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Woolas exit: a chance to become tough on racism and tough on the causes of racism

Phil Woolas is out of the House of Commons (subject to a future judicial review) and suspended from the Labour Party. The court was concerned not with racism, but with misrepresentation such as that illustrated here, and it is not a simple matter since the policing of it also raises issues of freedom of speech in elections. Misrepresentation is still an important issue if we mean, as we believe Ed Miliband does, to be honest in our politics, but it is minor in comparison with the charge we previously made that Woolas’s campaign “deliberately mixed issues of race, religion, ‘extremism’ and ‘militancy’ with immigration for electoral advantage. “

Dan Hodges at Labour Uncut today says:

for his accusers in the liberal mob – their verdict was passed long ago. ‘He is guilty. Those leaflets pandered to prejudice. They have no place in the new politics’. Save your breath. Woolas was never anything more  than a patsy. The fall guy. Ritual sacrifice to our conscience.

Let us make clear: we have no desire to make Woolas a scapegoat. But he was appointed as Labour’s immigration minister after his election campaign strategy in Oldham came under scrutiny (which the Tories have today attacked). And he was in a team led by Ed Balls of whom we have also been critical on immgration, for all that we supported him in what he said on the economy. They are both out of tune with the line Ed Miliband espoused in the Leadership election:

We need to be willing to talk about the issue of immigration, but the question is what should be done to address the underlying causes of people’s concerns about immigration. And to have a convincing story about how we can make people’s lives better.

There needs to be a debate to resolve the party’s stance and Dan Hodges is right to say we haven’t had it yet. But Dan also thinks that, however we choose to resolve (or avoid) that debate, the reality is that “pandering to white working class prejudice isn’t the preserve of one junior immigration minister. It’s Labour’s official line to take“:

When Phil Woolas’ campaign took the decision to “get the white vote angry” it wasn’t an aberration. They were deploying a localised variation of a national strategy. When we, as a party, call for British jobs for British workers, or a ‘debate’ on immigration, we are speaking in code. And when the code is deciphered it says, “we think you’re racist, but we don’t care. We want you to vote for us anyway”. We don’t want a debate. We want votes. And frankly, my dear, we don’t give a damn where they come from.

We couldn’t disagree more with Dan’s notion of  “good old fashioned working class racism. The great Labour taboo.

Why does he characterise racism as working class? Does he think the aspiring middle classes who move out from our multi-ethic inner cities to increasingly mono-cultural suburbs and the commuterland beyond are somehow immune? The only difference between the classes is that some people are more exposed than others to the dangers of poor housing, low wages and unemployment. That is why Ed Miliband is right to say that immigration is a class issue.

In fact, though racist and xenophobic sterotypes are all too present around us and within us all, the immigration debate has moved on, and, in part, that is Labour’s success. As Gary Younge said of Gillian Duffy:

She lives in a town where one in five is Muslim and the Bangladeshi population increased 58% in a decade. But when it comes to immigration her specific concerns were about eastern Europeans… The current framing of the debate about immigration has clear racial and racist overtones, even if it is being driven in part by an anxiety about white foreigners. But the faultlines have clearly shifted from colour to culture, race to religion, language and ethnicity.

Though racism remains, we can deal with immigration, and with the causes of the racist overtones which surround it, by developing policies to provide good quality, affordable social housing for those who want it, jobs and greater job security and a living wage for all. That is what needs to be done to be tough with the causes of racism. But we be tough with racism itself.

We want to be a voice for the white working class because we understand why they feel threatened, and we know what needs to be done. But it’s not about race and we should have no truck with racism, in our leaflets, in our campaigning or in our party. And nor should our immigration policy be about race. And we need an immigration minister whounderstands that and is unequivocal about racism.


  1. Tony Dowling says:

    “We want to be a voice for the white working class because we understand why they feel threatened, and we know what needs to be done.”

    Why do ‘they’ feel threatened? And what needs to be done?

    Surely we should simply be a voice for THE working class!!?

  2. Jeremy Sutcliffe says:

    I intend to regard any patronising comment from any member of the pompously pious panjandruoms outside Oldham as totally irrelevant. Don’t preach about what you don’t understand

  3. Dr.R.Downing says:

    Racism is a word that not only annoys me but makes me feel physically sick.Just because a human being originates from a different culture and has a different skin colour,this person attracts discrimination,abuse and countless other problems from the general populous of this country. Now it appears to be that these poor people are being blamed for taking jobs in this country that seemingly are the sole property of the white master race here.It is unthinkable to encourage this sort of attitude and I for one will not tolerate this in any way shape or form.We are all human beings and it is about time that racism is dealt with by stricter laws and penalties than we have now.Ignorance breeds racism and its time that this issue is addressed and finally dealt with for the benefit of us all.

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