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

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.