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Labour MP: In any other job, Jeremy Corbyn would have faced an industrial tribunal

Shadow minister Chi Onwurah argues that her leader would face constructive dismissal, “probably with racial discrimination thrown in”, over his treatment of her and Thangam Debbonaire.

There is nothing socialist about incompetence, I said in explaining my decision to vote no-confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. But since then, it has been made clear to me that many prefer incompetent out-of-power socialism to what they perceive to be the alternative. At one CLP meeting I described how disappointed I had been that, while Jeremy’s leadership campaign had been based on engaging non-voters, it was Nigel Farage and the Leave camp who had inspired them rather than Jeremy’s half-hearted Remain. Surely that should give us all pause for thought?

“So you want us to become Ukip?” someone asked. It took me a while to realise it was a serious question until he and others made it clear that Jeremy is the only person they trust not to compromise on key Labour tenets like equality. If Jeremy lost they believe Labour would return to the focus-grouped managerialism of New Labour while moving to outflank Ukip on immigration and xenophobia, fusing Blairite soulless machine politics with the worst of Farage’s populism. Blairrage.

It is a measure of where we have got to that for many there is no in-between position between Labour led by Jeremy and a dystopian Blairrage Labour, indeed we have become so divided that even to point out that Jeremy’s popularity is a consequence of Blair’s managerialism provokes outrage on both sides.

But Jeremy is not the only person standing between Labour and xenophobia. The “Controls on Immigration” mugs were certainly a low point of our 2015 campaign but they provoked widespread condemnation across the party.   And while Jeremy has been a persistent protester against other peoples’ prejudice that is not the same as bringing about the changes we so desperately need.  Far from being the only route to greater equality in society in my personal experience Jeremy is not even the best person to ensure that within Labour.

In September Jeremy gave me the job of shadow minister for culture and the digital economy. In the January reshuffle he gave half the job to Thangam Debbonaire. As the leader, he had every right to do so; unfortunately he omitted to tell her or me. When he realised what he had done, he gave the role back to me, without telling Thangam. So far, so annoying, but to be fair uncertainty is part of every reshuffle.  However Jeremy then went on for the next two months refusing my insistence that he speak to Thangam, indeed refusing to speak to either of us, whether directly or through the shadow cabinet, the whips, or his own office. No one knew what he wanted us to do, no one was clear on what we should be doing.

Jeremy made it impossible for two of the very few BME women MPs to do their jobs properly, undermining both us and Labour’s role as the voice of opposition to the government. I had undertaken a hugely labour-intensive Freedom of Information request on library opening hours, correlating the results to demonstrate how they had fallen exponentially under the Tories. It was impossible to launch a Labour opposition campaign to protect libraries when no one knew if they were part of my brief or not.  All that work went to waste.

If this had been any of my previous employers in the public and private sectors Jeremy might well have found himself before an industrial tribunal for constructive dismissal, probably with racial discrimination thrown in – given that only five per cent of MPs are black and female, picking on us two is statistically interesting to say the least. Indeed as Thangam was undergoing treatment for cancer at the time he could have faced disability action as well. In any other job I would have called on my union for support in confronting an all-white management which prevented two of its few black employees from doing their jobs. I would have expected the Leader of the Labour Party to condemn such ineffectual management which allowed such abuse.

But Jeremy dismissed criticism that he was undermining his shadow ministers - just as he had earlier dismissed criticism that not appointing a woman to any of the great offices of state showed a lack of commitment to gender equality. He would decide what the great offices of state were. As I have said previously, being a white man comes with many privileges. Deciding what constitutes gender or ethnic equality isn’t one of them.

It takes more than words to effect change. Weak leadership matters because without strong progressive leadership it is those who do not have the supporting ‘old boys’ networks who suffer most and that tends to be women and minorities. Heidi Alexander, Lilian Greenwood, Sharon Hodgson and Thangam Debbonaire have all detailed the difficulties of working effectively under Jeremy only to be dismissed as “thin-skinned careerists”. One of my own constituents said the fact that there are so many tales of bad management “proved” it was a plot.

Jeremy can certainly be relied upon to resist any pressure to usurp Ukip’s territory. Unfortunately it takes more than protesting other peoples’ prejudice to bring about change. It takes organisation, communication and action. That is what has been lacking under his leadership.

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy. 

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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