Below are my answers to the questions put by Socialists of Colour/The 1987 Caucus to all the Labour NEC Election candidates. The questions cover four main themes; Black Lives Matter, Institutional Racism in the Party, International Solidarity and Engagement of Members of Colour.
Q1 What does Black Lives Matter mean to you and do you unequivocally support the movement?
A I fully support the Black Lives Matter movement aims to dismantle the state structures that disproportionately and systematically harm black people in Britain and the movement’s commitment to lift up the experiences of the most marginalised in our communities.
Q2 Do you believe that the police in the UK is institutionally racist? If no, why? If yes, what do you believe the Labour Party should do to tackle this racism?
A Yes, in common with many of the structures of the state and within our society I believe the police in the UK are, as McPherson set out in the 1999 Stephen Lawrence enquiry, institutionally racist. This does not mean that all police are racist.
McPherson summarised institutional racism in his enquiry report as follows: “6.34 “Institutional Racism” consists of the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”
In the McPherson report, statistics set out how black people were five times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. The latest figures on this (the year to March 2019) indicate that this figure has grown to ten times more likely across England and Wales.
Labour should take steps to ensure that police forces are more representative of the society they protect. As of 2019 only 7% of police officers self-identified as being from an ethnic minority whereas in the general population this figure is 14%. Labour should review Section 1 and Section 60 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act in relation to ‘stop and search’ procedures. A Labour government, as part of a UK wide education programme, should make it mandatory that police officers are taught about the history of colonialism and how black asian and minority ethnic groups have been disadvantaged by the state. Black people are also disproportionately criminalised by the current rules on cannabis use and I favour the decriminalisation of cannabis use.
Q3 Do you agree that in the long term, Labour should aim to abolish the prison system as it currently exists and work towards defunding the police? If not why?
A The current prison system is not fit for purpose due to underfunding leading to overcrowding and poor supervision. The root of the problem is of course not the prison system, but the disproportionate criminalisation of black people (who also receive longer sentences) which in turn is due to a number of societal factors. Prison should be regarded as a last resort (the UK currently has the highest prison population per capita in Europe) for the purposes of protecting the public and be seen as an opportunity for genuine rehabilitation rather than a means of punishment.
Defunding the police is a misunderstood term. Protecting its people is the first duty of government and I am keen for a restoration of police numbers which have been cut so severely since the Conservative government came to power in 2010. However, we must as a matter of urgency prioritise social policies that reduce crime and reverse the austerity cuts that have afflicted support networks in our communities. We must restore youth centres, improve social housing, invest in our mental health and special educational needs services. We also need to look at policies in relation to school exclusions as the children that experience this are overrepresented in the prison population.
Q4 Name one Black socialist man who inspires you, and explain what inspires you about them?
A Akala – a brilliant articulate verbal and written communicator.
Q5 What do you think a reformed complaints process should look like and how will you work to see it materialised as part of your role on the NEC?
A A complaints process must be straightforward to access, have a clear structure that is understood by all those involved and a timeline that ensures enquiries and decisions are reached in a timely fashion. Training should be offered to CLP Chairs/Secretaries to enable mediation to take place where this is appropriate.
Q6 ‘The Labour Party is institutionally racist.’ What is your personal response to that statement?
A Yes, like the rest of society the Labour Party is institutionally racist. Again, as with the police, this does not mean that the Labour Party contains large numbers of members who are racist, but its structures restrict the opportunities for black people.
Q7 What structures, processes, and changes do you think are required to change the culture within the party to one where racism is not permitted? Please answer with specific reference to anti-Black racism, antisemitism, and islamophobia.
A A culture change is likely only when there is adequate representation of Black, Asian, Jewish and Muslim members at all levels of the Labour Party. Members must be confident that disciplinary processes are effective, otherwise these issues will occur, but go unreported.
Q8 When geopolitical events cause an increase in racism against certain ethnic & religious minorities how would you ensure that these spikes in racism found in wider society aren’t found within Labour?
A Using the current example of people crossing the English Channel to seek asylum, Labour must be ready to challenge the narrative of a government that continues the hostile environment for the most vulnerable and marginalised in our communities. This messaging must be consistent, communicated across all available platforms and supported by the leadership, MPs as well as distributed to CLPs. There must be no opportunity for a communication vacuum to develop. The Labour Party should constantly be on the lookout for the next issue and be proactive rather than reactive.
