White van men: the the Home Office’s aggressive message to illegal immigrants hit a sour note last year
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It is still hard to trust the Tories on race, despite its campaign to woo black and Asian voters

The party is still little closer to looking like the country it claims to represent.

As someone who grew up as an Asian boy in Thatcher’s Britain, I find the Tories’ current campaign to woo black and ethnic-minority voters hard to believe. Others of my age and background may find it almost funny, too.

My earliest memories of the Conservatives are that they were never on my side when I was subjected to racism, whether in the football stands or by the police. I won’t forget how they ignored Stephen Lawrence’s family after his murder and, two decades on, it’s difficult to shake those suspicions. I welcome anything that offers black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) voters better political representation but it doesn’t take long to notice that the Tory party is little closer to looking like the country it represents.

I’m proud to be an MP for a Labour Party that has always fought for better representation for those facing discrimination because of their gender, race, faith, disability or sexuality. The first black MPs in modern times were Labour, and since Bernie Grant, Keith Vaz, Diane Abbott and Paul Boateng smashed the glass ceiling we have had more councillors and MPs from ethnic-minority backgrounds than the other parties combined. The 2010 election was one of Labour’s worst defeats in history but we tripled the percentage of our MPs from ethnic-minority backgrounds. Although the Conservatives gained 97 seats in 2010, they have only 11 BAME MPs to Labour’s 16.

Labour knows it must keep improving. Our representation is getting better. Eleven per cent of candidates in target parliamentary seats across the UK are from ethnic-minority backgrounds and 54 per cent are women. In London, 70 per cent are women and 40 per cent are from ethnic minorities.

Through our community organising work, we engage with BAME groups about the issues that matter to them. As a result, we are able to identify young BAME people who are interested in improving their areas and encourage them to join our Future Candidates Programme (30 per cent of those who applied in 2013 were BAME). Without this proactive effort, increasing representation wouldn’t happen.

Many remember that David Cameron’s chief strategist, Lynton Crosby, was responsible for the “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” dog-whistle campaign in 2005. Last summer, we saw vans bearing the words “Go home” being driven through six of the UK’s most diverse boroughs. None of the Tories thought this may be a problem for BAME Britons who recall the National Front using similar language in the 1970s and 1980s. With Crosby as the Tories’ chief adviser, voters can be excused for viewing the Conservatives’ focus on ethnic-minority voters as insincere. Last month, one of the BAME Tory parliamentary candidates admitted his party is still seen as “racist”.

Many of our ethnic-minority communities arrived in the UK in difficult circumstances and with very little. They understand better than anyone the pricelessness of community and fairness as values applied to all. It’s a world-view that is fundamentally incompatible with a modern Tory party whose approach to politics is based on pitting communities against each other and an idea of fairness that is centred on the individual.

So excuse me if I struggle to believe the Conservatives when they claim that they have changed.

Sadiq Khan MP is the shadow justice secretary and also the shadow minister for London

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's power game

Photo: Wikimedia Commons and Getty
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“Rise like lions after slumber”: why do Jeremy Corbyn and co keep reciting a 19th century poem?

How a passage from Percy Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy became Labour’s battle cry.

“If I may, I’d like to quote one of my favourite poets, Percy Bysshe Shelley,” Jeremy Corbyn politely suggested to a huge Glastonbury audience. The crowd of nearly 120,000 – more accustomed to the boom of headline acts than elderly men reading out romantic poetry – roared its approval.

“Rise like lions after slumber, in unvanquishable number!” he rumbled. “Shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep had fallen on you: ye are many – they are few!”

The Labour leader told the crowd that this was his favourite line. It’s the final stanza of Shelley’s 1819 poem, The Masque of Anarchy, written in response to the Peterloo Massacre earlier that year, when a cavalry charged into a non-violent protest for the vote.

Though it was not published in Shelley’s lifetime – it was first released in 1832 – the poem has become a rallying cry for peaceful resistance. It has been recited at uprisings throughout history, from Tiananmen Square to Tahrir Square.

