Solidarity and dedication are key to making our voices heard, writes Liam Martin-Lane
I am still coming to terms with how the party I have supported my entire political life has been infected with racism and bigotry.
Speaking as a mixed-race male, born in south London in the 1990s to a mother of Jamaican heritage, my perceptions of what racism looks like (and the type of people it comes from) can be quite entrenched. I understood racism as verbal, and even physical, abuse directed towards people who do not pass as white. This is part of what motivated me to join the Labour party. Labour’s time in office made the United Kingdom a more open society, increasingly accepting of different races, faiths and sexualities.
As I have become more politically engaged however, I have discovered that abuse has a wider range than I initially thought. It is not always a shout in the street – it can be much more subtle, yet just as nasty. It is an increasing presence on social media, perpetuated by people only bold enough to attack from behind a keyboard. Racism is not restricted to the far right, and we must not allow it to have a place in our party.
There are Jewish Labour party members who I have known almost as long as I have been in the party – met knocking on doors, at party meetings, and during phonebanks. Those same people smiling in 2015 are despairing today. People who I have seen as Labour stalwarts are now seriously questioning if they can stay another day.
Who can blame them? Labour’s National Executive Committee refuses to allow the overwhelming majority of the Jewish community to define the abuse that’s levied at it. It’s what has led to the sorry state of affairs where Peter Willsman gets off lightly with equalities training, Ken Livingstone resigns instead of being expelled, and Chris Williamson openly supports suspended members like Jackie Walker with impunity. Yet the likes of Margaret Hodge (up until yesterday) and Ian Austin are investigated for daring to call this behaviour out.
That said, leaving the party will not solve our problem with antisemitism. Recently resigned Labour party members have disarmed themselves of an important agent for change in this crisis – their NEC vote. Every member who resigns is one fewer vote for change, and one more for the new establishment in our party. Abandoning the playing field is not going to win us the game.
It is possible to change the NEC and how it handles issues like this. But it requires us not to let our values to be defined by other people. We belong in Labour.
I was brought up to be respectful to other people, but to stand up to bullies when they come for your friends. We need to learn this lesson and tough this out, and not let the bonds of our solidarity fray. It does not always make itself obvious, and that will make it harder to root out – but that does not mean we should not try.
Liam Martin-Lane is the Chair of Redbridge Young Labour. He tweets @LML96_
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