People in Leeds are angry at their Labour MP Rachel Reeves’ scaremongering speech over immigration at Labour conference this week.
At a conference fringe meeting she said parts of her constituency were “like a tinderbox” because of people’s “concerns” about immigration.
Reeves warned of “bubbling tensions” that “could explode”, echoing racist Tory Enoch Powell’s notorious 1968 speech in which he said “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”.
Campaigner and constituent Joe Hughes was “disgusted” by the speech. “I felt her comments had a bit of ‘rivers of blood’ about them,” he told Socialist Worker. “She’s pouring fuel on the fire and that’s wrong.”
Reeves referred to apparent racist attacks since the European Union (EU) referendum, including an assault on a Polish man in the Armley area of Leeds this month.
Hundreds attended a Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) rally in its aftermath, including Armley Labour councillor Alison Lowe. She told Socialist Worker, “I have every respect for Rachel. I do, however, disagree with her comments on immigration and on West Leeds in particular.
“This is generally a tolerant and welcoming society, well known as a reception centre for people from across the globe. Of course there are also ignorant and racist views held by a minority, as there are in every part of Britain.”
That’s not to say the attacks took place in a vacuum.
Joe said, “These are some of the most deprived areas of the country—the Conservatives have just sucked money out of them.
“There’s a lot of shops closing. People have no money, they can’t get jobs. They want someone to blame, and they can see immigrants.
“There are long waiting lists for council housing, so when someone sees an immigrant get a house they assume they’ve jumped the queue. But they’ve been in the queue as long as anyone else.”
Alison agreed, “There are tensions here, like everywhere else. The biggest issue is poverty and deprivation exacerbated by government cuts, benefit changes, low pay and the rising cost of living.”
Outrageously, Reeves said she avoided council estates when campaigning because she “didn’t want to remind them that Labour was not on their side” on immigration.
Alison said, “Labour needs to establish itself as an effective opposition to the Tory policy of unending austerity. We need to become leaders within our communities, challenging ignorance and hate.
“We need to counter negative media and Ukip lies with positive messages of immigration that make people proud of Britain as a place where people can be safe. We need to invest in our communities so that people do not feel abandoned and betrayed.”
Joe added, “Reeves should be using her position as an MP to stand up to the Conservatives—not to point the finger at immigrants.”