Corbyn’s turn on the Pyramid Stage was not the first time he’s used it. He recited the stanza during his closing speech on election night in Islington, and the audience began quoting along with him:


It was also used by comedian and celebrity Labour supporter Steve Coogan at a rally in Birmingham:


During Corbyn’s second leadership campaign, his ally Chris Williamson MP told a public meeting that this part of the poem should be “our battle cry” . He delivered on this the following year by reciting the poem to me in his Renault Clio while out on the campaign trail in England’s most marginal constituency (which he ended up winning).

You can hear it echoed in Labour’s campaign slogan: “For the many, not the few”.

Corbyn’s election guru, James Schneider, told the Standard at the time that “it would be a stretch” to say the slogan was taken directly from the poem, but that “Jeremy does know Shelley”. Yet even he took the time to recite the whole stanza down the phone to the journalist who was asking.

Corbyn is famously a fan of the novelist and author Ben Okri. The pair did a literary night at the Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank in July last year, in which the Shelley lines came up at the end of the event, as reported by Katy Balls over at the Spectator. Okri announced that he wanted to recite them, telling Corbyn and the audience:

“I want to read five lines of Shelley . . . I think there are some poems that ought to be, like you know those rock concerts, and the musician starts to sing and the whole audience knows the lines? And sings along with them? Well this ought to be one of those, and I’d like to propose that we somehow make it so that anytime someone starts with the word ‘Rise’, you know exactly what the lines are going to be.”

Which, of course, is exactly what Corbyn did at Glastonbury.

“We have this huge, abundant literature on the left and it’s hardly known”

The former left-wing Labour leader Michael Foot loved the poem and recited the lines at demos, and Stop the War – the campaign group Corbyn supports and chaired – took a line from it as the title of its 2014 film about anti-Iraq War action, We Are Many.

So why does the Labour left rally around some lines of poetry written nearly 200 years ago?

“It’s a really appropriate poem,” says Jacqueline Mulhallen, author of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary (Pluto, 2015). “Shelley wrote a poem about the fact that these people were protesting about a minority taking the wealth from the majority, and the majority shouldn’t allow it to happen.

“He was writing at the beginning of industrial capitalism, and protested then, and 200 years later, we’ve still got the same situation: food banks, homeless people, Grenfell Tower, more debts – that’s why it has great resonance when Corbyn quotes it.”

“Shelley said there’s loads of us, it’s just a little corrupt crew – well, of course that applies now”

Michael Rosen, the poet and former Children’s Laureate, also describes the poignancy of Shelley’s words in Corbyn’s campaign. “You’ve got a sense of continuity,” he tells me. “Shelley was campaigning for freedom, for free thought, for free love. He was campaigning for a fairer society; it was a time of incredible oppression. He said there’s loads of us, it’s just a little corrupt crew – well, of course that applies now.”

Rosen celebrates the poem’s place in the Labour movement. “When any of us from the left quote people from the past, we’re saying that we have traditions... We’re making a claim on our authenticity,” he says. “Just in the same way as the right and the establishment draw on the pageantry of the Queen, or talk about Parliament or quote Winston Churchill. These are our traditions, which are different. You hardly ever come across it, either in newspapers or history lessons or anything.”

Rosen, a friend of Corbyn’s, believes his speech brings a left-wing tradition alive that is often forgotten. “We have this huge, abundant literature on the left and it’s hardly known. What’s great about Jeremy calling on it is to remind us . . . This stuff sits in old museums and libraries, gathering dust until it’s made active and live again. It’s made active and live particularly when being used in an environment like that [Glastonbury]. He was making the words come alive.”

Read more: 7 things we learned from Jeremy Corbyn on The One Show

The Masque of Anarchy’s final stanza has been recited at high-profile protests throughout history – including at the 20,000 garment workers’ strike in 1909 in New York, the student-led demo in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, anti-Poll Tax protests, and at Tahrir Square in Egypt during the Arab Spring, according to Mulhallen. The way civilians were treated by the authorities in many of these protests echoes what happened at Peterloo.

So does Corbyn’s penchant for the verse mark a similar radical turning-point in our history? “It’s indicating a change in attitude that people should start thinking about redistributing the wealth again,” says Mulhallen. “People are becoming much more aware.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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