IRR News 14 – 28 March 2023
With the Labour party chomping at the bit for the next general election, it’s time for far greater scrutiny of the Labour party’s polices on race, crime and policing. Sir Keir Starmer, in his Port Vale FC speech of 23 March on ‘fighting the causes of crime’ and ‘boosting confidence in the police’, promised an extension of anti-social behaviour orders and fixed penalty notices. Ignoring the long history of racialised cannabis moral panics, he drew on a vignette of a family in his constituency whose life was blighted by cannabis smoking and identified this as one of the archetypal anti-social behaviour issues of our time. But if Starmer was truly serious about boosting confidence in the police he could have at least acknowledged the vast evidence of criminalisation and harassment (including through stop and search and the strip-searching of children like Child Q) of black people through the policing of cannabis for personal use. It very much looks like the pledges in the next Labour party’s crime and policing manifesto will be a re-run of the Blair years, when New Labour created over 3,000 new criminal offences and extended multi-agency policing and police powers in what veteran campaigner Stafford Scott described as a ‘War on working class black youth’.
Liz Fekete’s article also explores reverberations between the Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Mark Rowley’s disavowal of the term ‘institutional racism’ and Starmer’s evasions, pointing out that Starmer also did not use the term once in his recent speech. Our Calendar of Racism and Resistance illustrates week after week how institutional denial of structural racism has become a fact of life across powerful institutions, with the Labour party – far from being a moderniser (Starmer’s term) – but a follower of fashion in this respect. Yet many people are fighting back, attempting to challenge the circumstances of their lives, or to address a racist culture in the workplace. This week the housing ombudsman, as part of the investigation into the death of 2-year-old Awaab Ishak, found that staff at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing had made prejudiced and lazy assumptions about refugees and asylum seekers, even believing that mould was ‘acceptable in refugees’ homes’. The Housing Ombudsman’s intervention demonstrates that there are still people in high places doing their job. Journalists too are fighting back, with a new report by the Ethical Journalism Network revealing the commonplace racism faced by black journalists. And there was some heartening news for BME paramedics, whose complaints of incidents of blackface at staff parties and ‘offensive jokes’ about migrant languages and cultures have led to an investigation into the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust.