Labour: ‘not racist enough’

Jon Cruddas' review of labour's performance at the 2015 election
Jon Cruddas' review of labour's performance at the 2015 election

In FRFI 250, we reported on attempts by Labour Party Zionists to organise a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. However, their calculation that Labour would perform disastrously in the local elections at the beginning of May proved incorrect. The results were sufficient to make Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn – the vast majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party – postpone attempts to depose him. Instead they will use the newly-published Cruddas report into Labour’s performance in the 2015 general election to force Corbyn to make substantial concessions over immigration and welfare to appeal to the most backward sections of the working class. Robert Clough reports.

While Labour lost heavily in elections to the Scottish parliament, its vote across England and Wales held up, and it won both the London and Bristol mayoral contests. The Scottish National Party (SNP) continued to ride on a wave of nationalist sentiment with 46.5% of the constituency vote, although it lost six seats and with it its absolute majority in the Scottish parliament. Labour however could only get 22.6% of the constituency vote, just ahead of the Tories on 22.0%. Overall Labour lost 13 seats including the remaining four it held in Glasgow. The Tories gained 16 and have now become the second largest party with 31 seats against Labour’s 24. Labour remained the largest party in the Welsh Assembly although it lost one seat; it has had to establish a minority government with Plaid Cymru agreement. Across England Labour’s losses were limited to 18 seats, a better result than many had predicted, and it retained control of all councils it contested. As expected, Sadiq Khan defeated Tory multi-millionaire Zac Goldsmith to become London mayor with 44.2% of first preference votes against Goldsmith’s 35%.

The results took the wind out of the sails of the Labour Zionist campaign for the present. Corbyn had already made concessions to them by setting up two reviews of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. The first, by Baroness Royall into the Oxford University Labour Club reported on 16 May. The second and broader one, led by former Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, will report on 1 July. Royall proposes that there should be training for officers of all Labour Clubs involving the Jewish Labour Movement in dealing with anti-Semitism. The Jewish Labour Movement is a Zionist association. She further suggests that the Chakrabarti review consider whether Labour should adopt the principle that ‘an anti-Semitic incident that may require investigation is any incident that is perceived to be anti-Semitic by the victim’, a proposal which would open the door to Zionists to challenge criticism of Israel as by definition anti-Semitic.

The Cruddas review into Labour’s loss of the 2015 general election published on 23 May tells a different tale, that far from being too racist, the Labour Party is not racist enough. Cruddas, once a left-wing MP, argues that Labour ‘is becoming a toxic brand. It is perceived by voters as a party that supports an ‘open door’ approach to immigration, lacks credibility on the economy, and is a ‘soft touch’ on welfare spending.’ It echoes claims made by Labour leaders such as former immigration minister Liam Byrne after the party lost the 2010 election that better-off workers, those on £20-30,000 a year, had faced ‘huge forces in our economy, squeezing pay packets and the cost of living for at least five years. That’s why so many are so frustrated with welfare reform and immigration’ (The Guardian, 14 May 2010).

Cruddas envies what he sees as the ability of the SNP to attach ‘patriotism to “progressive” values.’ He wants Labour ‘to stop patronising socially conservative UKIP voters’ and argues that ‘to build enough bridges to get its voice heard amongst these voters, it needs to develop a politics that is radical on the economy and small-c conservative – supporting the values of family, work and country.’

The threat from UKIP is seen to be its ability to attract support from ‘small-c conservative’ voters; support for Labour from this group fell from 35% in 2005 to 26% in 2015 while UKIP’s support moved from 4% to 22% in this period. The group is mainly working class and older, ‘once tribally loyal to the party.’ Cruddas says that their opposition to immigration is based on its perceived adverse impact on services, housing and welfare, and the loss of culture and community. Cruddas says ‘We can get a measure of the cultural difference between Labour and these [socially conservative] voters on four key political issues – immigration, Europe, crime and welfare’ continuing:

‘91% of UKIP voters agree with the statement “There are too many foreigners in my country” compared to 46% of Labour voters…on welfare 79% agree with the statement “Our welfare system is too generous to people who aren’t prepared to work hard for a living” compared to 40% of Labour voters.’

Across all voting groups there was a belief that Labour did not have clear plans for making deficit reduction the top priority (58% of the electorate as opposed to 32% of Labour voters). Overall, 65% of the electorate shared UKIP voters’ belief in the supposed generosity of the welfare system. The Cruddas review paints a picture of a deeply reactionary electorate despite the onslaught on welfare benefits, the NHS, education and working conditions. The only section of the voting population where support for Labour remains steady are those ‘who tend to be socially liberal, progressive minded and higher educated.’ This group, many of whom are privileged workers in the state sector, is disproportionately represented in London, and is the foundation for Khan’s mayoral victory.

All this will be grist to the mill for Labour MPs who are against Corbyn, and who remain an overwhelming majority in the parliamentary party. The 1997-2010 Labour governments passed seven Acts of parliament against terrorism, and six on immigration and asylum. It tightened eligibility for out-of-work benefits and reduced their real-term levels, and introduced the notorious Work Capability Assessments to reduce expenditure on incapacity benefits. The perception of a party spending profligately on state benefits and operating an open door for migrants bears no relation to reality. But Labour MPs will be keenly aware that if Labour does not adapt to the most politically backward sections of the working class with more overt attacks on immigrants and ‘benefit scroungers’ it will not be able to assemble an electoral coalition to win the 2020 general election. Winning means more to them than any political principle, and Cruddas gives them the material to sustain their campaign against Corbyn’s leadership. The crisis in the Labour Party is not going to go away, and the precondition for progress is for the most politically conscious people to break with this racist, reactionary party.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 251 June/July 2016


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