1980s >> 1984 >> no-956-april-1984

What’s new about Tory racism?

Shock! Horror! Have you heard the latest rumour? According to the media . . .  according to “usually reliable sources”, it seems that racists have been “infiltrating” the Conservative Party. Oh. the awful scandal of it. After all these years of tolerance and open-mindedness, the party at which Enoch Powell was once the most popular guest has allowed the whiff of racism to stain its reputation. Could it have been that when Margaret Thatcher made her 1979 speech about British folk feeling swamped by aliens, her harmless words were misinterpreted by racists who imagined — perish the thought — that she was trying to lure the “paki-basher vote” away from the National Front?


Well, now it is all out in the open. The political advisor to the Monday Club has resigned, staling that it has been taken over by racist infiltrators. A BBC Panorama documentary exposed the alleged manoeuvrings of Tory Action, a band of right-wing loonies who apparently resent the fact that Thatcher has committed the sin of appointing Jews as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary. Certain Tory MPs. including the last relic of the Empire. Harvey Proctor, are accused in a recent Young Conservative report of having close links with known racists, including members of several barmy fascist outfits, such as the National Front. The new Tory chairman. John Selwyn Gummer. has promised to take firm action (in the tradition of his predecessor) against any members of the Conservative Party who are discovered to hold racist views. Perhaps Gummer should make a study of Tory party history before he asserts with such self-righteous hypocrisy that his party would never tolerate racist infiltration.


Back in the 1880s there was a steady flow of immigrants entering Britain in order to escape from anti-semitic persecution in Russia and Poland. In 1894 the Marquess of Salisbury introduced a Bill in the House of Lords which was intended to diminish the number of immigrants entering Britain, that is, to increase the number of Jewish workers who would be destined to stay in Eastern Europe to face murder and persecution. By 1898 Salisbury was the Tory Prime Minister and a similar Bill was placed before the Lords by Lord Hardwicke, who declared that:


  It would be a very serious matter if the type of population which is now to be found in many districts of the East End. where there is a strong alien element, were to become at all a common type in the poorer districts of our large cities. It would mean, my Lords, that these classes would become to a great extent non-English in character, and that, both in physique and in moral and social customs, they had fallen below our present by no means elevated standard.


Tory racism was more explicitly expressed in 1902. when Major Williams Evans Gordon, the Conservative MP for Stepney —an area of dense immigrant settlement— moved an amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling for control of immigration. His speech is too rambling to quote in full (it was made in the House of Lords on 29 January 1902 and is worth reading) but, to give an idea of his approach, here are some samples: “Not a day passes but English families are ruthlessly turned out to make room for foreign invaders . . . It is only a matter of time before the population becomes entirely foreign . . . The working classes know that new buildings are erected not for them but for strangers from abroad . . . A storm is brewing which, if it be allowed to burst, will have deplorable results”. In order to encourage the brewing-process, Evans Gordon formed the openly anti-semitic British Brothers’ League and organised a rally at the People’s Palace in the Mile End Road. Stepney which, according to contemporary accounts, was identical in its racist style and content to the more recent gatherings of the National Front.


So influential was backbench Tory racism that, in 1904, the Balfour government introduced legislation to deal with “the alien problem”. This was opposed by most Liberals — although by no means all of that party were opposed to the racist sentiments of the government; for example, the Liberal MP. Cathcart Watson, referred to the Jewish immigrants as “the refuse and scum of other nations” (Hansard, 18 February 1903).


By 1905 Balfour’s Bill had been dropped. but the Tory racists were not happy. A number of capitalists in the West Midlands, for instance, were concerned that the introduction of cheap labour power into the East End sweatshops of London would interfere with market competition. In the by-election at Stalybridge in 1905 the Tories distributed a leaflet to all electors in which they tried to attack the Liberals for being “soft on immigration”:


  “Let them all come” is the radical cry. The radicals, by their obstruction to the Aliens Bill, are evidently glad to see all foreigners who are criminals, who suffer from loathsome diseases, who are turned out in disgrace by their fellow-countrymen, who are paupers who fill the streets with profligacy and disorder.

In the 1930s the Tories, who like to claim these days that they were the great opponents of Nazi anti-semitism, were busy trying to prevent Jewish immigrants from escaping from the concentration camps of Germany be entering Britain. One example of several was the question asked in the House of Commons by Edward Doran, the Conservative MP for Tottenham, on 9 March 1933:


  Will the Home Secretary take steps to prevent any alien Jews entering this country from Germany? Hundreds of thousands of Jews are now leaving Germany and scurrying from there to this country . . .


