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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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation