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Hearts, minds hatred and failure

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By Emma | 2 comments

This is a really difficult piece to write. It is the culmination of a great many thoughts I have had over the last few years, but it is not a piece full of resolution. I have not come to any firm, neat conclusions I can set out in 600 words. This won’t be pithy.

I am also aware that I am writing about issues touching on race from an extremely privileged position – one which should be front and centre in my mind as I negotiate through these feelings, just as I ask men to do so when questioning issues of gender. I am a comfortable, straight, white middle class beneficiary of the current system. I have a good education. I own property. I have a great, well paying job I enjoy. No one treats me as a criminal just on the basis of the colour of my skin nor on the basis of my religion – or lack thereof. I am approaching this debate not from a detached perspective – racism is something about which I get very emotional – but from the perspective of one who is not immediately threatened by the presence of the EDL on our streets. Is this detachment a good thing? I don’t know. As a campaigner I would always argue that the voice of users or victims count more than the voices of advocates. But this does not make the voice of advocates worthless. It does not make my questions or my unease worthless.

Two things happened this week that have got me thinking. Cogitating. Wondering. Not having an immediate answer to them, I thought I might set out my confusion here to see if writing it down helps.

The first was a fairly intense debate on my Facebook Page between two Labour stalwarts on the best way to approach people who are extremely right wing. Whether it should be openly, developing a dialogue to try to create a safe space to question their views and try to win them over to ours, or whether to shun them, reject them as we reject the vile views they espouse, to try to shame them, ensuring that such views continue to be considered shameful by wider society lessening the chances of more people being attracted to such views.

Shortly after this debate ended, Tommy Robinson announced he was leaving the EDL as reportedly through the result of outreach work by the Quillaim Foundation – he had become convinced that they were too violent and extreme. He has not repudiated his views of Islamism nor rejected his former friends and colleagues in the EDL, and he is looking to continue to battle what he regards as Islamic extremism in other ways. Many are extremely sceptical others are simply scathing.

I am not sure either of these are the right response. Robinson clearly has leadership qualities. He may have dedicated these to espousing ideas I loathe, but that does not mean they don’t exist. If he can be fully brought around to an anti-racist viewpoint, he could employ these qualities to bringing a great many people with him. That feels like an opportunity worth working towards to me. Taking time to welcome Robinson’s first few, small steps – however unsteady – and create an atmosphere that encourages further steps, further repudiation might risk us looking stupid if it doesn’t work, but gives great rewards if it does. That feels like a worthwhile calculation. I may well be proved wrong. I may well end up with egg on my face, my pride dented by having taken a risk and failed. But I hope that would still mean I would take the same risk next time. But I worry that if this does go wrong, in part that will be down the the very hostility this announcement has been met with. And that hostility and failure will make it harder still for others to change their minds.

But I worry that we have lost any focus on changing minds. Does hatred of racism have to equate to hatred of racists? Because that is the tone of the anti-EDL debate online and on marches. We loathe EDL members with the same spite – if not – thankfully – the same violence – that EDL members hate the Muslim community. In this us and them battle, both sides are happy to define themselves against the other and widen the divide between groups rather than try to recruit our opponents to our way of thinking.

When the EDL March, Twitter lights up with two reactions, that of SCUM as discussed above, but also of ridiculing the lack of intelligence of those marching. Often this isn’t hard. Racism is born of ignorance. The misspelled posters and ridiculous claims about Islam are firm visceral proof of the credulity of the EDL members.

But what I have never heard asked is why EDL members are largely poorly educated and whose fault that is. Are these people failures or have they been failed? Should we look to the education system to better  improve the lives of people living on the margins? Or do people’s educational failures no longer matter once their education is no longer the remit of the state?

Are they beyond redemption? Can we – as the left – believe so in ways we rail against when it comes to those who have committed and served times for crimes? I don’t believe we should. Not because I believe – in any way – that the EDL have a case either in their cause or their tactics, but precisely because I believe they don’t. So when I see people who have been drawn down a path of security in their ignorance, I want to draw them away from that path – not hurry them along it with harsh rejection.

I reject the ideas of racism and anti-Muslim sentiment completely. Anyone who tries to suggest otherwise on the strength of this piece or otherwise is very, very wrong to do so. but I do wish to see a better dialogue about the best way to defeat racism. I do want to see a questioning of our current tactics and some investigation into whether they are the most efficient way to drive racism from our lives. I don’t know how that can best be done, but perhaps – inadvertently or not – Tommy Robinson has given us an opportunity to try and find out. We should take it.


We need to talk about class

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By Emma | 3 comments

The Labour party has always understood and been uniquely informed by the class struggle and the struggling classes. This is not to say that we are solely a party of the working class – that has never been true. But our strength has been in the finding of common interests between the working and middle classes, and formatting policies that allowed both better lives for themselves and better dreams for their children.

This was considerably easier when the social strata of the UK was more clearly delineated. To paraphrase the Frost Report, the upper classes wore bowler hats and the working classes knew their place. But if class ever was that clear-cut, it certainly isn’t now. It’s a more elusive beast, shadowy and ill-defined by a combination of our jobs, education levels, property ownership and history.

Most people who would once have fit the bill as working class don’t define themselves as different from those who define as middle class. So with David Cameron claiming to be the “sharp elbowed middle class” (despite being related to the Queen), thus putting himself in the same category as an admin assistant living in a one bedroom flat, class consciousness is not the political incentive it once was. In some ways, John Major was right, the classless society has almost come about, with the middle class engulfing all but the underclass and royalty – the welfare classes at the top and bottom.

