The fact that Home Secretary Suella Braverman has warned that multiculturalism is a ‘recipe for communal disaster’ during a keynote speech at the National Conservatism conference this week is perhaps no longer newsworthy. She and her growing band of far right Conservatives have constantly made their views known, saying things openly that would have been unheard of even two decades ago.
This speech follows her equally obnoxious comments about the alleged ethnicity of grooming gang members who she claimed were mostly British-Pakistani men who held cultural values that clashed with British values. Her remarks caused an outcry from many, including faith leaders, and lawyers who accused her of breaching the barristers’ code of conduct and undermining the integrity of the legal profession. They also warned of the potentially dangerous repercussions of this rhetoric. They were also at odds with official reports which showed that the majority of grooming gangs consisted of white men and that right-wing politicians were using a racist trope for their own ends.
Most people, at least anyone with a modicum of empathy or common sense, would probably rein their views in if they caused such high levels of controversy.
But this has not happened with Suella Braverman. In her most recent speech, she took the opportunity to repeat the term favoured by the far right of the party of the need to uphold its ‘British values’ and resist the ‘erosion of our identity’ by ‘mass immigration’ and ‘cultural Marxism’ (whatever that is).
What she is saying is abhorrent and potentially dangerous. Attacks on minority groups always increase after high profile people make inflammatory speeches such as these, and it goes some way towards normalising racist rhetoric.
But just as important as what she is saying is why she is saying it and how it is being received, not only by the Tory base but also by others in society. It is worth noting that when Enoch Powell made his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968, when he spoke against mass immigration and the Race Relations Bill, he made many of the same points about the erosion of British culture and identity. At the time this caused a huge political storm, and he was accused of racism and inciting hatred. Rather than being applauded, he was sacked from his position as a shadow cabinet minister by the party leader, Edward Heath.
Rishi Sunak, on the other hand, clearly views Suella Braverman’s recent speeches as undermining his authority and feels she is making a bid for the future leadership by appealing to right-wing Tory members. Instead of sacking her, it looks as though Sunak will jump on the same anti-immigration bandwagon. On Tuesday he is going to urge European leaders to crack down on immigration through tighter policing of its borders.
Keir Starmer is not much better. In a speech to business leaders at the end of 2022, he used the smokescreen of cheap labour as a way of saying Labour would also be restricting immigration if they came into power. Lisa Nandy is on record saying Labour has always been socially conservative.
And yet, they all may be barking up the wrong tree in their cynical attempts to win favour with the electorate and their own parties by using immigration as a key plank in their policy agendas. A recent YouGov deep-dive analysis in the Red and Blue Walls shows how focusing on immigration may not be the vote winner they are all hoping for. The economy, and to a lesser extent health, dominate the average voters’ minds in every political battleground.
So it has been left to one of her own, a senior Tory MP, to criticise her speech. Ex-Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland said she should “concentrate on the job as Home Secretary,”
Suella Braverman’s speech is not something that can be ignored. It implies an acceptance of racist policies that once would have been unacceptable. Labour, on the other hand, has moved into Tory territory with Starmer equivocating on issues that should be at the heart of any party with Labour’s history. Socialists are just being pushed to the margins.
Being on the margins doesn’t mean that we can’t make ourselves heard. These issues are just too important to ignore. They represent a serious step change in British politics that is dangerous for everyone, but particularly for those who fit the racist stereotypes being promoted by our political elite and their lapdogs in the national press.
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