Great Britain has always been the land of opportunities and a melting pot of cultures. Has the Brexit vote unveiled hidden thoughts latent before and now more openly expressed? Is Britain now becoming a racist society?
Malcolm X, in 1965, visited Smethwick, not far from Birmingham because that town was perhaps the most racist place in Britain. One year before that visit, the Conservative MP, Peter Griffiths, had been elected on the shameful slogan ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’. As a reaction to that election, Labour came to power for the first time in the last 13 years. Not in Smethwick however, where the Tories won the most racist election campaign ever fought in Britain.
Four years later, on 20 April 1968, Enoch Powell, a Conservative MP, gave a speech to the Tories Political Centre in Birmingham, that strongly criticised mass immigration. Powell, in his famous “Rivers of Blood” speech, warned his audience of what he believed would be the consequences of continued unchecked mass immigration from the Commonwealth to the UK.
And what’s happening now? After the Brexit vote, this political campaign is showing fear and rising racism accusations inside the main parties. Boris Johnson has been repeatedly accused of islamophobia and sexism; Jeremy Corbyn of antisemitism and, more recently, of anti-Hinduism.
“The Conservatives and Labour had both moved to the extremes and it was only the Liberal Democrats who now occupied the liberal centre-ground of British politics,” former ex-Tory MP Heidi Allen explained. Feeling isolated and uncomfortable inside parties they didn’t recognize anymore, some moderated and centrist MPs just left. Some of them decided to stand down, some others joined the Liberal Democrats, as Heidi Allen and eleven founding members of Change UK did, this year.
Jeremy Corbyn is accused by his rival to be a dangerous socialist who would wreck the British economy; while on the other side, Boris Johnson is considered a populist, a wicked capitalist who just wants to enrich the richest and doesn’t care about the poor people. And what about the other candidates collecting gaffes and being forced to apologize or resign because of what they said or wrote in the past or during this snap campaign? Labour and Tories spokesmen explain that hundreds of candidates have been selected in a short space of time, as a consequence, it has been impossible to check all their past behaviours, statements or skeletons in the closet.
Corbyn’s accusation of antisemitism
Jewish groups have accused Corbyn, a far-left politician, of allowing a massive rise in anti-Semitism within the ranks of the party that was once considered the natural home of British Jewry.
The Labour Party has been investigated for institutional racism by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission as it ‘suspected’ the party had committed ‘unlawful acts’ in its handling of the anti-Semitism crisis. A formal inquiry into reports of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party was also launched earlier this year, in May. The party has constantly claimed it is ‘implacably’ opposed to anti-Semitism in any form.
But, first of all, Jewish people are pointing out Corbyn’s positions during the last four years. They don’t forget and don’t forgive the self-proclaimed “friendships” with representatives from Hamas and Hezbollah when inviting members for a parliamentary meeting in 2009, but also questionable associations with Holocaust deniers and anti-Zionists. Since becoming Labour Party leader in 2015, Corbyn has been criticized as an outspoken critic of Israel and campaigner for Palestinian rights and has been accused of turning a blind eye to the resurgence of anti-Semitism within British politics and the party itself.
All the efforts to respond to criticism have been judged as weak and not persuasive enough. Corbyn has been repeatedly lambasted for his failure to tackle antisemitism within Labour. As an example: in 2018, the party received 863 complaints of anti-Semitism but took action in only 101 of those cases. This is definitely considered to be an insufficient effort.
On the other hand, someone who clearly showed all his disappointment was Israel Hayom. The publication said that almost 50% of Jews living in the UK state that they will leave if Corbyn wins the general election. A recent poll by the Jewish Leadership Council, a British-Jewish advocacy group, also found that 47% of British Jews would “seriously consider” emigrating if Corbyn is elected Prime Minister. Some 87% of British Jews believed Corbyn to be anti-Semitic, and 90% said they will not vote for Labour, the poll found.
