Skip to main content

Wadsworth’s expulsion and the contemptible treachery of the Labour right

White parliamentarians hounding a black anti-racist and claiming to act on behalf of Jewish people in Britain is outrageous and Kafkaesque, writes KEVIN OVENDEN

THE expulsion of leading black anti-racist Marc Wadsworth from the Labour Party is utterly contemptible.

The charge of bringing the Labour Party into disrepute merely for criticising a white Labour MP is outrageous enough — Kafkaesque.

Or are they saying he should not have been so uppity?

Worse, the decision is laden also with a smear campaign alleging anti-semitism. Those false charges may have been rejected, but the expulsion will encourage those hostile to the Labour Party and its leadership to repeat them in the hope of it sticking like mud. It will lead to further smears.  

And if anyone thinks this will not bring some backlash in Britain’s black communities, they are wrong. 

Had the disciplinary panel intended to take the heat off Home Secretary Amber Rudd for the Windrush disgrace, it could not have done better than to hound out of the Labour Party a long-standing black member and fighter against racism.

First, there’s the timing. Monday saw the 25th anniversary of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence. It was the “murder that changed a nation,” according to the BBC’s documentary. Windrush shows how much remains to be changed. So does Grenfell.

What better week, then, to summon before a court of star chamber Wadsworth, one of the leading campaigners for the Lawrence family?

Anyone who thinks that has gone unseen in black Britain or among the large numbers of us who fought then to break the murderous advance of the fascist BNP has either little nous themselves or a contemptuous assessment of ours.

As if to add insult to injury, the hearing took place on the day that demands for Rudd’s resignation crescendoed. 

How better to quieten the rising din than a piece of theatre for the Tory press centred on smearing a black Labour activist?

That stunt was duly provided with the security detail formed around Ruth Smeeth MP as she headed to give evidence to the hearing.

All of them, according to the pictures, were white parliamentarians or functionaries — marching to demand action against a black trade unionist who has played a leading role in addressing the under-representation of black and minority ethnic people in Parliament and in the structures of the labour movement.

There wasn’t even a token black or ethnic minority face. I would say that you couldn’t make it up. But a look at the “evidence” against Wadsworth shows all the signs of people making things up — the land of fiction, not of journalism, which is Wadsworth’s profession.

All are able to pass judgement on the defamatory claim of anti-semitism brought by Smeeth (though she has removed it from her own website) because the incident at issue was videoed. 

It was at the launch of the report by barrister Shami Chakrabarti into racism and anti-semitism, and how the Labour Party should deal with them.

In the question and answer session, Wadsworth observes: “I saw that the Telegraph handed a copy of the press release to Ruth Smeeth MP — we can see who’s working hand in hand.” He goes on to point out that there are hardly any black faces at the whole event (an issue of under-representation that Chakrabarti also touches on in her report). 

At which point Smeeth and entourage storm out, later to allege anti-semitism and that Wadsworth had referred to some sort of anti-semitic conspiracy of media control — words anyone can hear he did not say.

It is very difficult to imagine that Smeeth truly believes that making a pointed comment about a Labour MP shuffling papers with a journalist of the paper known as The Torygraph is anything conceivably anti-semitic.

In fact, the Telegraph recently ran a piece by former chief of staff to Theresa May Nick Timothy about George Soros that was widely criticised across the spectrum as laden with anti-semitic innuendo.

Yet criticising a Labour MP for being pally with one of its journalists is now “bringing the Labour Party into disrepute”?

There was no regard for reckless trivialisation of real anti-Jewish racism in the walkout two years ago. The purpose was to overshadow the report Chakrabarti had produced.

And it succeeded. There was almost no media coverage of the far-reaching report itself and the robust mechanisms it recommended be put in place to deal with anti-semitism and racism of all kinds.

It was thorough and an advance. That is why those who seek to weaponise charges of anti-semitism against Labour and the left attacked the report and author even before it was published. The then Labour general secretary sat on it for two years and at one stage it was removed from the party’s website.

Now under new management, the report is to be implemented — including its suggestions for improving the involvement of minority ethnic groups in the Labour Party.

A time to move forward, then? Not if the treatment of Wadsworth and the continued nasty asides at Chakrabarti are anything to go by.

