Socialist Worker

Labour's scapegoating feeds the right wing

Issue No. 1895

NEW LABOUR ministers have poured fuel on the fire of racism with their lies about asylum seekers. They branded refugees and migrant workers a 'problem' and a 'drain on resources'. It should come as no surprise to them when they get their fingers burnt. The Tories and right wing press have gleefully seized on the issue of asylum to attack New Labour, calling for immigration minister Beverley Hughes to resign.

They used an e-mail from a British diplomat in Romania to claim New Labour is secretly allowing Eastern Europeans to enter Britain using forged documents. This new 'whistleblower' seems as keen as immigration officer Steve Moxon was last month to help the Tories whip up scare stories over immigration. But it is the climate created by home secretary David Blunkett and his sidekick Beverley Hughes that has allowed the Tories to go on the rampage.

Blunkett and Hughes have boasted about how tough they are on migrants and refugees. They say the government should be judged on how few get into Britain. They have tried to out-Tory the Tories in scapegoating refugees and migrants. No wonder Michael Howard wants to use this issue to try to rebuild his rotten party.

This scrabble to see who can be the most vicious can only lead to an increase in racism. This has happened before. When Labour was in government in the 1960s the Tories and the right wing press whipped up a scare about Asians in Kenya, who held British passports, 'flooding' into Britain. The Labour government rushed a racist immigration bill through parliament in a day, restricting the rights of Kenyans Asians to enter Britain.

This only encouraged the right wing. Within a month the Tory MP Enoch Powell made his racist 'rivers of blood' speech. The result was a general climate of racism, which was not only directed at Kenyan Asians but against all black and Asian people in Britain. Again in 1976 the Labour government gave in to the hysteria from the Tories and right wing press over 250 Malawi Asians. They were British passport holders who were being expelled from the African country of Malawi.

Labour's chief whip, Bob Mellish, made a key anti-immigrant speech in parliament referring to the Malawi Asians as a 'burden'. Labour rushed through even tougher immigration laws.

This opened the door to the fascist National Front, helping it to become as great a threat then as the British National Party is today. The current scare over migrants and refugees is just as racist and irrational. Migrants play a vital role in Britain. Without them the health service would collapse. Industries like construction and food production rely heavily on migrant workers, often forced into low paid and unsafe jobs.

Very few people are putting across these arguments. There is a deep bitterness in society and a deep disillusionment with the mainstream parties. Because of this, some people can be won to scapegoating asylum seekers. The alternative is to create a force that can send a message of unity and hope, and direct people's bitterness towards the real culprits. That's why it is important that the Respect coalition is putting forward candidates in the 10 June elections.

Respect is standing up to New Labour's policies which have brought war, inequality and attacks on trade unions. And because Respect speaks up for the victims of New Labour's policies, it defends refugees and immigrants in Britain.

Building the vote for Respect can strike a blow against New Labour, as well as the Tories and the right wing press who whip up racism.

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What We Think
Sat 3 Apr 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1895
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