Corbyn answered that British Jews “have nothing to fear” if his party wins the December elections and he becomes PM. “Anti-Semitism and racism is an evil within our society. I’ve done everything to confront it throughout my life, and will always do so,” Corbyn told the Guardian.
British Rabbi to boycott Labour
According to the Jewish Chronicle, prominent British Rabbi Jonathan Romain has taken the unprecedented decision of urging congregants to vote against Labour warning that a Corbyn-led government “would pose a danger to Jewish life as we know it,” He did this by sending a letter to all the families who are members of his congregation at Maidenhead, a large market town in Berkshire with an estimated population approaching 58,850. “This has never happened under any previous Labour leader … so the finger of responsibility really does seem to point to Jeremy Corbyn. I am therefore suggesting we should each put aside all other considerations and vote for whichever party is most likely to defeat Labour in whatever constituency we are in – even if we would never normally vote for that party,” the Rabbi wrote.
After this personal plea, a few days ago, the Rabbi also decided to write a letter which was published on the Daily Mail. “I have never written an article like this before,” he explained adding that he has always avoided being political and has never been in the business of taking sides. But, this time it is different. “Few can be blind to the fact that, if Corbyn gets into No. 10, we will have a PM who is at worst anti-Semitic and at best content to tolerate anti-Semitic behaviour.” According to the Rabbi, Corbyn, during his mandate as Leader of the Labour Party, has allowed antisemitism to spread like a “fast-growing cancer”. He also admitted that other British political parties have their “failings”, but Labour’s accusations on antisemitism were first called four years ago and have never been addressed properly, yet. The Rabbi regrets that receiving 673 complaints, of antisemitism in ten months, they dismissed only 12 members. Not enough. As a conclusion, he writes: “We must not let Corbyn’s Labour Party poison the values of this great country,” clearly meaning: vote for whomever you wish but don’t vote for him.
On the same days, a key Shadow Cabinet ally of Jeremy Corbyn was involved in an antisemitism accusation after claims he had sung the Beatles hit “Hey Jude” changing the original lyrics and saying “Hey Jews”. This behaviour was supposed to take place during a coach journey in March 2018. Corbyn confirmed Labour was probing the allegations claimed by the Buzzfeed website. Talking to Twitter, Mr Carden categorically denied everything about it.
Last, but not least, come the WhatsApp text was widely spread to the UK Hindus urging them to vote against Labour accusing the party of being “Anti-India” and “Anti-Hindu”. The message said that Corbyn’s party is now the “mouthpiece of the Pakistani government”, as a consequence, all the Indians still voting for them are officially considered traitors to their ancestral land, to their family and friends.
Tony Blair plays his game
Last February, Jewish MP Luciana Berger blamed ‘institutional’ anti-Semitism and decided to quit the Labour Party to join Change UK. “For anyone who might look to play this down, the threshold to initiate this process is extremely high. That the Labour Party has even met the evidentiary threshold is damning,” she said.
Luciana Berger decided to stand up as a candidate for the Lib Dems; after announcing her decision, former PM, Tony Blair, condemned the fact that she had been driven out of their party over Corbyn’s failure to tackle the whip and wished her “very well” at the polls.
Blair was later involved in an unpleasant statement. A Labour candidate for Pudsey in West Yorkshire compared celebrating his death to cheering the death of Adolf Hitler. Later, she apologized for causing offense.
Tories’ accusation of racism and sexism
Are the people that voted for Brexit asking for a monocultural country? Based on the perspective that xenophobia and racism have always existed but to some extent, the matter has never been addressed, Brexit has had an evident impact on this issue. Racism has never disappeared even if people have thought it; xenophobia has increased and becoming an independent nation is what Brexit voters claimed.
More importantly, even though the issue of Brexit is set to dominate the December vote, many Jewish voters, even those opposed to the Conservative vow to take Britain out of Europe, feel they cannot vote for Labour.
