Racism is a massive problem in both Britain and America, with Muslims representing one of the primary targets of a relentless demonization campaign that has been waged by politicians of many hues in the mainstream media. Here in Britain the primary vehicle for the scapegoating of Muslims is the governments counterproductive and much-criticised PREVENT anti-terror program.
Publicly opposing racism and Islamophobia is therefore critical in the current political environment, so it is always reassuring to hear from local politicians that are opposed to racism. But given the shady track-records of many of Leicester’s local politicians, it is vital that we check that the policies that such politicians promote are consistent with their opposition to racism.
Speaking at Wednesday’s Stand Up to Racism event that took place in Leicester, the former leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, explained how the disgraceful pro-corporate policies of both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party had allowed racism to flourish. Thus, instead of standing up to UKIP’s racism, both Labour and the Tories have, in recent decades, merely attempted to “out-UKIP UKIP” she said.
Bennett made it clear that the best way to oppose racism was to oppose the political decisions that serve to disenfranchise the majority of citizens. We must fight to “rearrange our society” so it serves the needs of the many, not just the needs of corporate elites. This rearrangement can be done by fighting for full employment, better wages (at least £10 an hour), a mass Council house building program, and an end to needless wars of aggression.
Unfortunately the Labour councillor who had been in invited to speak to the Leicester Stand Up to Racism meeting, Vijay Singh Riyait (Abbey ward), was not the most inspired choice of speaker. As a longstanding member of the rightwing faction of the Labour Party (“Progress”), Councillor Riyait has been a vocal critic of the anti-austerity leader of his own party, and publicly backed the most recent attempt to force Jeremy Corbyn to resign. The decision to invite pro-austerity, pro-big business Labour right-wingers to address Stand Up to Racism meetings is however becoming something of a trend, as last year their guest speaker at their only large public meeting was Diane Cank (Troon ward), a councillor, who like Councillor Riyait went on to publicly support the coup against Corbyn.
Here it should be noted that Corbyn has spent his life opposing racism, and he has always vigorously opposed the governments PREVENT anti-terror program because of the way in which it serves to demonise Muslims and encourage racism.
Returning to Leicester, during short his speech on Wednesday night, Cllr Riyait did at least pledge to take a political motion that opposed racism to the next full Council meeting. The content of this motion, he said, was undecided, and so he invited the audience to make a suggestion as to the motion’s content.
During the course of the ensuing political discussion, only one anti-racism motion was proposed, and that was by myself. I suggested that if Cllr Riyait really wanted to help fight against the root causes of racism, like poverty — one of the best ways of doing this would be move a motion that called upon the Labour Council (which holds 52 of 54 seats) to refuse to carry through further Tory cuts in Leicester!
The modest motion would simply call upon the Council to investigate how they might use the £142 million they have in the bank (their reserve accounts) to prevent making cuts to local services, which at the moment include the threatened closures of public libraries, adventures playgrounds, welfare services, mental health services, and children’s centres. Such a motion could show to the people of Leicester that our Labour Council was really on their side, and it would help undercut the growth of racism that is all too often linked to the hopelessness and anger that accompany the implementation of endless service cuts.
As the meeting did not formally back the motion I proposed, the ball now rests in the hands of the primary organisers of Leicester Stand Up to Racism to ensure that they make the best use of Cllr Riyait’s offer of assistance. If perhaps no agreement can be made as to the merits of my own proposed motion, then it might be useful for the campaign to suggest that Cllr Riyait promotes a motion that calls upon Leicester City Council to at the very least oppose the government’s racist and Islamophobic PREVENT anti-terror program.
Let’s see what happens next!
In the meantime join tomorrows protest on February 4, from 12pm by the Clock Tower in Leicester city centre. The protest which has been called by Leicester Stand Up to Racism is titled “Protest: Stop Trump’s Muslim Ban – Stop May Supporting It.”