The Labour Party has dived two‑footed into a right wing, racist “tough on crime” campaign—and its leaders are delighted at causing outrage. It launched a new offensive on Thursday of last week with an attack advert claiming Tory prime minister Rishi Sunak doesn’t believe child sex abusers should go to prison.
It followed this up the following Friday and with an advert claiming Sunak doesn’t believe the same for people convicted of owning a gun, or that thieves should be punished. It’s part of an attempt to outflank the Tories from the right with the message that Labour is the party of “law and order.”
It involves whipping up a fabricated moral panic, and drawing on right wing themes and racist tropes.
The advert attacking Sunak comes just two weeks after the Tories revived the racist claim that child sexual abuse and grooming is particularly associated with groups of Asian men. Rather than joining those debunking the racist myth, Labour tried to play catch-up with the Tories by highlighting Starmer’s record as a previous director of public prosecutions.
Now it’s tried to outdo them with by placing a picture of Sunak’s face next to a suggestion that he tacitly tolerates child sexual abuse.
Under criticism, Labour’s shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry seemed to suggest there is a “debate to be had” over racist tropes. “Some felt very uncomfortable about” the advert, she said. “Some thought that it was racist—and I have to say I think they are wrong. I think that the truth is that we do need to have a debate in this country”.
Thornberry was one of the few Labour politicians prepared to defend the adverts. Even loyal, leading right wing MPs criticised them openly. Most of them were annoyed that they hadn’t been consulted, were worried that it would backfire on Labour in the elections, or were even unhappy at “personalising” attacks.
Even shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper—who has championed Labour’s drive to be the “party of law and order”—briefed journalists that she had nothing to do with them. Starmer however took to the pages of the racist Daily Mail newspaper to say, “I stand by every word Labour has said on the subject.”
Using more loaded terms he said Britain had become “a country where thugs, gangs and monsters mock our justice system and make decent people’s lives a misery.”
In fact official statistics show violent crime has fallen consistently for years. But Labour’s leadership isn’t bothered about that. The Sunday Times newspaper said the party’s strategists were “cock‑a‑hoop” at the reaction.
They’re pleased that they’ve managed to shift politics onto right wing, racist ground where they think they can be even nastier than the Tories. This gives credibility to a general election campaign built around which party can be the vicious over crime. And it will ultimately benefit the Tories.
Some senior Labour figures were horrified at their party’s attacks on Rishi Sunak—but not because of its racism. Instead, they deplore the idea that people might be angry at politicians at all. It’s not what a responsible “government in waiting” should do.
David Blunkett—who oversaw Labour’s last “tough on crime” offensive under Tony Blair—wrote in the Daily Mail newspaper that Labour should campaign against the Tories “with respect and decency.”
He agreed with Labour left MP John McDonnell who said vaguely that it wasn’t what a party “preparing to govern should be engaged in.”
But neither attacked Starmer for taking Labour onto racist, right wing terrain. Sunak and the rest of the Tories are responsible for murderous policies that will drown refugees, caused tens of thousands of deaths during the pandemic, and are now making people pay for a crisis of inflation. We should go for them—personally—over that.
Keir Starmer and other leading Labour figures disgracefully suggest that their right wing offensive is about defending women and survivors of sexual abuse. But their answer is to give more funding and powers to the police. This is after months of scandals and reports revealing the police to be institutionally sexist.
Police not only treat survivors of abuse with contempt, but shelter and protect abusers within their own ranks. Labour promises repeatedly that it will put 13,000 more cops on the streets. This will do little to protect women and survivors of sexual abuse. But it will mean more cops to target and harass people.
At the same time, Labour also wants to introduce “tougher Asbos”. This refers to the anti‑social behaviour orders introduced under Labour’s right wing Tony Blair government—where courts could punish and criminalise people who hadn’t actually committed a crime.
Now, Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper wants to go further with plans to allow police to arrest people for “antisocial behaviour.”
Police would be able to use “respect orders” to arrest people for street drinking “disorderly behaviour” or “persistently causing nuisance or disturbance to neighbours.” They could punish people who breach the orders with community service or even time in prison.
None of that has anything to do with protecting people—but it’s more power in the hands of dangerous, bigoted and bullying cops.
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