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People want change—not cuts and racism

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Issue 2465
Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman
Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman (Pic: University of Salford)

Whenever Labour politicians lurch to the right, they always seem to find a way of blaming it on the prejudices of ordinary people.

Acting leader Harriet Harman’s response to the plight of migrants this week was to tell Cameron to demand compensation from the French government over the refugee crisis at Calais.

It’s the latest of a series of anti-migrant gems from the shadow front bench. They’re all justified by the idea that voters—and especially working class voters—can’t stand immigration.

But locals in Calais have organised to help immigrants while the Tories and French cops repress them.

People on the Greek island of Lesvos have defied threats of arrest to give refugees a lift to its capital when they arrive on dinghies from Turkey.

And even after years of mainstream parties fuelling racism and the rise of Ukip, people all over Britain were horrified at David Cameron’s talk of “swarms” of refugees. But they aren’t the ones given a voice in politics.

The Mirror newspaper’s search for authenticity led it to interview Gillian Duffy, the pensioner whose hostility to migrants embarrassed even Labour’s Gordon Brown.

When union leaders call off strikes they pull the same trick, mumbling about their members not being galvanised enough.


But whenever workers have been given a chance to fight they have seized it—as with the Tube strikes that have shut down London this summer.

Now the whole Labour establishment is panicking about the prospect of a left winger such as Jeremy Corbyn leading the party.

The most poisonous of the Blairites are open about their disgust at any attempt to challenge the priorities of profit and the rich.

But for most of them the excuse is that Corbyn would make Labour “unelectable”.

Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee boasted she would “go further than Corbyn” if she was “free to dream”. But in reality the question is “how far can you go and still bring enough voters with you?”

She claimed that voters “show little leftward inclination” and want cuts, especially to benefits.

But the huge meetings in support of Corbyn tell a very different story.

From long-standing Labour activists to young people newly involved in politics, his audiences show the thirst for an alternative to neoliberal politics.

The Scottish National Party gave political expression to people’s anger after Scotland’s independence referendum—and redrew the map of Scottish politics.

It’s getting harder to deny that the same potential exists in England and Wales. But either side of the border, the challenge is to turn it into real resistance against austerity and racism.

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