From FO’s Perspectives
At the end of Last year, I wrote an article touching on the relationship between ethnic minorities and their voting patterns, highlighting how they tend to stay to the left of the political spectrum due to their voting rational (individual vs community). One of the key premises was that they tend to vote for Labour as that is the party that benefits their community as a whole, rather than their individual situation. A key part of that benefit to their community is that Labour and the left, in general, are more welcoming to ethnic minorities than the right, caring more about resolving the injustices ethnic minorities face in this country. However, the recent leak in the Labour party that exposed racism within the party towards Dawn Butler has shattered the perception that the political left is some sort of sanctuary for ethnic minorities in politics. More importantly, it has also brought up the question of whether there is a space for ethnic minorities at all on the political spectrum.
Background: Race and the political right
For a long time, ethnic minorities and the political right have been at odds. This can be traced back to the empire in which British foreign policy and jingoism, in particular, was used by the tories to win elections from the late 19th century. This core focus on jingoism and imperialism to gain support seeped deeply into the conservative values, where nationalism or ‘patriotism’ is one of its core tenets. This side to the conservatives and political right has displayed itself on various occasions since. This ranges from the 1964 election where posters saying to vote for the tories if you don’t want coloured neighbours all the way to Enoch Powell’s 1968 river of blood speech right up till now with the appointment of Boris Johnson who has used repeatedly used racist remarks in the past. Add in the hard anti-immigration stance seen on the right with more extreme parties such as EDL and UKIP, the right has typically been an unwelcoming place for ethnic minorities, naturally pushing ethnic minorities towards the left of the political spectrum.
Labour racism scandal and its shift away from ethnic minorities
However, the recent leak that exposed racism towards Butler and Abbott has shattered the race-politics dynamic which we have come to know. The internal leak report revealed the use of racist connotations against Diane Abbott in which she was called an ‘angry woman’ and also ridicule and insults in which she was called ‘repulsive’. The report also revealed ridicule of Dawn Butler where senior staffers ridiculing away her accusations of racism within the party. What has made matters worse is the response to the leak. Labour leader Keir Starmer’s independent inquiry into finding the leak of the content rather than the actual content further highlights the insignificance of racism as an issue on the political left. Add to the fact that Labour staffers have blocked attempts by the unite branch to send letters of support to the black MPs who were victims of racism in the leak, then we see a party in which structural racism is more apparent than first thought. However, this leak can be seen as part of a wider development which has seen the labour party become a less welcoming place for ethnic minorities. Keir Starmer’s cabinet reshuffle saw the removal of both Butler and Abbott, further questioning the place for black people within the party. Furthermore, Starmer’s his main focus on winning back the ‘heartlands’ is – essentially the white working-class – up north is potentially worrying as a key reason behind the loss of the heartlands was Brexit – an issue steeped in xenophobia and racism in which many in the Labour heartlands voted for leave in 2016. To appease and win back the heartlands, the Labour party may subconsciously have to alienate ethnic minorities to an extent, further pushing us of the political spectrum. Essentially the Labour party is willing to put class solidarity over race.
Class or Race – is there a place for ethnic minorities in politics?
The Labour party’s focus on winning back the heartlands shows us what arguably matters more to the party. It also highlights the harsh truth in the relationship between the left and racism. The political spectrum in itself doesn’t account for race because its a model based on class. The left and the right is inherently based upon the working class vs elite and race does not fit into this. Ethnic minorities have mainly voted labour out of convenience as most of the demographic tend to sit within the working class. The labour party in itself wasn’t a place specifically to accommodate ethnic minorities but more so its goals just happened to benefit ethnic minorities more as a whole. Race in itself transcends politics – racism is an issue that plagues society and not politics. That is why you can have a racist person from a working-class background and from the elite, it doesn’t just sit on one side of the political spectrum. Politics comes from society – a society that is still struggling with deep-rooted racism. So should we be surprised to see racism on the left? And lastly, where does this leave ethnic minorities in regard to politics?
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