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Monday 5 March 2018

Labour Forgets Its Own Racist Past

Sometimes it is necessary to tell people whose cause one often favours that they are wrong. So it was that last week, Zelo Street put the new order at the Guardian straight on their betrayal of their own work, and the victims of press intrusion, when the paper decided to back the suppression by the Tories, with the backing of the right-leaning part of the press, of Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry. Today, though, the subject is the Labour Party.
After the Daily Mail’s hit job on press campaigner Max Mosley last week, some in Labour have become most righteous about his having worked for his father’s far-right party more than 55 years ago. Despite Mosley having been welcomed into Labour’s ranks more than 20 years ago - John Smith led the party at the time - shadow chancellor John McDonnell is now suggesting Mosley’s donations to Labour should be returned.

The problem for Labour here is that the party and its allies are not in the position to come over all judgmental about racism in the early 1960s. Mosley acted as election agent for his unrepentantly fascist father in 1961; two years later, Labour and the Trades Unions faced their own little local difficulty in the city of Bristol, where the local bus company operated a colour bar. In 1963, this was legal. The local reps from the TGWU (now Unite) backed it.
When 18-year-old Guy Bailey arrived for an interview with the Bristol Omnibus Company early in 1963, the receptionist told her manager “Your two o'clock appointment is here, and he's black”. The manager, who didn’t bother emerging from his office to respond, declared “There's no point having an interview. We don't employ black people”. The BAME community, backed by local students, boycotted the buses.

Labour’s national leadership backed ending the colour bar. It was duly ended. The affair hastened the passing in 1965 of the first Race Relations Act. But it was not the only time the left had been found wanting on its attitude to racism.
Only a year after the Bristol bus boycott came a General Election campaign in which the issue of race was manipulated shamelessly by right-wing politicians, most infamously in the West Midlands constituency of Smethwick. But Tory Peter Griffiths, whose sympathy for far-right race-baiting election literature later had Harold Wilson telling the Commons that he would “serve his time as a Parliamentary leper”, wasn’t the only culprit.

In the Smethwick constituency, Labour councillor Ken Burns ran the Sandwell Youth Club. The club operated a colour bar, as did The Labour Club on Coopers Lane. Paul Foot later talked of “the inability of the local Labour party, corrupted as it was by anti-immigrant sentiment, to hit back in a determined and principled way”.
The party’s current deputy leader Tom Watson, whose office received significant donations from Max Mosley, will certainly be aware of this recent history, as he represents a nearby constituency. Whether the likes of John McDonnell, and Jeremy Corbyn’s right-hand man Seumas Milne, have taken it on board, though, is less certain.

Condemning what Max Mosley did more than 55 years ago in support of his father is all very well. But ignoring the left’s own, shall we say, blemishes in its record on race at the same time gives the impression of double standards. I’ll just leave that one there.


Anonymous said...

A timely piece, Tim. Our culture has been riddled with racism ever since Britain invented industrialised colonial slavery. No social class is free of it.

When slavery was abolished there was more than 46,000 slave owners in this country. All of them received government compensation. The slaves of course received nothing. No area of Britain was entirely free of guilt. That is the legacy we live with - in the USA, it's even more visceral and lethal.

The Labour Party should organise and promote a World Apology for Slavery. A day for every guilty nation to gather its leaders in one place and deliver a collective admittance of culpability in arguably the greatest crime ever committed against humanity. Without that, this miserable, cowardly racist horror will go on.

Legislation is a good start, but we need more than that. We need a cultural admission. Here, it will never come from the tories and their wretched profiteering and thieving mindset. And the USA is almost beyond the Pale. We're about to find out if Labour is up to the task.

Anonymous said...

This just reads like a smear to me. Yes racial prejudice was not unlawful in 1963. Yes every party had at least a few racists in it. What you carelessly gloss over is that Labour won the election very narrowly in 1964 and by a year later had made racism illegal in employment.The '65 Act was opposed by some in Labour, but by almost all other parties. As were subsequent acts extending the extent to which racism was illegal. Individuals and working men's clubs were among the last defenders of racist exclusion. But there is no way you can attach blame on the party as a whole, which took a determined anti-racism and anti-sexist stance, from the day (ironically during the Bristol bus protest) that 'leftie' Harold Wilson became Leader.
Secondly, I don't believe for a minute that you don't know Corbyn's history, as an anti-racism &a civil rights protester. Well before he got nominated as a Parliamentary candidate.I think you know he has a reputation for challenging those in his own party and I suspect you know he did that on racism as much as on nuclear weapons. There are still racists amongst Labour supporters, as among all parties (except Ukip which is homogeneously racist). Trying to suggest Corbyn has ever tolerated them is descending to the journalistic standards you normally tear apart).