It must be beyond historical doubt that there were many German Jews — probably thousands — who were sent to their deaths by the Nazis because they had failed in their efforts to be accepted as immigrants into Britain and other countries operating racist policies.


In the 1950s British capitalism was in a period of expansion and it was necessary to import labour power from the Commonwealth countries. Most Tories dropped their old racist views, tempted to favour the idea of a multi-racial society by the knowledge that black labour power would be cheap and obedient. During this period Tory racism was relatively isolated, but still there were some who stuck to their gut feelings, such as Sir Cyril Osborne who declared that “This is a white man’s country and I want it to remain so” (Daily Mail, 7 February 1961). Racism was nothing new for the Mail, which, in the 1930s, had supported Moseley’s Blackshirt fascists. On 4 December 1964, Osborne was writing in The Spectator that “If unlimited immigration were allowed, we should ultimately become a chocolate-coloured, Afro-Asian mixed society. That I do not want”.


Osborne represented a strand of base Toryism which has always existed within the British ruling class. By and large it is not the outlook of the modern capitalist, who is prepared to exploit without caring about the colour of the workers’ skins. In the years of expansion the Osbornes were in a minority and most racists tended to form themselves into specifically anti-immigrant organisations, such as the League of St. George. At the same time there were a few nutters like Colin Jordan and John Tyndall who resented the defeat of Nazism and wanted to organise Nuremberg Rallies in Church Halls in Peckham; these outfits were regarded by the capitalist class as socially undesirable fools — a description with which socialists could agree.


In the 1959 General Election racism was not an issue, except in Brixton where the Tory candidate tried to win votes on an anti-black manifesto. It was in the 1960s that candidates for parliament began to see the tactical use of stirring up anti-immigration feelings in order to prove their patriotism. In October 1963 Sir Edward Boyle addressed a rally of four hundred Southall residents in which he promised that a future Tory government would set up special schools for Asian children in order to segregate them from the children of white residents. In the run-up to the 1964 election racism was used as a major propaganda weapon by several Tory candidates, especially in Birmingham and the Black Country. On 6 October 1964, Alec Douglas-Home made a speech in Bradford — specially chosen as an area with a large immigrant population — in which he defended Tory immigration policies by stating that:


 What had been a trickle of immigrants from the Commonwealth was developing into a flood. We saw that if it was not brought under control it would create very serious social and economic problems. . .


In fact, Home lost the 1964 election and it was the Labour government which was left with the dirty work — which it willingly undertook — of passing legislation designed to exclude non-white British passport-holders from entering Britain.


Workers need be under no illusion: the Labour Party has a record of carrying into effect racist policies when in office, even if many of their members are opposed to racism in sentiment. As for the Tories, they cannot stand before workers making pious noises about how much they are opposed to racism. Those of us with memories will recall the Smethwick by-election campaign, in which the Tory candidate pandered to the most disgusting racist prejudices; we recall the “rivers of blood” speech which won Enoch Powell a degree of popularity in his old party which few of its leaders have ever enjoyed; we recall the 1983 Tory Party Conference at which the likes of Harvey Proctor were canvassing support for their schemes to repatriate black workers. Indeed, these may be exceptions to the more discrete national chauvinism which infests the minds of more diplomatic Tory politicians, but there need be no doubt whatsoever that the Conservative Party includes within it a substantial body of opinion which is hostile to the idea of non-British people being allowed to live in harmony alongside British people.


Why does racism exist? Partly, it is a relic of the ideology which the British ruling class used to defend their imperial activities in the past; partly it is a reflection of outdated nationalism which teaches inhabitants of one country to believe that they are superior to others. The ruling class will use racism to divide workers when it is opportune to do so, and they will use immigrants as scapegoats when capitalist crises require workers to be thrown out of employment.


The Socialist Party is hostile to racism in all of its forms. Our Principles make clear that socialism will involve the emancipation of all human beings, without distinction of race or sex. For us, the division in society is between exploiters and exploited; all workers are our brothers and sisters, whatever may be stamped on their passports, whatever colour their skin happens to be. Socialism holds out the prospect of one world inhabited by one people, emancipated consciously and politically from the ignorance of racist thinking.


Steve Coleman