Labour only works as a party when we attract an alliance of working class and middle class voters and speak to their concerns. This is why I like the phrase “the squeezed middle” and agree with Ed’s attempts not to define this too restrictively. The squeezed middle as a group of voters instinctively recognises itself without needing that definition. Far more of us than live in the actual median of income self-define as middle, and boy do we feel squeezed.

Recently, much discussion of class has also been an examination of racial politics, and of the “white working class”. This has been greatly exposed in places like Oldham and Barking and in smaller ways in towns and cities around the country. Labour must not fall into the trap of pandering to racism or playing with the fire of race politics. It would be as destructive as it would be divisive and would ultimately cause real harm to the body politic and to Labour. But equally, we cannot simply write these voters off as racist bigots who deserve no audience from Labour. They have real and genuine concerns which Labour can address without making impossible and ungenuine promises on immigration.

The white working class is part of the totality of the working classes that Labour is there to represent. If we don’t represent all the working classes – and a chunk of the middle too – we will never have a democratic mandate to represent anyone.

They may not express the same ideas as some of us in Labour on race, but I don’t believe these voters are inherently racist. They are suffering from the lack of decent housing and a squeeze on services that come when shifting communities aren’t kept pace with by school, hospital and housing services as well as employment opportunities.

Labour should be the party championing  great public services for all anyway. Targeting them at poorer areas which have really felt the squeeze is the right thing to do as well as being electorally beneficial. Planning strategies for public service supply from communities could give Labour a better idea how to run national services that don’t leave these communities behind. That is a far better strategy than either turning our backs and abandoning them or attempting to game their anger to our electoral advantage.

There is plenty negative to be said about our current government. The havoc they are wreaking in just about every area of public life is horrendous. But Labour can’t sit back and wait for voters to return just because the Tory-led government is so awful.

We need a positive offer to take forward to voters. Perhaps by listening to the concerns that lie beneath the divisive language, concerns that actually straddle those divides, we can start to see what it is we need to offer voters and start to work out how to do that.

This piece first appeared on Labour Uncut.


It’s a difficult case that relies less on whether Phil Woolas was stirring up racial hatred and more on if this counts as cheating.

But let’s be very clear: The leaflets put out by Woolas and his team in Oldham have no place in the Labour Party, and whether he wins or loses his court case, he should be expelled for bringing the party into disrepute.


Five: Before the debate began, there was much noise from Tories about how good Cameron was going to be and very little expectation management. That set the bar far too high for Cameron. Even if his performance had been superb, it would only have been “as expected”.

Four: Not an easy one this, but he should have looked more rested. He looked tired and worn out. As his offer is – at least in part – about being “the future”, he needs to be able to contrast his energy with Brown’s lack. He failed to do this.

Three: He got his facts wrong totally unnecessarily. There wasn’t a need to talk about the cars at that point and if he is challenged on funding specifics – and he must have known he would be, it’s the drum Labour’s been banging for a while – he should have come up with something better. 

 Two: He looked by turns bored, frustrated and angry. He looked at times like he was holding in a tantrum. Iain Dale discusses here that the calm may have been a deliberate attempt not to seem like a bully. I think that may well be true, but it looked weird and unnatural. He came across as both fake and disinterested.

One: “I was in Plymouth recently, and a 40-year-old black man made the point to me. He said, “I came here when I was six, I’ve served in the Royal Navy for 30 years. I’m incredibly proud of my country. But I’m so ashamed that we’ve had this out-of-control system with people abusing it so badly”".First of course this quote begs the question – was this man 10 when he joined the Navy?

But more tellingly is the attitude behind the quote. A nasty combination of “some of my best friends are black” with “it can’t be racist if black people are saying it”. It positively reeks of Same Old Tories. It’s a huge mistake as consciously or subconsciously it will have been picked up by floating voters keen to believe in progressive Tories. It’s classic Thatcherism – turning communities against each other to achieve political aims far removed from what those communities were fighting to achieve in the first place.

More than anything it’s very, very lazy. It’s intellectually lazy to believe that black people can’t be racist, and so to conjure a mythical example as a buffer when discussing immigration. The fact that Cameron clearly hadn’t done a proper amount of prep – and you do get the feeling he likes to wing it – and his not bothering either to better control his emotions or to better express them also shows a certain contempt for the process. He needs to be really, really careful not to show this. Contempt for the process is easily translatable into a belief that he believe in his “right” to rule. With his heritage and his party’s background, that kind of lazy arrogance could do him a lot of damage in the eyes of an electorate who clearly haven’t made up thier minds.


Every single day, some idiot somewhere declares that “political correctness has gone mad”. Whether it’s because someone was upset by their use of racist or sexist language, or because they are too stupid to tell the difference between political correctness and health and safety (also important but vitally NOT THE SAME THING).

PCGM is a regular outcry of both the conservative press and the libertarian left. It’s a debasement of our freedom of speech not to be able to say it as we see it both sides cry. Well fine. But actually all that’s happened is that we have made a concerted attempt to consign hate speech to the dustbin of history where it belongs, and have tried to make it so that hateful images are not seen as examples in the popular press that go unchallenged, and hateful words spoken in a threatening way allowable in public discourse. At least without challenge. And what’s wrong with that?

There are two stages in any campaign, and we in the political correctness movement have really taken our eye off the ball. We won the legal war – the anti-discrimination laws in this country are good and about to get better. The UK is great example of how to be a free society while respecting difference. But we never carried on with the hearts and minds stuff. Why not? Why have we allowed the idea that political correctness is wrong to be so all pervasive? Why have we not challenged this assumption at every turn? 

I for one have had enough of keeping quiet about it:  I’ll say it loud: I’m PC and proud!



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The views stated are those of Emma Burnell and the other occassional contributors.
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