Race pledge row
Tories show their true face
TORY LEADER William Hague claims to stand against racism. He claims that he signed the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) pledge to keep racism out of the election on behalf of the whole party. Yet he has allowed key MPs in his party to get away with refusing to sign the pledge.
And he himself gave the lead in fuelling racism when in March he declared that Britain was becoming a "foreign land". That opened the way for people like Tory MP John Townend to spew racist ideas, saying, "Our homogenous Anglo-Saxon society has been seriously undermined by the massive immigration, particularly Commonwealth immigration, that has taken place since the war. Illegal immigrants have got a new ploy. They call themselves asylum seekers. In my view the only way to deal with the problem is to send them back quickly."
Now leading Tories, such as Michael Portillo, refuse to sign the CRE pledge. The Tory leaders' attitude has given a green light to every racist in their party. Former home secretary Michael Howard backs a Tory advert in the local paper in his Folkestone and Hythe constituency that reads, "What matters most to you? Bogus asylum seekers? Conservatives reduced the number before. We will do so again."
In Dagenham in Essex a Tory leaflet talked of Labour "importing foreign nurses with HIV. Is this Labour's way of cutting the waiting list, by scaring people not to go to hospital?" The leaflet says Labour is "soft" on the "floods of bogus asylum seekers", and of being scared to fly the Union Jack flag "because it would upset ethnic minorities".
Cook gets it right
ROBIN COOK, the foreign secretary, was absolutely right to put forward an anti-racist message last week in the face of Tory attempts to play the race card. Cook argued that immigration had been a positive benefit to Britain. "It isn't just our economy that has been enriched by the arrival of new communities. Our lifestyles and cultural horizons have also been broadened," he insisted.
That attitude is shared by the vast majority of people in Britain. They welcome the mix of black, white and Asian people in communities and workplaces across Britain. Cook was right to denounce a "narrow view of British identity, fed on myths about our 'island race'."
Instead Cook argued, "The British are not a race, but a gathering of countless different races, the vast majority of which were not indigenous to these islands. The idea that Britain was a 'pure' Anglo-Saxon society before the arrival of communities from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa is a fantasy." That is right. From the earliest times Britain has been a land of immigration. Celts, Romans, Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, French Huguenots, East European Jews, Italians and many more have arrived here.
So too have black people from Africa and the Caribbean, and Asian people. Robin Cook's argument has infuriated the right wing. The Daily Telegraph denounced "Cook's meanderings about 'multiculturalism' and 'diversity'."
The London Evening Standard described the "traditional Britishness" that those on the right wing are so desperate to protect. "Fish and chips, primroses, Georgian houses, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen thereby become redundant," it moaned.
There is a sinister intention behind such sentimental notions. The right want to keep pushing the idea that immigrants and refugees are a problem.
The truth is that Britain has been enriched by its history of immigration, and people arriving today as immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers should be welcomed. Why doesn't Labour always send a positive message about immigration?
BLACK AND white unity is at the heart of the Socialist Alliance. The Socialist Alliance fights the hardship and poverty faced by both black and white people.
The Alliance also tackles racism head on, condemns the scapegoating of refugees and points the finger at the real enemy-the bosses.
- Stop Nazi David Irving speaking at Oxford University. Thursday 10 May, 6.30pm, Oxford Union, Frewin Court, Oxford.
- Stop the Nazi National Front marching. Saturday 12 May, 10.30am, South Bermondsey station, Ilderton Road, London SE17.
A rotten history
THE TORIES have a long history of playing the race card during elections.
- In 1964 in Birmingham Smethwick Tory candidate Peter Griffiths won the seat after his canvassers used the slogan, "If you want a nigger neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour."
- In 1978 Tory MP Margaret Thatcher, who became prime minister a year later, said that Britain was being "swamped by people of a different culture".
- Andrew Lansley was a key figure in the Tories' central office in the early 1990s. He argued, "Immigration, an issue we raised successfully in 1992 and again in the 1994 European election campaign, played particularly well in the tabloids and has more potential to hurt." Lansley is now one of William Hague's right hand men.
IF NEW Labour wants to defend a multicultural Britain it means welcoming today's refugees and immigrants, as well as those who have settled here in the past. Yet the government's policy exposes its boast of being anti-racist as shallow. The Tories and the press have repeatedly attacked asylum seekers. Each time New Labour has given ground to the right.
Such retreats have fuelled the idea that people coming to Britain are to blame for the problems in society. Some 4,690 refugees were forcibly deported from Britain in March.
Home secretary Jack Straw says he wants to deport even more. Straw even plans to spend around 3.2 million chartering special planes to deport refugees.
And the government stopped asylum seekers receiving welfare benefits, and imposed the degrading voucher scheme. The charities Oxfam, Barnardos and Shelter condemned the voucher scheme for making asylum seekers live below the poverty line.
Bill Morris, head of the TGWU union, has pointed out what Labour policies mean. "The mood music is playing a hostile tune to black Britons," he said. "The Home Office and ministers are playing their part in the orchestra. By heralding measure after measure to stop people entering Britain, the Home Office has given life to the racists."
Focus on the real divide
THE MILLIONAIRES and their friends know racism hides the real divide in society-the gap between rich and poor. This grew under the Tories and has increased further under New Labour, two reports revealed last week.
As the Guardian explained, "The income gap between rich and poor is continuing to widen under Labour, and last year outstripped even the highest inequality mark under the Conservatives." The shocking fact came in figures released by the Office for National Statistics.
Another report, the annual "Family Expenditure" survey, revealed last week that the poorest households pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than the richest.
Someone in the poorest fifth of households typically pays 41.4 percent of their overall income on tax, while the top fifth of households pay just 36.5 percent. Fighting against poverty is a key part of cutting the ground from under racism and those who would divide us. A decent minimum wage would begin to close the gap between rich and poor.
Everyone who can should join Saturday's demonstration in Manchester for a better minimum wage called by the UNISON union.
- March, Saturday 28 April, 11.30am, Whitworth Park, Manchester.
The truth about racism
THE EVERYDAY reality of racism means that black people are almost six times more likely to be attacked than they could expect to be given the proportion of the population they make up.
- Black people are also five times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people.
- People from ethnic minorities are more than twice as likely to face unemployment than white people. Throughout the 1990s jobless rates between black and white people widened.
- There are no ethnic minority generals in the armed forces, and no black high court judges.
- Ethnic minorities are under-represented in the police service, the prison service, the lay magistrates and all senior posts in the criminal justice system.
- Less than 2 percent of senior civil servants are from ethnic minorities.