The main political parties claimed to have agreed that ‘race’ wouldn’t be an issue in the election campaign. The party leaders signed a declaration prepared by the Commission for Racial Equality. And then, of course, the ‘debate’ on ‘race’ got under way.
Some leading Tories refused to sign the CRE pledge. In Dagenham a Tory leaflet accused Labour of “importing foreign nurses with HIV”. Robin Cook made a speech where he said that the British were not a race and that the national dish was Chicken Tikka Masala. Tory MP John Townend declared that “our homogenous Anglo-Saxon society” has been seriously undermined by immigration and that there was a danger of the British becoming a “mongrel race”. Black Tory peer Lord Taylor thought that Townend should be expelled from the Tory party. Asian peeress Lady Flather said that Hague was being ‘weak’ on Townend. Another Tory MP said that Townend was basically right. Norman Tebbit said he didn’t “know of any happy multicultural society”. Former Prime Minister Edward Heath denounced Hague for not expelling Townend, but wasn’t surprised at his behaviour as, in his view, the party was now “on the extreme right ... So many of them feel and think the same way.” All this has happened before the election is officially under way.
Keeping Labour in government
The turmoil in the Tory party on the eve of an election must have surprised some people. By appearing to be a divided party, riddled with extremists, it’s almost as if the Tories wanted to lose. Those who remember the 1980s will recall that it was a divided Labour party, arguing within itself for five years before expelling the ‘Militant extremists’, that kept the Tories in government, and ensured that neither Michael Foot not Neil Kinnock stood a chance of becoming Prime Minister.
In the present period there is no good reason for the ruling class to replace the Blair government. Labour is doing everything that could be expected from it, just like the other left-of-centre teams that are in government in the majority of EU countries. However, although Labour has been solidly ahead in the opinion polls almost continuously since the last general election, that doesn’t mean that the bourgeoisie is going to leave anything to chance. The Tory party’s well-publicised divisions over ‘the race issue’ paint it as ‘extremist’, something further enhanced by revelations of how many of their election candidates come from the right-wing ‘hanging and flogging’ tendency. The intention is to prevent the Labour vote slipping though voter apathy. Apart from Cook’s speech, Labour itself has hardly had to do anything.
Labour uses racism and anti-racism
The racist face of the modern Conservative Party should not make anyone forget what the Labour party is like. Its attitude to immigration, refugees and asylum seekers, for example, has always been based on putting the needs of the national capital first and last. They have introduced and enforced repressive legislation in the past, and the present government is most definitely no exception. They have followed on from the previous Tory government and introduced their own particular innovations.
For example, a recent ministerial instruction to immigration officers (under the provisions of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000) says that people should be refused entry if “there is statistical evidence showing a pattern or trend of breach of the immigration laws by persons of that nationality” (Guardian 24/4/01). In other words, if the British state wants to target some particular ethnic or national groups, they’ve now got another weapon at their disposal. And if there is someone who’s not familiar with the English language and they need information that “is not available in a language which the person understands, it is not necessary to provide the information in a language which he does understand” (ibid). Labour certainly has nothing to learn from the Tories when it comes to racism.
At the moment, although Labour is making a lot of being ‘tough’ on immigration and on ‘economic migrants’ in particular, it is anti-racism that is the dominant note in the ideology of the British bourgeoisie. Labour talks of the importance of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘social inclusiveness’, while a faction in the Tory party is portrayed as hopelessly reactionary.
Meanwhile, the leftists play a minor role in this campaign. The Socialist Workers Party, for example, enthused that “Robin Cook, the foreign secretary, was absolutely right to put forward an anti-racist message” (Socialist Worker 28/4/01). At the same time they criticise Labour’s position for being “shallow” and for having “given ground to the right”, because they don’t think its anti-racism is forceful enough. They want to mobilise workers behind the part of the bourgeoisie that uses anti-racist ideology. But workers have no interest in supporting any part of the bourgeoisie. Their only concern should be the defence of their own class interests. Car 1/5/01