Un International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:27 pm on 8th April 2019.

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Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Independent, Dudley North 8:27 pm, 8th April 2019

I thank Faisal Rashid for securing this debate. I agree with everything he said in introducing it. It is completely right to talk about attacks in the US and elsewhere. He and Imran Hussain were also completely right to talk about the growth of racism on the far right and the dangers of the growth in populist nationalism.

As we have just heard about Solihull, there have been shocking attacks on mosques in the city of Birmingham. We all have to be vigilant about that. I am in touch with the mosques in Dudley to express my solidarity with Dudley’s Muslim community and to ensure that they have all the security assistance that they need.

I am delighted that Eleanor Smith is here, because about a year ago she, I and the hon. Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) stood in the biggest room in the hotel in which, 50 years earlier, Enoch Powell made his shameful “rivers of blood” speech, and we celebrated the unity and diversity of communities in the west midlands. Since then, I have stood with members of the Muslim community in Dudley when they have been targeted by the British National party or the English Defence League. I have stood up for constituents in Dudley who, like people elsewhere in the country, were victimised because they were part of the Windrush generation.

This is also the anniversary, almost to the day, of when Britain’s Jewish community came together in the square across the street to protest against racism in the Labour party. I am afraid that we have to address that. We lose our legitimacy in complaining about other people’s racism if we are not prepared to deal with the problems in our own parties. I want to tell the House about Susan Pollock. She was born in 1930 in Hungary and was imprisoned as a teenager in Auschwitz. She now spends her time travelling the country telling young people about the evils of racism and prejudice. I first met her when she came to Dudley to talk at our annual holocaust commemoration. The second time I met her —an Auschwitz survivor in her late 80s—was in the demonstration across the road. It was the first political demonstration she had been on in her life. I have left the Labour party, but I spent 35 years in it, and I found that deeply shocking and shameful.

It is terrible that a culture of extremism and antisemitism has resulted in the Labour party’s being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I think that is really shocking. In The Sunday Times this weekend, we heard about a failure to take proper disciplinary action against hundreds of members accused of antisemitism—people who said things like

“‘Heil Hitler’, ‘F*** the Jews’
and ‘Jews are the problem’”.

They have not been expelled—it is absolutely shocking—even though complaints had been received a year ago. A councillor in Lancashire has been let back into the party after fuming about Jewish media attacks and the Rothschild family.

If I complained about everybody who said that sort of stuff to me, I would have no time to do anything else, but I complained about one member last year, because he also threatened violence at my office, which is in a building that also contains a women’s aid centre. This guy questioned the numbers killed in the holocaust and said that 6 million was the magic number. He told the Jewish community to “Put up or shut up.” He talked about “Zionist scum”, and used really obscene remarks that I will not repeat. I complained about him last August. Despite repeated emails and requests, eventually—unbelievably—he was finally suspended in February. He is still a member, as far as I am aware. I really hope that the party is listening and will deal with that.

I think that the chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, Jonathan Goldstein, was completely right this weekend to condemn what he called “corruption” within Labour. He said that those who covered it up should be “relieved of their duties”. He said:

“Last July, I called the Labour Party institutionally racist against Jews. Today’s revelations in the Sunday Times make clear for all to see just how accurate that statement was.”

Even the Deputy Speaker—sorry, I mean the deputy leader, Tom Watson. Actually, I am sure you are just as appalled as I am by all this, Mr Deputy Speaker. The deputy leader of the Labour party said yesterday:

“This makes for deeply shocking and depressing reading. Labour members and the Jewish community will not understand how, many years on from the first concerns about anti-semitism being raised, we have not got to grips with it.”

It is profoundly shocking to me that a political party that I joined as a teenager to fight racism has become embroiled in a scandal like this. It has be dealt with much more seriously. The Labour party must respond properly to the reasonable requests made by the Jewish community more than a year ago, and must boot out the racists for good. As Jonathan Goldstein said this weekend, “Enough is enough.”