Q9 What will you do to address the anti-GRT language and stereotypes within Labour and how would you uplift the voices of the GRT community?
A I am already starting the process having invited GRT speakers to my CLP. Ignorance is very high in this area which is commonly perceived in our society as the last acceptable form of racism. I would encourage a dialogue between senior figures in the Labour party and GRT communities. I would also encourage an educational programme on the history and circumstance of these communities within the Labour Party. Although we must not set out hierarchies of racism, racism towards GRT communities is viewed as the last ‘acceptable’ form of racism and Labour’s approach towards racism faced by the GRT communities should be seen as a benchmark in terms of our success in combatting racism in our society.
Q10 Do you believe that the foreign policy employed by the Labour Party has had a positive or negative impact in the communities of colour directly affected by the policy, at home and abroad?
A Negative. Labour Policy in support of US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan created a humanitarian disaster.
Q11 In your view what should Labour’s stance be on immigration and refugees?
A Migrants bring significant cultural and economic benefits to the UK. We should be treating refugees with empathy and compassion rather than the ongoing hostile environment practiced by the current government. The current 12 month restriction on working in the UK is unnecessarily restrictive and prevents asylum seekers both from contributing financially to society but also limits opportunities for integration. I would abolish the Immigration Health Surcharge as it is a ‘double tax’ and as we shouldn’t value people according to their income would remove the income threshold requirement. In relation to refugees we should provide safe routes for those seeking asylum and show compassion, particularly in regard to child refugees.
Q12 In your view, what should Labour policy and rhetoric be with regard to Kashmir and its occupation by the Indian government?
A We have an agreed policy on Kashmir (self-determination) which was decided at Party Conference. I believe we should stick to that policy, which also coincides with that of the United Nations and offer all our support in this aim and finding a peaceful resolution.
Q13 What do you personally believe Labour Party policy should be relating to the Israel – Palestine conflict, including your view of BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions)?
A Labour should support a two state solution to the Israel – Palestine conflict and encourage ongoing talks to achieve that aim. Labour should make it clear that any annexation of the West Bank will lead to sanctions. I believe that any form of annexation should result in the Labour Party supporting a policy of sanctions on good entering Britain from these settlement areas.
Q14 Do you believe the Iraq war was justifiable? If yes, why? If no, what do you believe Labour policy should be to address this wrong?
A No. Labour policy should seek to offer whatever assistance it can to attempt to remedy the damage caused by the unjust war.
Q15 How will you help to create an environment within Labour which is conducive to increasing and promoting the participation of minority members, and Black members specifically within the party?
A All black shortlists must be put in place in winnable seats. Training for all members regarding the effects of British colonialism across the World. Greater representation at a Shadow Cabinet level.
Q16 Why do you think there has never been a Black man on the NEC, and what measures do you think need to take place to ensure Black men are represented within the party?
A Lack of role models, lack of positive action in terms of leadership programmes, such as the Bernie Grant Leadership Programme. Labour should fully enact Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 which relates to the provision of information by the number of successful and unsuccessful applications by protected characteristic. Transparency drives change. Labour should expand programmes such as the Bernie Grant Leadership programme.
Q17 Do you agree with the current Labour democratic structure where white members can vote on motions specifically relating to BAME representation and policies that affect communities of colour?
A I believe that BAME members should elect BAME representatives. Regarding policies that affect communities of colour I believe this is less clear cut, but we must always seek the views of BAME people (particularly the BAME section discussed below) before making decisions that affect them.
Q18 BAME Labour is currently not fit for purpose and must be reformed. Do you support the creation of a BAME section? If yes, what will you do to ensure that this is democratic, politically autonomous and that it’s established as efficiently as possible?
A I do support the creation of a BAME section as quickly as possible to deal with the significant and urgent issues currently faced by the BAME community. I would back Labour members being automatically made members of the BAME section and support a ‘one member one vote’ system of electing the NEC representative. I would also support an increase in BAME representation on the NEC.
Many thanks to ‘Socialists of Colour’ and ‘The 1987 Caucus’ for the questions and @z_h_h_t for the graphic in the title.