Leicester’s Immigration Legacy

Too many countries have been (and are being) ripped asunder by the profit-seeking foreign policy objectives of all the mainstream parties, whether they come from Labour, the Con-Dems, or the Tories.

Thankfully Leicester’s Labour Council are “ready and willing” to accept refugees from war-torn countries (September 4, Mercury). But are they willing to do something to address the fact that the violence that their Party supports is one of the main stimulants for the global refugee crisis?

In 2006 only a dozen Labour MPs including Peter Soulsby and Jeremy Corbyn chose to rebel against the Labour Party by calling for an inquiry into the legitimacy of Labour’s invasion of Iraq. But even as Soulsby and Corbyn saw eye-to-eye on this issue, their politics are a world apart.

Soulsby has been committed to undermining democratic accountability throughout his work as our City Mayor. Corbyn on the other hand, strives to promote greater democracy, which he aims to do by restoring the power of rank-and-file members to influence the Labour Party’s day-to-day policies.

Another difference can be seen in their attitudes toward budget cuts and austerity. Soulsby has repeatedly belittled the (not-so-radical) proposal that his Council should refuse to carry through the Tories slashing of public services. By contrast, Corbyn is resolute that all Labour-run Council’s should be ready and willing to fight to deny the logic of austerity by concretely refusing to carry through the Tories cuts agenda.

On immigration Corbyn is ready to correct Labour’s past mistakes which he endeavours to do by collecting tens of billion of pounds of unpaid tax from greedy elites and increasing public spending on housing and schools. Soulsby, on the other hand, not only accepts the need for cuts, but has an unfortunate propensity for white-washing his Party’s commitment to racist immigration policies.

When it was pointed out how “it had been a Labour-run city council which had taken out newspaper adverts urging Ugandan Asians not to come to Leicester in 1972,” Soulsby’s response was that such a policy “had not been representative of the city or the party” (September 4, Mercury).

Uganda 1972

Soulsby’s reply is a little slippery to say the least, as only a quarter of the city’s Labour councillors rebelled against the Council’s racist line. Jim Marshall was among the nine Labour rebels, and so we can be thankful that the following year he became the Labour group’s new leader.

Following these changes, the xenophobic elements within the Labour Party leadership were replaced by anti-racist councillors like Marshall and Soulsby (who was elected in 1973).

Yet critically this process of reform was only possible because of the democratic involvement of the working classes in the decision making process — a participatory legacy which is now just a remnant of Labour history, but something which Corbyn aims to redress with the aid of the working class.

Progressive workers within the Labour movement have always opposed racism and injustice, but will the Labour Party representatives be prepared to listen.

This letter was emailed to the Leicester Mercury mailbox on 7th September.

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