Whether you go to this demonstration simply “to take a stand against racism and the far right threat”, writes Kevin Ovenden, or because you “see it as a strategic part of a process of militant struggle leading to a truly radical transformation of Britain”, plan to be there, in London, on 17 November.
The Anti Nazi League/Rock Against Racism demonstration to the carnival in Victoria Park, East London, in 1978
Well done to all those involved in pulling together the call for a massive national demonstration in London on 17 November against racism and the fascist threat.
It already seems to be generating enthusiasm and it’s clear that the potential number of organisations, campaigns and affinity groups that may throw themselves into it is huge.
I think it’s a crucial initiative, but also a challenge to turn it into an event that can have a decisive political impact.
Why is the demonstration so important?
There has since the shockingly large and violent turnout of the far right in central London in June been a gathering and unifying chorus across the labour movement to build upon the already strong anti-racist efforts in order to produce an even more massive response.
Incidentally, the far right…
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In this Guardian article (see link below) Lord Adonis (sorry, he writes as Andrew Adonis; he clearly doesn’t approve of the title he’s accepted – how democratic, indeed how liberal, that is!) describes the late Roy Jenkins as “the most transformational liberal home secretary ever” because, apparently, “he legalised both homosexuality and abortion in one of the most skilful ministerial manoeuvres of parliamentary history.” It’s true that Jenkins was Home Secretary at the time. But it was, of course, the determined campaigns by gays and women that were the crucial elements leading to those changes in the law, not really Jenkins. His image at the time, and his image as handed down through the decades, is that he was the great white hope of the liberal intelligentsia. But I’ll tell you what else he did. He voted to cancel the British passports of the Kenyan Asians who fled to the UK from Kenya in 1967-68, thus pandering to the hostile campaigns against them by Enoch Powell, Duncan Sandys and the fascists of the National Front.
The Kenyan Asians were never called refugees but, effectively, that’s what they were. Their presence in Kenya was part of colonial history and their departure a result of the decolonisation process in East Africa. After independence in 1963 Kenya adopted a policy of Africanisation: in the civil service, Africans had to be rapidly promoted; in private firms, Africans had to be employed at worker and management levels. At the time of independence Asians had been offered Kenyan or British citizenship, and many of them chose British. But the 1967 Trade Licensing Act in Kenya made it illegal for non-citizens to trade in rural or outlying urban areas and in a wide range of goods, and many Asians were forced out of business. Many turned to the UK for help. In 1963 the Conservative government, though fresh from passing the first restrictive Commonwealth Immigrants Act, reassured the Kenyan Asians that their UK citizenship was secure. In March 1968 the Labour government, though fresh from declaring Jenkins’ liberal agenda, cancelled this agreement and passed a new Commonwealth Immigrants Act which removed their UK citizenship. In the space of 72 hours. And what happened to the bright, shiny new liberals in the Labour cabinet when the vote was taken? They voted for it. Roy Hattersley expressed remorse 31 years later in an interview (the following quotation and the later quotation from the Jenkins interview come from the Channel 4 documentary Playing the Race Card, which was first broadcast in October-November1999; they are reproduced from memory and are correct in their substance, but may not be word-for-word):
Shirley [Williams] and I stayed up into the small hours discussing what we should do. When you go into politics you want to achieve certain things, but you can’t achieve everything and you often have to make compromises. But there are some things you shouldn’t compromise on, and this was one of them. We should have resigned rather than vote for it.
And Jenkins? He had become Chancellor by the time the Act was passed. He also explained himself 31 years later: he was Chancellor, he explained, travelling abroad and signing deals and agreements with a host of countries. So, he explained,
I think people would have thought it really rather trivial if I had resigned on this issue.
So beware of liberals bearing gifts. And beware of Lord Adonis, who says in the article that Jenkins “was my hero and later my mentor”. He also says that he “fell politically in love with Tony Blair” (what a careful statement that is!). I’m glad he’s against the idea of breaking away from Labour to form a new party (at least at the moment – remember he’s a liberal). But I suspect he will do his best to undermine Corbyn every chance he gets.
To end on a lighter note: he points out that the SDP failed in their aim in the 1980s to “break the mould of British politics”. Tony Benn once captured this failure perfectly to a Question Time audience:
The SDP was formed to break the mould of British politics and last week they held their annual conference in a telephone kiosk in Plymouth.
His Lordship’s article: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/24/labour-party-split-sdp-tories-england
 David Owen, a former Labour Foreign Secretary and one of the “Gang of Four” who founded the SDP, was the MP for Plymouth.
Read Kevin Ovenden’s important analysis of the antisemitism furore:
Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the 80th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Cable Street in East London in 1936 that stopped Oswald Mosley’s fascists marching through the area
The demand that Labour adopt a contested definition of anti-semitism is not about some choice of words or about fighting racism. It is about breaking the left and progressive movements as a political force in Britain. This legal opinion by Hugh Tomlinson QC explains much of what is wrong with the IHRA “working definition” of anti-semitism.
There is also this excellent piece in the London Review of Books last year by former Court of Appeal judge Stephen Sedley. When we see what is seriously wrong with this definition and document the Labour leadership is under pressure to adopt, the wider purpose of the attacks and slurs becomes clear.
Among other points Sedley highlights this from the IHRA definition:
“Manifestations [of anti-semitism] might…
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Polly Toynbee reminded us in yesterday’s Guardian to beware of Tory claims to love the NHS:
The Tories voted 22 times against the creation of the NHS, warning it was “Hitlerian” and it would “sap the very foundations on which our national character has been built. It is another link in the chain that is binding us all to the machine of state.” The British Medical Association, then mostly Tory doctors, said it was “a dagger blow to personal freedom” that would “enslave the medical profession”. Ever since, a strong core of the Tory party has kept calling for NHS “reform” that would end its founding principles. Their newspapers and thinktanks bristle with bright ideas for top-up fees or personal insurance. It’s insufferable to them that the state, not the market, should run such a mighty enterprise efficiently, even when underfunded.
No one should let the NHS birthday celebrations go by without reading Michael Foot’s account of the founding of the NHS. It’s in Foot’s biography of its founder, Aneurin Bevan. It is now in a single volume but was originally published in two vast tomes somehow befitting the image of the founder himself. The account is in Chapter 12 of the single volume.
At the beginning of the chapter Foot tells how, at the Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association (BMA) on the day after the 1945 general election, delegates cheered when they heard that Sir William Beveridge had lost his seat as Liberal MP for Berwick. The famous Beveridge Report during the Second World War had proposed a welfare state, including a national health service. The BMA were delighted to see him go. But they didn’t cheer when they realised Labour had won the election. Foot wrote:
… the doctors felt themselves impelled across strange frontiers into an unknown land. “I have spent a lot of time,” said one eminent Harley Street surgeon, “seeing doctors with bleeding duodenal ulcers caused by worry about being under the State.” The scene illustrated the collective neurosis afflicting the most articulate section of the British Medical Association even before it was confronted with the apparition of Aneurin Bevan at the Ministry of Health.
So remember, the child had enemies even before it was born. It still has.
Polly Toynbee’s article:
 Foot, M. (1999), Aneurin Bevan, Indigo, London, pp. 286-361.