The government is attacking with racism on all fronts – Starmer is colluding in it

Boris Johnson & Keir Starmer mugs

By Mark Buckley

The government is engaged in an all-round racist offensive, which is getting only a limited response primarily because the current Labour leadership is co-operating with it.

Socialist Action has previously asserted that this is a government inspired by the politics of Enoch Powell. This is not difficult to demonstrate. While all post-World War II governments, Tory and Labour have implemented racist immigration policies, the furious pace of deportations began under Theresa May as Home Secretary. Despite being called out by Labour while Jeremy Corbyn was leader, which led directly to the emergence of the Windrush scandal, the 2014 Immigration Act on which ‘deport first, appeal later’ was based has not been amended, and neither has the ‘hostile environment’ policy been withdrawn. 

Far from it. The current Home Secretary has a brutally punitive approach to refugees and asylum-seekers, so that literally hundreds of people contracted the virus while being incarcerated in the unsanitary conditions of Napier barracks. Now, in breach of international law an immigration detention processing centre is envisaged in Rwanda, to prevent all efforts to seek asylum here. Proposals to create offshore processing centres for asylum seekers are included in the Nationality and Borders Bill that was presented to the House of Commons yesterday.

In all cases, the discrimination against refugees, and migrants in general, is being used as a battering ram against all Black and Asian communities, no matter how long established they are.

But this is only one aspect of the offensive. Stop and search is being increased by the Metropolitan Police in particular, even though the Home Office’s own research shows it to be ineffective in its claimed purpose of preventing crime. At the same time, the Prevent scheme continues to throw up scandals because it is used to target and demonise just one community, Muslims in this country. This is despite the persistent rise in far-right terrorism. The Windrush compensation scheme provides only for paltry sums of money given the harm done, and campaigners point out that the reason for the low take up is that it is administered by the same agency, the Home Office, which is responsible for the continued deportations.

A whole of society racist offensive

This offensive against specific ethnic minorities is being conducted across society. The most glaring is the hugely disproportionate deaths of Black and Asian people in the pandemic. The ONS shows that in the first wave that Black Africans were 3.7 times more likely to die from COVID-19 infection, and in the second wave it rose to up to 5.0 times for ethnically Bangladeshi and Pakistani groups. The government is naturally aware of the data but does nothing at all to address these hugely greater mortality rates. Its revived ‘herd immunity’ policies will compound these inequalities even further.

The same is true of job losses and pay cuts, especially among women and younger workers. In addition to the catastrophic death toll, which effectively means that Black and Asian people are being forced to experience a far worse pandemic, a huge social catastrophe is also being imposed on them. These huge inequalities are the product of systemic racism.

The Tories need to eradicate the gains made by anti-racists in the 2020 Black Lives Matter summer of protest, in solidarity with the George Floyd campaign and against Britain’s history of slave trading and colonialism.

So the government has to rehabilitate the image of Britain’s imperialist past and deny the reality of systemic racism in the present. Hence it has launched a propaganda campaign denying the existence of institutional racism altogether, both in the Sewell Report and in the Education Select Committee report. The first completely abused data to deny the existence of institutional racism, so that government can dismiss all the evidence. At the same time, it allows them to conduct a campaign against anti-racists, or simply supporters of equality. The second report makes this explicit, with the term ‘white privilege’ held responsible for the effects of austerity cuts to state education made by Tories over more than a decade. All the Labour MPs at the committee voted against it.

The government has encouraged the booing of the England football team for taking the knee before matches. The anti-racist gesture of taking the knee is widely supported by football fans across Europe, including in Britain.

Naturally, in one sense the entire offensive is just a smoke-screen for the effects of the government’s own catastrophic failures to suppress the virus or protect the economy. But Black and Asian people are not just experiencing the effects of a propaganda campaign: they are dying in hugely disproportionate numbers, and suffering a much greater attack on living standards, while feeling the full effects of the increasingly authoritarian state.

The government is in the process of putting all this on a statutory basis, where a slew of repressive legislation will inevitably be used disproportionately against Black and Asian people, including increased powers and less accountability for the police. The government is also placing itself above any accountability to the courts, and Black and Asian communities will feel the brunt of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which is due to return to parliament shortly.

Amongst the many reactionary proposals in the government’s bill, currently being discussed by MPs, are new powers for the police to confiscate the homes of members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) community if they do not immediately move on if local people have complained. As a GRT representative pointed out, such measures appear to ‘be reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s’.

Supine Starmer

There can be no expectation that the British media will hold the government to account on any of this. Similarly, any rulings against the government will be prevented by the new laws. The only potentially decisive source of opposition to such a reactionary agenda could come from the Opposition, with campaigners in alliance. But on this Starmer has maintained his usual position in the face of this government’s reactionary agenda, which is completely supine.

While Johnson drapes himself in the cross of St George, Starmer has done likewise with the Union Jack, indicating the direction that Labour is being led. Worse still, Labour is fighting reactionary racist battles of his own. Labour spokespeople claiming the party is ‘reinventing Labour’s electoral coalition’ after the Batley and Spen by-election is not simply delusional following a loss of a 3,000 plus vote lead while in opposition, it is disgracefully Islamophobic as the Labour Muslim Network points out. Many Muslim voters and others were already deeply dissatisfied by Starmer’s silence during the brutal assault on Gaza. There can be no surprise if they are deterred by a party leadership which effectively says, ‘goodbye and good riddance’.

Socialists and anti-racists

Instead, it has been left to a small number of honourable members of the Labour left to oppose the government’s racist offensive, largely led by a small band of Black and Asian women MPs: Apsana Begum, Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Claudia Webbe, Diane Abbott and Zarah Sultana. Kim Johnson was the Labour MP who wrote a counter-report to the Education Committee’s Enoch Powell-style garbage on ‘white privilege’. Many others have disgracefully stayed silent.

Clearly socialists and anti-racists must work closely with this minority and others in the unions to fight racism and promote an agenda of equality and respect, while attacking all manifestations of racism. Socialists understand that there can be no socialism which tolerates even one tiny aspect of racism. This fight takes place in almost every part of social, economic and political life.

We must redouble our efforts in this area, both as fighters against all forms of oppression, but also to prevent the labour movement from being infected with this poison. This year’s Stand Up To Racism conference, on Saturday 16 October, will provide a much-needed opportunity for the movement to discuss how to take these efforts forward.