1964, 11 years before the EU referendum of 1975, the West Midlands constituency of Smethwick was the most colour-conscious place in the country, and the scene of a Tory campaign that successfully exploited anti-immigrant sentiment. The infamous slogan that propelled a Tory into the House of Commons was, “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.”
Peter Griffiths, the successful Tory candidate refused to disown the slogan, “I would not condemn any man who said that,” he told the Times during his election campaign. “I regard it as a manifestation of popular feeling.”
ukip’s forebears, dear Cult of Corbyn members, were fascists in the 1930s, fought the suffragettes in the 1900s, burnt industrial machinery in the early 19th Century, persecuted Catholics (sometimes with official approval and even sanction in the two centuries after 1605), massacred 150 Jews in York on March 16th, 1190 at York … I could go on, but the common link is an inability and/or unwillingness to accept economic, political and social change, combined with various forms of intolerance towards the other. Moreover, these responses were and are not unique to any one particular class.
Anti-semitism being quite common amongst the upper class in the 1930s as much as it was amongst the working class followers of Sir Oswald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats. Anti-semitism is today rife amongst some of Corbyn’s most committed supporters. One might go so far as to say that it is a defining trait for some of them. As Aneurin Bevan once observed, “Fascism is not in itself a new order of society. It is the future refusing to be born.”
Bevan once asked, “How can wealth persuade poverty to use its political freedom to keep wealth in power? Here lies the whole art of Conservative politics in the twentieth century.” Step forward, Alf Garnett, the perfect example of a working class Tory. Alf arrived on our television screens in 1965, but as a skilled member of the working class he got the vote in 1867, courtesy of Benjamin Disraeli. Mr Disraeli gave Alf the vote because he was banking on the conservatism of the British working man favouring the Tory Party at election time. Alf was not liberal in outlook.
ukip is wealth persuading poverty to keep it in power, because ukip has nothing to say to the left behind that would make their condition any better than it is now. Labour under Corbyn is asking the working age poor to vote it into office so it may expand the middle class welfare state at their expense.
The Liberal Democrats went into the 2017 General Election committed to reversing all of the £9bn of Social Security cuts over which IDS resigned.
Labour only committed to reversing £2bn of the cuts, leaving the benefits cap and benefits freeze in place, because, Emily Thornberry said, it could not afford to do more. Although it could commit without any caveats to the Pensions Triple Lock.
Labour only committed at most £500m for Sure Start. Not enough money to fully reverse the savage Tory cuts since 2010. Although it could find the money to commit £10bn plus to deliver universal free university tuition for students mostly from middle and higher income families.
Incidentally, if you are on a low income in our society you are more likely to be from a background other than the white middle class (the group illustrated in Momentum’s recent home video).
You are more likely to be from an ethnic minority background. Warm words at an anti-racism rally and posing for pictures with Weyman Bennett are no substitute for real action to address the disadvantage someone faces, simply because of their family tree.
And posing with a man with a reputation like that of Bennett casts doubt on your commitment, Corbyn, to helping the most disadvantaged group in our society, women (whatever their sex, their age, their disability, their gender, their race, their geographical locality, their circumstances, their background and their class), realise their full potential.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with people who think LGBT folk have no right to live, because of being LGBT is no way to flaunt your liberal credentials.
How many of those, Corbyn, whose take on LGBT rights you endorse by standing on a platform with them, come anywhere near the view ISIS has of the disabled? They murder children with Down’s Syndrome for being born with that condition.
How many of those extremists, with whom you make common cause, Corbyn, are opposed to democracy; equal rights for all; the right of Israel to exist and so on …
Let me see, BAME, LGBT, women, the disabled, the poor and the working class, BAME as well as white. Do they not, Corbyn, make up the group with whom you, uniquely, claim to relate? Are they not en masse a large enough group out of whom to build an General Election winning majority?
There was a time when Labour was behind in coming forward to call out racism.
There was a time when Paul “Foot castigated “the inability of the local (Smethwick) Labour party, corrupted as it was by anti-immigrant sentiment, to hit back in a determined and principled way” against Griffiths and what he stood for.”
It is a moot point whether Foot would have wholly approved of Labour’s General Election 2015 Campaigning Against ukip document, but I think he would have accepted that Labour had moved on.
Has Labour moved on though?
Laying out the case for leaving the single market, Corbyn used language we have rarely heard from him, blaming immigration for harming the lives of British workers. The Labour leader said that after leaving the EU, there would still be European workers in Britain and vice versa. He added, “What there wouldn’t be is the wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industry.”
Did Corbyn ever tell his ex girlfriend’s mother, Diane Abbott’s mom, that she had in some way damaged the pay and conditions of indigenous workers when she came to the UK to work in the NHS? That was an argument used by, amongst others, trades unionists back in the 1960s. They worked then with the CBI to attempt to prevent a Race Relations Act going on the statute book that would address discrimination in the jobs and housing market. The first Act of that kind having failed to address either subject. Roy Jenkins on becoming Home Secretary (boo, hiss from the seats of the committed socialist ABC1s now dominating Labour’s membership) put that right.
The question each generation has to ask itself is do you seek to narrow or bridge gaps within society or, like Farage widen and exploit them for your own political and financial ends? Corbyn, born into a similar class background as Farage, has decided to do the other thing, the easy thing and blow the silent dog whistle that Griffiths bequeathed to Farage.
How about we try taking Gandhi’s advice about hating the sin, but not the sinner, and thereby try to change attitudes and not reinforce them?
Incidentally, Alf Garnett, through seeing people as individuals not as a mass of the other, mellowed over time …
For those unfamiliar with the events of 1964 in Smethwick and how they resonate in sympathy with the events of today then I think Stuart Jeffries article is a good place to start. Incidentally, I understand that a variation of the slogan that I have read in a number of places was “… vote Liberal or Labour”.
Other interesting articles:
Neil Hamilton provides a link between then and now. Griffiths once wrote, “Apartheid, if it could be separated from racialism, could well be an alternative to integration.” Hamilton did his bit to try and help the apartheid regime of South Africa improve its chances of survival.