Recent elections have seen the deliberate scapegoating of the wrong targets: in 2010, much to the shame of the Lib Dems, there they were telling anyone who would listen that Labour had “crashed the car”, that Pa Broon was single-handedly responsible for the 2008 financial crisis. It wasn’t true, the economy was recovering, but instead those same Lib Dems then joined the Tories in inflicting years of needless austerity on us.
After the austerity, we were then told that this was all the fault of the dastardly EU, and hence the referendum result. The electorate wanted someone to kick, were duly told it was all those people who talk foreign, and voted accordingly. This, too, was not true. The EU didn’t make things difficult for ordinary working people, and nor, largely, did EU migrants. Now, clueless Labour politicians are joining in with this new conventional wisdom.
And they do not come more clueless than Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, who wants everyone to know that her constituency is on the brink of civil unrest. “The other reason we have got to get this right [Brexit] is because there are bubbling tensions in this country that I just think could explode … You had those riots in 2011, the riots didn’t happen in Leeds and in my constituency, but if riots started again in Leeds and bits of my constituency - it’s like a tinder box” she told yesterday. And there was more.
“The trouble is I’m just not surprised and if we don’t get this right in terms of this response, and getting the balance right in terms of the renegotiation but also the deeper seated problems, these sort of things are just going to get worse … I worry about the economy and getting the deal right … but I worry about the divisions in our society. Of course the referendum unleashed some of these feelings, but they are deeper seated as well”.
After Ms Reeves also said “there had been ‘three racist attacks’ in her constituency - one of which left a Polish man in hospital” I had a 1968 flashback; we’ve been here before. Blaming “others” for current and allegedly future problems? That was what Enoch Powell did in a speech which has gone down in infamy.
Ms Reeves might recognise these words: “The discrimination and the deprivation, the sense of alarm and of resentment, lies not with the immigrant population but with those among whom they have come and are still coming”. Because she is effectively saying the same thing. Never mind that Polish people are the target of attacks, it’s those who were here beforehand who are alarmed. It’s the incomers’ fault.
Powell went on to say “This is why to enact legislation of the kind before parliament at this moment [anti-discrimination law] is to risk throwing a match on to gunpowder. The kindest thing that can be said about those who propose and support it is that they know not what they do”. Throwing a match on to gunpowder. It’s like a tinder box. Spot the difference.
Enoch Powell was sacked from the opposition front bench for his intervention. The least that Rachel Reeves should do is to consider her position, and her language. If you’re going to play the blame game, just make sure you aim at the right target first.