tories’ values, Abbott said: ‘Labour’s values, which we can all unite around, are jobs, growth and prosperity. Immigration policy must fit into that, and compliment that overarching objective.’

Abbott’s speech echoed the framework on racism Corbyn has been setting out.

In a speech in 2016, Corbyn said: ‘it isn’t migrants that drive down wages; its 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.’

Labour’s ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ manifesto for the 2017 General Election further elaborated Corbyn’s approach: ‘Labour values the economic and social contributions of immigrants. Both public and private sector employers depend on immigrants. We will not denigrate those workers. We value their contributions, including their tax contributions.’

The manifesto directly answered the myth promoted by the Tories that immigrant are the source of strain on public services. The manifesto stated: ‘Labour will ease the underlying pressures in any areas struggling to cope with seven years of austerity by our programme of investments. We will not cut public services and pretend the cuts are a consequence of immigration.’

The success of Corbyn’s General Election campaign in 2017 vindicates his approach and clearly demonstrated that Labour can make a huge electoral advance by standing up to racism. This is an important lesson for Labour, given the failure of its 2015 General Election campaign, in which one of the party’s five key pledges was to increase ‘controls on immigration’ – a pledge that was infamously printed on a mug as Labour merchandise.

Corbyn’s opposition to racism also contributes to his support amongst Labour’s membership.

Unfortunately Labour’s right wing still capitulates to the Tories’ on immigration. It falsely claims this is necessary in order to secure Labour’s ‘traditional working class support’. This was proved wrong in 2017, when Labour’s share of the vote increased by 9.6 per cent to 40 per cent compared to 2015. And, as Ipsos Mori polling reported, Labour support rose by 11 per cent amongst the ‘white’ population to 39 per cent and rose by 8 per cent amongst ‘all BME’ to 73 per cent support.

Irrespective of the electoral benefits of Corbyn’s policies, Labour ought to oppose racism and scapegoating simply for moral reasons – as part of its core values of equality and justice. This is a basic demand that all socialists should support.

To mark UN anti-racism day 2018, progressive people should mobilise for the Saturday 17 March – March Against Racism. There will be events in London, Glasgow and Cardiff, alongside international actions from Canada to Australia. For further information see here.