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Labour’s mixed up views on race and diversity are driving voters away

31 May 2014

1:28 PM

31 May 2014

1:28 PM

In the past few weeks, Sadiq Khan has made a couple of interventions that show how hopelessly confused the Labour Party is on issues of race and diversity – and Ukip looms large in the background.

First up, a couple of weeks ago, Khan made a Labour’s pitch ethnic minority votes in a speech to Operation Black Vote. He said:

‘The fact is that if you are black or Asian in Britain today: you are significantly more likely to be unemployed. You will earn less and you will live a shorter life than your white neighbours.’

Invoking Policy Exchange’s recent ‘Portrait of Modern Britain’ report, he added:

Entire racial groups are significantly poorer, have lower educational achievements and worse life chances than their [white] neighbours’.

Leaving aside the strange claim that whole races are much worse off than any white people they may live next to, this sort of language seems somewhat…divisive. Khan went on to point out how people of Bangladeshi or Pakistani descent are twice as likely to be on the Minimum Wage as – again that phrase – ‘their white neighbours’, adding that these stats show ‘an injustice that causes untold economic and social damage to our country’ and outlining a number of measures of positive discrimination to follow under a Labour government.

You can imagine the howls of protest if these categories were reversed, and white people were highlighted as being much worse off than neighbours of another racial group. Beyond that, the idea of favouring white-skinned over dark-skinned people would be to jump straight into BNP territory.

But the idea that great injustice is being committed, based on a dubious reading of numbers wrenched from all context (like language skills), means that racial favouritism in areas like the civil service, judiciary and business, is precisely what Labour plans to implement.

After the European elections we saw a very different intervention from Khan: an open letter sent to the Express addressed at UKIP supporters.

In this, he said:

In the past, we were too quick to dismiss concerns about immigration, or even worse – accused people of prejudice… We all remember Gillian Duffy. We were wrong. We are sorry.’

Khan then ran through Labour’s list of pretty sensible but limited interventions, on the need for immigrants to learn English, not send child benefit out of the country, and for employers to actually pay the minimum wage and train local workers if they hire from outside.

These are all welcome, but the point remains that Labour does play racial politics, and does it at a time when such favouritism looks increasingly anachronistic.

Ed Miliband and his colleagues speak in hushed tones about how they understand the concerns of UKIP voters, but meanwhile Labour is promoting a ‘fightback’ campaign: ‘UKIP doesn’t speak for me. I’m fighting back’. Miliband seeks to promote Labour as a ‘One Nation’ party, but then Tessa Jowell, one of its most liked and respected figures, boasts after the local elections that ‘these results show London to be an open, tolerant and diverse city’ – in contrast to the rest of the country.

These mixed up messages reflect how Labour hasn’t come to terms with where its identity politics naturally leads. When you show preference to some groups, you shouldn’t be surprised when the others turn away.

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