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.