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Black Labour members are set to boycott campaigning for the party

A Labour Party grassroots group is warning that it will call on its supporters to boycott campaigning in the upcoming local elections. This is because of Keir Starmer and the party’s inaction over Black representation. But the rot surrounding this goes much further than just systems and structures.

Grassroots Black Left

Grassroots Black Left (GBL) is a Labour-supporting campaign group. It formed in 2017. GBL says it consists of “African, Caribbean and Asian socialist Labour Party supporters from all around Britain”.

At GBL’s parliamentary launch in 2018, Clive Lewis MP said:

We want set places on the Labour’s ruling NEC [National Executive Committee] for black members and dedicated staff at Southside (Labour headquarters) working for the same black section, for black members of the party. It’s absolutely shambolic that BAME Labour (the current party group for black members) only has just over 600 members.

At the time, GBL’s co-founder Deborah Hobson wrote for the Morning Star that there were an estimated 100,000 Black members in Labour. But despite demands by a senior figure such as Lewis, and GBL’s formation, fast forward to 2021 and the group says little has changed.

“Urgent” concerns

GBL said in a press release seen by The Canary that it has written to Starmer and NEC members:

about the urgent need for them to tackle Black under-representation – that remains despite the huge impact globally of the Black Lives Matter movement… Africans, Caribbeans, and Asians are Labour’s most loyal voters and the key to the party getting MPs elected in more than 60 seats around the country. So, Labour can’t get back into power without them.

The letter, which is looking for support from NEC members, doesn’t hold back. It says that GBL is:

extremely concerned that three years after the important Labour Party Democracy Review recommendations on increasing Black representation and equality within all structures of the party were made, no action has been taken to implement them.

An unactioned review

This review recommended a lot of things. It included an annual BAME conference. But the review also led to the group BAME Labour no longer having an automatic seat on the NEC. GBL said in the press release that:

nothing has been set up to replace it, which means African, Caribbean and Asian party members are now without a voice.

The NEC has a so-called BAME representative. But they are not part of any one organisation. This means they are effectively working on their own. Black members elect this person. But GBL think that Labour has not gone far enough. In fact, you could argue that by removing the BAME Labour NEC rep, the party has actually gone backwards.

Nine areas of action needed

GBL says it has nine points which the Labour leadership need to address:

  • “Doing another mass mailing of the national survey to identify the African Caribbean and Asian members in the Labour Party”.
  • “The organising of the promised and so far, not delivered, annual BAME conference”.
  • “Getting each region to organise a Regional BAME Conference”.
  • Also, “getting elected national and regional BAME committee members”.
  • “Getting elected BAME representatives on every Regional Executive Committee”.
  • “Doing a mapping exercise of BAME communities all over the country”.
  • “Making sure there are BAME seats on bodies such as CLP [Constituency Labour Party] management committees, CLP executives, CLP management committees and local government committees, at the very least, in areas where there is a high percentage of BAME people in the population to redress their under-representation”.
  • “Using all-African Caribbean and Asian shortlists the same as all-women shortlists to redress Black under-representation”.
  • “Tackling the failure of the party to properly investigate discrimination against its members of colour, including them being disproportionately affected by disciplinary action”.

But GBL seem unconvinced that the leadership will address this. So, it is calling for action.

‘Downing tools’?

It said in its letter that:

Black party members have been left shamefully ignored and frankly, treated with contempt by the Labour leadership. It is therefore unsurprising that some Black activists, fed-up with being treated as mere canvassers and voting fodder, have said enough is enough and have threatened to “down tools” and no longer campaign for Labour.

GBL said in its press release that this ‘downing of tools’ would be targeted. Specifically, it’s calling for Black activists and members not to campaign for the party in the upcoming local elections. And as it outlined in the letter, Black members have good reason for doing this:

African Caribbean and Asian communities are experiencing unbearable suffering as the disproportionately high victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, systemic and other racism, Islamophobia, economic poverty, attacks on the rights of migrants, including the Windrush generation, and state and police brutality. We know that a socialist Labour Party and government can help remedy these issues. That is why GBL will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the Labour Party is held to account when it fails what traditionally has been its most loyal supporters and voters.

The Canary contacted the Labour Party for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

The “Labour Leaks” and “anti-Black racism”

These failings were also highlighted by the so-called “Labour Leaks” report.

As Nadine White wrote in June 2020 for HuffPost, the report:

raised grave concerns of anti-Black racism, otherwise referred to as Afriphobia, which campaigners argue have not been adequately addressed by the party’s leadership.

Labour officials used a string of insults in private WhatsApp groups to describe senior Black MPs and officials including Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and Clive Lewis, the lengthy document revealed.

Abbott is referred to as “repulsive”, with another official saying she “literally makes me sick”.

Labour told HuffPost that it was aiming to:

put measures in place to protect the welfare of party members and party staff who are concerned or affected by the report.

In addition, both Angela [Rayner] and Keir have met with the BAME staff network and have committed to improving representation, progression and culture in the workplace.

But White said at the time that this, and the party’s seeming inaction over it, had led Black members to leave.

Unfathomable inaction

It is unfathomable that Labour has still not addressed many issues surrounding this.

GBL should not have to be appealing to NEC members for support. What it’s calling for are very basic systems and structures. These are ones that should already be in place. But moreover, it shouldn’t have to be raising concerns about Labour treating its Black members with “contempt”. Starmer and the party machinery need to address and remedy GBL’s concerns. And they need to do it quickly – before a mass exodus of members begins.

For reference, GBL highlighted the use of the term “BAME” is only used when in the context of the Labour Party’s use of it.

Read GBL’s full letter below:

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Chris McAndrew and GBL

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