Dominic Grieve demonises British Pakistanis – we must all fight back

The Tories have relentlessly caricatured Britain’s Pakistani community as Islamist extremists, child abusers and slave masters, says former Conservative councillor Imran Khan.

Britain’s Pakistani community is under attack. The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, has said that some immigrants - particularly British Pakistanis - "come from backgrounds where corruption is endemic", "have been brought up to believe you can only get certain things through a favour culture", and are mainly responsible for electoral corruption.

Highlighting the case of Conservative councillor Eshaq Khan, who was jailed in 2008 for postal ballot fraud, Grieve reverted to the colonial tactics of divide and rule, commenting: "Yes, it’s mainly the Pakistani community, not the Indian community". "One of the things you have to make absolutely clear" (to British Pakistanis) "is that that is not the case and it’s not acceptable." Attempting a last minute back pedal, he said: "The point I was making is that, as a law officer, it's my duty to ensure the rule of law is upheld, and one of the issues that I feel requires close attention is any potential for a rise in corruption to undermine civil society."

The comments are a severe escalation in the continued denigration of non-white cultures by Tories generally and since they came to power in 2010. Unsurprisingly, a massive Twitter backlash ensued with Conservative MEP, Sajjad H Karim weighing into the debate: "As a British Pakistani I find your comments not based on fact and deeply alienating and offensive @Dominc Grieve"

The Tories have relentlessly caricatured Britain’s Pakistani community as Islamist extremists, child abusers, corrupt, and slave masters, while at the same time claiming to welcome ethnic minority participation within local and national politics. David Cameron declared in his speech in Munich that Britain needs a new "generous vision of citizenship" if it is to challenge the disenfranchisement of Muslim communities, while hammering home the message that British Muslim identities remain a key existential threat to the UK. Cameron commented at the time: "the reason so many young Muslims are drawn to extremism comes down to a question of identity". For the prime minister, Britain’s Muslims have a weakened collective identity where potential terrorists find it hard to identify with fellow compatriots resulting in an explosive anti-British rage.

Tragically, nobody in the party had thought to advise that Grieve’s comments today, and Cameron’s previous conclusions, connect a well-established Conservative psychology that seeks to subject black identities to its own memories of the recent and distant past.  Every black man and woman in this country, not to mention scores of white anti-racists remember only too well  the horrors that were the Brixton and Handsworth riots of the 1980s. They intuitively understand the populist politics which motivated Dominic Grieve today. They also know that blaming black people for society’s ills is nothing new. Racism, like a deadly virus, mutates from one generation to the next while its justification continues to resonate for an elite still flourishing from the slavery that built Britain’s global wealth and influence. Lest we forget in 1964, Tory MP, Peter Griffiths fought to win Smethwick, a parliamentary seat in the Midlands, with the slogan: "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour."

The attorney general’s revisionist history of corruption rather conveniently omits the recent MPs' expenses scandal, one of Westminster’s most humiliating moments in modern times. It is worth reminding ourselves of Tory corruption (that British Pakistanis had absolutely nothing to do with), which still stings in the hearts of every true democrat who believes this land is all of ours and not just for the predominantly white, rich and privately educated elite.

Tories – a catalogue of corruption

Surely everyone remembers the case of Tory MP, Sir John Butterfill, who in 2010 told an undercover team of reporters that he would use his political links to benefit a fictitious company for £35,000 a year (amongst his many other corrupt practices). How about the 15 donors who gave the Conservative Party a total of £25m and who had secret dinners and lunches with the prime minister at Chequers and Downing Street?

Giving millions of pounds to a political party is not so bad, some of you might be thinking – as long as the money is not spent on any old crap. Well, you forget that in 2009, Tory David Heathcoat-Amory was shown to have claimed £388 over four years' expenses for horse manure. He lost his seat in 2010.

Of course, the countryside is where Tories truly allow their identities to develop and thrive. In 2009, David Cameron repaid £680 he claimed for removing wisteria from his chimney at your expense. Naturally, I remind you of this first because I don’t want to spoil you quite yet with – yes, you guessed it – the 2009 episode that was Sir Peter Viggers, who claimed £1,600 for a floating duck island.

There are vast swathes of deluded Tories who revere Michael Gove as some kind of messiah. Yet in 2009, Gove was reported to have flipped homes for expenses. In the same year, David "Two Brains" Willetts claimed more than £100 in expenses for workmen to replace 25 light bulbs at his home and Tory MP Oliver Letwin claimed more than £2,000 to replace a leaking pipe under a tennis court. Alan Duncan claimed £7,000 for his gardening bills. Anthony Steen MP had to retire after he claimed almost £90,000 over four years for his country home and Iain Duncan Smith claimed £39 for a breakfast, part of a £193 hotel stay. Somewhat more pathetic, yet still a clear example of Tory corruption was the 55p in expenses claimed by Tory MP, Andrew Selous for a mug of Horlicks in the House of Commons tea room and of course the £43.56 for three garlic peeling sets claimed by Tory MP, James Arbuthnot. Apparently, white British Tory MPs are not quite as clean as is implied by Dominic Grieve’s complete omission of their past injustices to the UK taxpayer.

The fightback

Anti-racists – white and black – can send a clear message to the dinosaurs roaming the corridors of power. No longer can politicians escape the growing sense of egalitarianism incubated in the crucible of Tory scandals and increasingly vocal, xenophobic MPs. Professor Muhammad Anwar of The University of Warwick’s Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations has shown that ethnic minority votes are more important than ever. He has noted that "higher levels of turn-out among Asians and particularly Muslim groups are likely to continue in future". In his book, Ethnic Minorities and Politics, Prof Anwar shows that the national average turnout in the 2005 election was 61.4%, but for Bangladeshi voters it was 76%, for Pakistanis 70% and for Indians 67%. Black Africans were the same as the national average at 61% - only Black Caribbean voters had a lower turnout at 54%. All of us can write to Dominic Grieve and tell him what we think about Tory corruption. We may also decide to vote with our feet on election day.

Imran Khan was a Conservative councillor (2008-12). He campaigns on citizenship issues.

Attorney General Dominic Grieve arrives at 10 Downing Street on August 27, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.