The Right won the Brexit Culture War – The Left Shouldn’t Start Another One.
Since the tragic death of George Floyd in Minnesota, there has been an increased level of awareness about the hierarchical racism suffered by citizens in the United States and elsewhere. Across the political spectrum, people came together to offer solidarity to those who are discriminated against due to their skin colour. Whilst the vast majority of those attending Black Lives Matter demonstrations acted peacefully and responsibly, the removal of slave owner Edward Colston’s statue from Bristol on Sunday has led to a chain of events that the mainstream left must distance itself from to prevent undermining its’ championing of a legitimate cause.
After the memorial to Colston was torn down and thrown into the harbour by jubilant Black Lives Matter protestors on Sunday, polling showed that most of the public were comfortable with the removal (if not the way in which it was done) and statues of other slave owners were taken down peacefully. This began a wider debate about commemorating historical figures in public spaces, and while many put their names to petitions, some took matters into their own hands and defaced the statue of Winston Churchill. Acts of violence were also committed against unarmed policeman.
All this does is gives ammunition to right wing provocateurs to start yet another crusade against the ‘woke’ left and allows them the opportunity to make ludicrous claims that we all hate our country, history and culture. Likewise, it suits the Conservative Party in its’ quest for a new direction in the post Brexit era. While undoubtedly there were other factors, the unwavering support for Brexit was credited for the party’s 2019 election victory, in which they won constituencies that would never previously have dreamed of returning a Tory, even 5 years ago. With the Labour Party back under moderate leadership, and the prospect of Boris Johnson unleashing a No Deal Brexit, the Tories usual pitch of economic competence is likely to be less effective. Therefore, revisiting the culture war will play into their hands.
Instead of talking about sovereignty and migration, they can shift the political debate onto statues and law and order – and if they can convince the public that the Labour Party are complicit then they’ll have hit the jackpot. Already, Nadine Dorries has blamed the violence at BLM rallies on “left wing activists” and her colleague Ben Bradley claimed that Labour MP Nadia Whittome’s support for those who tore down the Colston statue was what he’d “come to expect from the modern Labour Party, siding with rioters over those who follow the rules.” While Keir Starmer was quick to express that he wished the statue had been removed peacefully, he and his backbenchers must be more vocal in their condemnation of the violence against police and make a clear distinction between the decent majority and a minority who have hijacked a worthy cause as an excuse to cause trouble. This will help neutralise the attacks of supposed Labour indifference towards public disorder.
Despite cutting the police force to the bone, the Tories have managed to win the argument on law and order in the last few years. While this may seem insignificant, polling indicates that, on average, 20% of the population sees crime as the most important issue facing the country, and it is a unanimous view that it is any government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of its’ citizens. It is obvious to most people that follow politics that the Labour Party and others on mainstream left also hold this view, but it needs to be made abundantly clear so that the political arguments of the future can be based on areas in which the Labour Party can excel. After the inevitable post-covid recession, the left must articulate arguments about more NHS funding, regional investment and better in-work security, as well as sensible ways to fight racism. These policies are likely to be supported by vast swathes of the public and particularly the traditionally left-leaning voters who voted Conservative for the first time in December, but these calls will just be drowned out if we take the Tory bait and spend the next few years talking about statues. It is vital that we support the fight for racial equality, praise the vast majority who are doing so respectfully and condemn the few who are not, so that a damaging culture war does not escalate.
This isn't a cynical political decision – an elected Labour government would make tangible benefits to the lives of those who have suffered from racial discrimination, by implementing the recommendations of the Windrush review and the Lammy report. To solve this injustice, we need peaceful but firm actions and for this to be achieved, the party need to stop opponents from associating us with those who are undermining the struggle, so that we are in a position to enact crucial changes and improve the lives of Black citizens in the UK.