Anonymous said...

To bernardcrofton.

All you posted is true. But I think you misunderstood Tim's blog. His target was racism, not the Labour Party.

nparker said...

While I understand your points, I don't see where Tim has suggested it is a party-wide problem, nor do I see him suggesting Corbyn has tolerated racism or not been fantastic on the subject. I may be interpreting wrong, but I don't really see it.

nparker said...

@ Anonymous

I hope Labour is up to the task. I think they just might be.

Wonderful suggestions for the country, your ideas.

Anonymous said...

I just cant see the point, are you trying to suggest that Corbyn should be talked about in the same breath as Dacre, if so it is a straw man argument and a poor one at that.

There seem to be an awful lot of left wing commentators who talk the talk, but when it comes to getting on board with Corbyn's agenda they write emotional pieces with no hard facts as an excuse for the very same prejudices that the right wing press possess.
Yourself and James Obrien are particularly glaring examples of this tendency, Whilst you are entitled to an opinion of Corbyn I do wish you and indeed others would please explain what exactly is the problem you have with him.

nparker said...

@ john smith
Tim has explained his points eloquently. When he talks about Corbyn, he explains any reservations also eloquently and well, and praises him often. You can't just expect complete loyalty. Notice you haven't actually responded to the article or what has been written, meaning you haven't been very clear. James O'Brien is, again, an extremely valuable part of the left wing parts of the media landscape and is also rather good at articulating his thoughts on Corbyn. Comparing either to the right wing press is frankly extremely suspect and more than a little inappropriate.

Anonymous said...


You say Tim "explains any reservations also eloquently and well, and praises him often"

Maybe I don't read enough of the blog, but as I said in my post, my problem is that I feel he doesn't explain his reservations in a factually based way, but in an emotional way.

As for the article, an article about racism in the Labour party in the sixties references Corbyn, Mcdonnell and Seamus Milne and I quote
"Whether the likes of John McDonnell, and Jeremy Corbyn’s right-hand man Seumas Milne, have taken it on board, though, is less certain." which suggests that he has doubts about their credentials on racism, so the question is why, where are the facts to back up the tone.

As for James O'brien, an example
James rightly criticized the papers for their ludicrous assertions about Corbyn being a Czech spy and then followed with the statement I wish I wasn't having to defend Comrade Corbyn.

Again emotional not factual, my concern is that both Tim and James see the corruption but seemed to have bought into the idea that Corbyn is some kind of threat without reasonable argument as to why, in other words propagating the very messages they would say they fight against.

Thank you for the reply, it is genuinely nice that someone has read and tried to absorb what I have written.

If either Tim or James have an argument as to why Corbyn is such a threat I am happy to read it, providing it is based on empirical facts and not "gut feelings"

In conclusion I believe that both Tim and James are making a fine and valuable contribution to the debate, however I reserve the right to question it, when I think it is biased, however well meaning

Tim Fenton said...


I do not even suggest that Jeremy Corbyn is "a threat".

But let me spell out, for those who do not get it, what it being said in this post.

Some in the Labour leadership are suggesting that Tom Watson should hand back money that Max Mosley donated, because of a racist campaign more than 55 years ago.

The problem there is that there were well documented examples of how Labour and the Unions were indulging in racist behaviour at the same time, and indeed later than the Mosley campaign.

So suggesting Mosley is tainted, while ignoring similar behaviour in its own recent history, leaves the party open to accusations of double standards.

I have no doubts on the current Labour leadership's "credentials on racism". It is their perceived inability to see what happened in their own party at the time under discussion.

That is all.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough Tim

I seem to have taken inference from your post that was not intended by you, and if so I hope you wont take it personally, it is not my intention to argue with people that are quite clearly fighting on the side of the angels.

Thanks for the clarification and for posting my comments

Jez Corbyn said...

They can happily have a refund.

We haven't kept those old tenners for nothing.....

D Abbott said...

Oh. Great.
I'll start counting them out......


Anonymous said...

The title and the first story may possible imply that Labour has a more racist past than the rest of the piece.

It may be worth noting that in the past, the unions weren't always synonymous with the left, and that national Labour did oppose Bristol's colour bar.

Similarly you were referring to a Smethwick drinking establishment, not a political group.