This week shows that those people intent on a policy of sabotage do not intend to give up (another factor in the timing is that this intervention is a week before the local elections on Thursday).

If one area of damage done by some figures of the Labour right working with the Tories in this way is that done to proper processes dealing with real anti-Jewish prejudice, wherever it occurs, another is the slap in the face it is signalling to Britain’s black and Asian communities.

For decades black and Asian families in Britain have looked on as a few people from those minorities have managed to make it into public life and the professions only to face constant sniping and barely coded racist prejudice.

Does anyone think that people are not noticing when this happens now to a black journalist and an Asian lawyer, both with records of standing up against racism and for human rights? People are noticing.

And it is happening at a time when the growing Windrush scandal is revealing the depth of racism at the heart of Britain’s immigration policy, the state and most especially the Tory Party.

The Labour leadership has pressed on the scandal in Parliament. It is in a moral position to do so because Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are among the very few MPs who voted against the Tories’ Immigration Act of 2014 that licensed the racist treatment of black Britons of the Windrush generation.

Incidentally, that raises a further irony. Most of the media prefers to quote the words of white select committee members and backbenchers who did not oppose that legislation rather than of shadow home secretary Abbott, who did. Why might that be, do you think?

Black and Asian voters are likely to turn out in larger number than usual at council elections for Labour next Thursday. Or at least they were until this weekend and Wadsworth’s expulsion.

Now, I would not be so sure. Support cannot be taken for granted. Until the Corbyn election to the leadership there had been many years of declining turnout, particularly among African-Caribbean voters as they saw decades of loyalty to the Labour Party thrown in their faces in the New Labour years. 

The Blairite leadership worked on the basis that black and Asian voters had nowhere else to go. Well, they did. Many stopped voting.

We should recall how BAME support for Labour was forged in the first place. Trade union organisation came to play a role — symbolised by the strike of largely Asian women led by Jayaben Desai at Grunwick four decades ago.

But there was also a battle within the labour movement against reactionary prejudice and to force black representation to something approaching the levels of participation in the workplace, in the membership and in the Labour vote.

Five years ago the Unite union acknowledged that it took black community organisation in Bristol in 1963 to end the colour bar on employment on the buses. It apologised for the backward position taken by some union representatives at the time.

Unite is now, of course, a bastion of anti-racism. And if you weren’t already ironied out, we see Unite leader Len McCluskey attacked also this week by the anti-Corbyn saboteurs.

There is some representative presence of blacks and Asians in Parliament now, thanks to the major fight by the left-aligned Labour Party Black Sections in the 1980s, often against local party potentates who ran matters as if they were the British raj in India.

In the wake of Grenfell, Windrush, the Prevent policy and entrenched institutional racism, Britain’s black and Asian communities are not prepared to go back to those days. Not to the colonial-racism of the Tories, but not to old-fashioned Labour paternalism either. 

And nor to the methods of divide and rule, in which one oppressed group is pitted against another. 

That perhaps is the most reckless aspect of all in a group of white parliamentarians hounding a black anti-racist and claiming to act on behalf of Jewish people in Britain. 

That this is not leading to tensions between different communities is down to the anti-racist left of the labour movement and the unity forged in the battles against real racism in Britain.

The politicking from some anti-Corbyn figures is aimed to deradicalise that movement. The expulsion of Wadsworth is about that also.

It must not be allowed to succeed. In its place must be a redoubled effort to unite all communities in the fight against racism, focused in the first instance on this shameful Tory government. 

But today’s outrageous expulsion cannot be ignored.

Wadsworth is one of a several generations of black and anti-racist activists in Britain who will continue that fight — whatever the apparatus of the Labour Party decides. 

And that apparatus must understand that they are the few, whatever the bureaucratic powers they have. 

The many include millions of black and Asian people in Britain who are angry at the racism exposed this week over Windrush and are recalling all the battles they and their families have been through. 

The Labour Party as a whole faces a choice in that context — for the few, or really for the many, who are not prepared to be voting fodder while prominent representatives are treated so disgracefully.

 

OWNED BY OUR READERS

We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 5,907
We need:£ 12,093
18 Days remaining
Donate today