Which alternative do they have? Labour’s strategy is to point out that Johnson is himself a populist, Islamophobe. After the exodus of more moderate Conservatives, the party has become more extremist and is now led by a man accused of being a racist. Johnson is still facing this accusation after in a newly unearthed 2007 book, “The Dream of Rome”, he wrote that the religion has left Muslim countries “centuries behind” the Western world.
Last year, he said that full-face veils should not be banned, but it was “absolutely ridiculous” women chose to “go around looking like letterboxes and bank robbers”. He has always defended his words adding that the backlash against them was just a “confected indignation at his strong views on Brexit”. According to a research conducted by the monitoring group Tell Mama, Islamophobic incidents rose by 375% due to the fact that his words were repeated by racists abusing Muslims on the streets and online.
Accusations of a rising politics of hate and divisions are still staining this snap political campaign. “The climate for British Muslims in the Conservative Party is hostile”. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, former co-chair of the Conservative Party (2010-2012), lawyer and member of the House of Lords, attacked her parliamentary colleagues for failing to deal with alleged Islamophobia within the Conservatives and called on the PM to hold an independent inquiry saying she was shocked that her colleagues didn’t understand that issue and didn’t take it seriously.
“What really disappoints me in all of this, is that we’ve quite rightly been calling out the Labour for all the allegations of racism within their ranks, we seem to be able to see that form of racism and yet we singularly fail to deal with the Islamophobia and racism within our backyard,” she said interviewed by Channel 4.
There’s also another issue going on inside the Conservative Party. Some of the most senior female Tory MPs decided to quit, others were forced out or decided to stand down at the general election because they claimed the party was changing. “There’s definitely a whiff of toxic masculinity around at the top of the Tory party, at the moment,” a senior Conservative said.
As a consequence, the party that returns to the Commons after 12 December will be very different: more right-wing, more hardline Eurosceptic and quite possibly, let’s say, more male.
When the Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd decided to quit the cabinet and resign the Conservative whip in solidarity with Tory MPs who had had the whip removed for opposing a hard Brexit, she explained that she could not stand by while “loyal, moderate MPs were purged from the party.” She also condemned Mr Johnson’s language claiming that it was dangerous and could incite violence against opponents. She described him as part of the “cult of the strongman” that is sweeping the world, referring to the so-called “alpha male thing” she was warning about, before Johnson became leader.
A recent poll for the centre-right think tank Onward found that only 8% of young women would vote Conservative, compared with 22% of young men.
This could also explain the reason why the Tories are now trying to ensure that more female candidates are parachuted into safe seats, at the last minute.
A strong leadership would not guarantee victory
One novelty in this election is the appearance of high-profile independents and switchers, most of whom are strongly associated with the Remain cause. That’s why, ignoring half the electorate, whether they are Remainers, women, Jewish, or member of every kind of minority could be dangerous for every party now trying to recover its lost support.
As usual, the result of this election will be determined by the performance in individual seats rather than the national vote share and this is the reason why things may get even more complicated. The first-past-the-post rule will guarantee the victory more then the big leadership and Brexit will be its driving force.
According to the most recent poll published by YouGov (2-8 November), Tories are on 39%, 13% ahead of Labour on 26% followed by Lib Dems on 17%.
Without a majority in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson could struggle to remain PM if the opposition all combined forces to defeat him, even if Labour wins fewer seats. Labour perfectly knows it doesn’t even need to win many seats to send Jeremy Corbyn to Downing Street. But we should not forget sources said that up to 20 Labour MPs would act immediately after polling day to ensure that Mr Corbyn has no chance of leading a government supported by other parties.
Nigel Farage has announced he will no longer fight 600 seats across the UK as his party will stand down against the 317 seats the Tories won at the last elections. The Brexit Party’s decision not to stand in Conservative-held seats superficially seems like good news for the Tories, elsewhere it is not clear whether this decision would end up helping Labour or the Lib Dems.