With recent pressure mounting on the government over junior doctor contracts and the fight back against the ‘academisation’ of UK schools, a red herring was just what they needed to gain some breathing space, and the anti-Semitism row within the labour party seems to have provided just that.
There is an air of irony about all of this when you consider the Conservatives’ own track record on racism. In 2001, the then Conservative Shadow cabinet minister Andrew Lansley upset many Tory peers by openly complaining of “endemic racism” in his party, an accusation which came after it was revealed that the father of the then BNP leader Nick Griffin was the Vice-Chair of Ian Duncan Smith’s election campaign.
In the same year, the Conservative’s first black peer Lord John Taylor launched a scathing attack on Tory leadership speaking of racism among the Conservatives as “a cancer that is in the body [of the party]”. But that was almost 15 years ago, surely the party has moved on since then? Apparently not it would seem, as accusations of racism have continued to plague the party since. Only last year former conservative party adviser Derek Laud expressed in his book ‘The Problem with Immigrants’, concerns over racist attitudes towards immigration within the Conservative party following the approval of its “Go home or face arrest” posters in 2013 aimed at illegal immigrants.
Fast forward to 2016 and we have the Prime Minister David Cameron referring to war refugees based in Calais as a “bunch of immigrants”, and while going back on his own call to begin referring to ISIS as “Daesh”, labels a British citizen an “IS supporter” without any evidence. It was later revealed that the man in question, who has always openly condemned ISIS, was actually a supporter of Sadiq Khan’s Tory election rival last May, and was also seen pictured with a smiling Zach Goldsmith, the Tory candidate for this year’s mayoral election; the same Zach Goldsmith who has no qualms linking his Muslim election rival Sadiq Khan with the 7/7 bombings in London as a last ditch effort to salvage his London mayoral campaign. It is worth noting that the only other party to ever use sensitive pictures from the 7/7 London bombings in a campaign leaflet were the BNP, something the Conservatives then described “disgraceful and sick… as contemptible an election tactic as I have ever seen in my life”.
Labour MP Jo Cox has openly slammed the Cameron and Goldsmith campaign as Islamophobic, with Labour’s MP for Streatham Chukka Umunna, stating that the rhetoric used by the Conservatives conveys a message to young British Muslims who aspire to enter British politics that they “will face this outrageous prejudice from people holding the highest office in our country”. The comments made by Cameron about Sadiq Khan in the House of Commons on 20 April were also met with cries of “racist” by members of the opposition with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn shouting “that’s disgraceful and you know it”.
The actions of Cameron and Goldsmith have even received criticism from their own party members and supporters. Most noticeably perhaps from lifelong Tory supporter and former chief political columnist at the Daily Telegraph Peter Oborne, who lamented Goldsmith’s Mayoral campaign as “the most repulsive I have ever seen as a political reporter”, calling on Tory and Labour members alike to vote for Sadiq Khan.
What is striking is that the same media outlets that preyed on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour members over allegations of anti-Semitism are silent when it comes to racism within the Conservative party. There has been no call for Cameron to deal with racism in his party and no criticism of his passiveness in dealing with the issue by the media, or by the Opposition party at that.
Many in the Labour camp are now convinced that the whole anti-Semitism row was nothing more than a smear campaign by Tories and Blairite factions of the Labour party who want Jeremy Corbyn out.
However, the glaring question remains:
Why hasn’t the opposition turned the tables and seriously begun pressuring the Prime Minister on racism and Islamophobia in his own party?
As a real issue that is having serious consequences on communities across Britain, they would be completely justified in doing so. Divisive rhetoric in campaigns and racially provocative language on immigration by the Tories has led to an increase in xenophobic attacks on ethnic minorities, and fueled bad feeling between communities across the country.
What’s more, it has already led to obscene and unjust policies since the Tories have come to power. ￡18,600 minimum requirement forced upon British citizens (which almost 50% of Britons can’t afford) if they wish to sponsor their non EU/EEA family member to live with them in the UK, or austerity measures that target some of the UK’s poorest families from ethnic minority groups like the Benefit Cap introduced in 2013. If this is left unchecked and not challenged, at least three more years of Tory rule will continue to discriminate against minority groups and divide communities across a country which for so long has been an exemplar for pluralism and social cohesion.