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LABOUR’S Diane Abbott is right to reject Theresa May’s refusal to apologise for the “hostile environment” policy responsible for the deportation of members of the Windrush generation who had lived and worked here legally for decades.
May’s pitch on the Andrew Marr show, that due to some sort of unfortunate accident people without papers were wrongly deported but the overall framework of Conservative deportations policy was sound, was dishonest. Her refusal to acknowledge that the hostile environment was itself to blame makes future Windrushes a near certainty unless the Conservatives are removed from office.
Marr could have gone farther and pointed out that May received stark warnings about the consequences of the 2014 Immigration Act from none other than Diane Abbott, who asked the then home secretary about its impact on British nationals who might appear to be immigrants. Abbott, like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, who warned that it would set up a “regime of harassment for migrants,” was one of a tiny minority of Labour MPs who voted against the Act at the time.
May’s weasel words show that the hostile environment is still in place. But her apology to the Windrush generation, insincere and evasive as it was, is testament to the strength of the anti-racist movement in this country.
Across Europe it is only in Britain that a home secretary has been forced out of office by the public backlash over state racism. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is an open admirer of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Germany’s Horst Seehofer tried to give Hans-Georg Maassen a promotion after the intelligence chief claimed there was “no evidence” that far-right thugs chased foreigners through the streets of Chemnitz at the start of the month. Maassen’s promotion was ditched after an outcry, but he remains a senior figure in the Interior Ministry despite evidence of collaboration with the far-right AfD.
Anti-immigration sentiment is on the rise in most of the European Union, while in Britain it has fallen since the EU referendum.
Such observations are not a signal to relax in the face of the far-right threat. That is growing. The mobilisations in defence of race-baiting rabble-rouser Tommy Robinson this year have been on a scale not seen in decades, support for Ukip is rising and that party is shifting to a more openly Islamophobic and racialist politics, hate crime has been rising for years.
But they are a sign that the left should have the confidence to fight back with a militant anti-racist message. The Tommy Robinson demonstrations are all dwarfed by the numbers mobilised to protest at the visit of US President Donald Trump, huge numbers of whom were on the streets in opposition to his racism.
May being forced to cough up an apology as Tory conference opens is important because the challenge to her leadership within the party comes from Boris Johnson, whose dog-whistle language on Muslims and immigrants show he means to take the Conservatives down the Trump road — challenging the mass appeal of Labour’s socialist message with a counter-mobilisation based on bigotry and fear.
Johnson, like Marr, spearheads his attack on May with a denunciation of the Chequers proposals on Brexit, though neither addresses its actual problems in tying British manufacturing and agriculture to EU regulations, guaranteeing our continued industrial decline.
But the meat of his challenge is not based on the details of our withdrawal from the EU, a matter on which he has flip-flopped too often to have any credibility, but on his calculation that hard-right populism is the best ground on which to see off the threat of a Corbyn government.
The left must continue to hold the Tories’ feet to the fire on racism to guard against any such shift and should be organising now for a giant turnout on the TUC-backed anti-racism demonstration on November 17.
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