Photography via @BorisJohnson/Instagram
The 2020 narrative that the “left”, as an undifferentiated mass, hate Tories who are people of colour for no legitimate reason came to a head yesterday with both Sajid Javid and James Cleverly sending out tweets that said this verbatim. The truth is however, they are not the downtrodden and maligned group they pretend to be. The rage that is aimed at them is, more often than not, completely justified.
It is highly ironic that the ministers, amongst many others, have embraced this victimhood complex that they deride the “hyper-woke”, “uber-sensitive” left for having. After years of mocking the concept of “identity politics” and suggesting that any mention of it is simply a rationalisation of personal failure, the Tories, in a hypocritical turn of events, have now decided to embrace and weaponise it.
There is a genuine discussion to be had about racism on the left; prejudice isn’t specific to the Conservative party. It was Clement Attlee, the lauded post-war Labour PM, that called the Windrush generation an “incursion” and James Callaghan, Labour’s Home Secretary, pushed through the 1968 Commonwealth Immigrants Act, which has since been deemed one of the most racist pieces of legislation in British history.
More recently, New Labour passed immigration bills that did little else than make life harder for migrants in this country and it is no secret that Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader was marked by numerous antisemitism scandals. We can also recognise insensitive and on occasion racist depictions of Black and brown Conservative MPs by white reporters – the Guardian’s cartoon of Priti Patel, for instance, sparked outrage in June and was roundly condemned.
“The Tories, in a hypocritical turn of events, have now decided to embrace and weaponise identity politics”
But this discussion is often hijacked and used to shield Conservative MPs from legitimate criticism surrounding their voting records, the legislation that they push and the harmful things that they say.
When Boris Johnson announced his new cabinet last July, the Conservative party spent weeks patting themselves on the back for creating “a cabinet for modern Britain”. Armed with its new younger, more diverse government (which was, it’s worth pointing out, lacking in Black cabinet ministers), the Conservatives have spent the last year refusing to hold themselves accountable for the rabid Islamophobia, anti-Black racism and anti-immigration sentiment that holds the party together.
The fact that Boris Johnson’s cabinet is the most diverse in British history, is both an indictment of the woeful levels of representation in Westminster politics and also is an illustration of the limitations of diversity politics – especially as the PoC cabinet ministers that Boris has elected are amongst the most hard-right figures in the party.
And so the anger which is placed at their doorsteps is often more than justified. Priti Patel’s first year as Home Secretary has been marked by the same kind of toxicity that defined her predecessors. Just last month reports came out that suggested that the government was pushing an “Australian-style” offshore asylum plan which would effectively put refugees in camps. And earlier this year she famously admitted that her parents may not have even been allowed into the country under the immigration policies that she has proposed.
“Conservatives have spent the last year refusing to hold themselves accountable for the rabid Islamophobia, anti-Black racism and anti-immigration sentiment that holds the party together”
Whilst her regressive and punitive immigration policies are more or less continuations of the hostile environment policy ushered in by Theresa May, Priti has heralded in her own era with her “tough on crime” rhetoric, indicating a return to a hardline for drug offences. While Theresa May was unwittingly ahead of the curve with her policies that defunded the police, Priti Patel has instead chosen to push for the kind of punitive criminal justice system that President Richard Nixon, the founding father of the “War on Drugs”, would be proud of. It is a system which has historically disproportionately harmed, criminalised and incarcerated people of colour, particularly young Black boys.
Rishi Sunak, the poster boy for the current administration, has been applauded for his response to Covid-19 as chancellor of the exchequer. However, regardless of how many superman infographics the BBC can make of him, Rishi has consistently voted to harm the most marginalised and vulnerable communities – with asylum seekers and refugees at the top of the list. He has also, without exception, voted against raising benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability. But this should be of no surprise to anyone – Sajid Javid, Priti’s predecessor, revoked Shamima Begum’s citizenship, breaching international law and creating a dangerous precedent that leaves non-white British citizens vulnerable in the future.
PoC Tories claim that we live in a post-racial society, often suggesting that racism is no longer a real issue here. At the same time, they dismiss any critique levelled at them as the left simply not being able to cope with their existence. The truth is they cannot retreat into their fickle and cynical brand of identity politics whilst simultaneously denying the experiences of millions of Black and brown people across the country.
“They cannot retreat into their fickle and cynical brand of identity politics whilst simultaneously denying the experiences of millions of Black and brown people across the country”
We cannot, and should not, capitulate to the narrative that Tories of colour are the real victims of racism when their policies do little else than harm people of colour across the country. The idea that the Conservatives are anybody’s victim is laughable when they currently enjoy an 80 seat majority and have been in power for over ten years. But these facts do not diminish from the power of this victimhood narrative that they continue to propagate. The right has long since been attuned to the reality that facts are not necessarily the most powerful tool in politics.
The Tories are deflecting with disingenuous cries of racism, shifting the narrative away from their cruel and harmful policies to an unending conversation about whether the left just can’t stand to see a “successful BAME person”. The culture war, so to speak, has well and truly been waged but the best thing we can do is to stay focussed on the issues that they are so clearly intent on diverting attention away from: their failure to control the pandemic, children drowning in the Channel and a no-deal Brexit.