Vanity Notes

A personal blog about programming and socialism.

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Political Parties are Failing on Discrimination and Prejudice

Posted 2 May 2021

Updated 28 Jul 2021

The recent Stonewall Cymru LGBT Hustings was unfortunately a missed opportunity to really hold candidates to account. It was very stage-managed, with no questions taken from the public, all Zoom chat features disabled, and many political parties were excluded.

The question about what candidates were doing to address discrimination - both LGBT+ discrimination and in a wider sense, such as racism - in their own parties had the potential to be interesting. But without accountability from the floor, it was an exercise in self-congratulation removed from the reality of people leaving these parties in response to the mishandling and tolerance of homophobia, transphobia, and racism from senior figures.

No-one in the hustings acknowledged the continuing row over transphobia in Plaid Cymru which led to Plaid councillor & deputy mayor Owen Hurcum, Plaid parliamentary candidate Mike Parker, and many other members resigning in protest. Plaid have made initial apologies and pledged awareness training to address discrimination in their party. But it remains to be seen how sincere or serious this is when specific complaints have been ignored for years and trans members have been undemocratically excluded from meetings designed to hold their party to account. Plaid certainly do not deserve to congratulate themselves in the manner they did at the hustings. And LGBT+ people should certainly not welcome Plaid’s proposed 1% cut to the Welsh budget.

But the Labour Party really has form on discrimination, tolerating the worst of transphobic ideas from elected representatives and stirring up prejudices against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities for crude electoral gain.

I grew up in Swansea, where 14 years ago Labour was accused of breaking the Race Relations Act by cynically attempting to make a by-election a “referendum” on a traveller’s site. Labour had a similar record in Cardiff at the time.

And Labour has learnt nothing, has not changed, and continues to pander to the same prejudices today. Their shadow equalities minister didn’t bat an eyelid handing out “dealing with traveller incursions” leaflets in Cheshire recently and I have no faith Labour won’t do this again.

The Labour anti-semitism problem was crudely exploited to provide cover for bureaucratic expulsions attacking the left. The first step should have been democratic discussion to educate the membership and win members away from conspiracy theories. Instead there was a clamp down on party democracy.

It is not a fatal crime to be wrong and have prejudices - the important question is whether they can be corrected through discussion, democratic accountability, and the correct political perspectives. Even socialists will battle with backwards ideas in their organisations. Some, like the British SWP, will be organisationally incapable of correcting themselves and stumble from crisis to scandal.

Labour will keep making these mistakes because the right wing has deliberately engineered a death of democracy and accountability in the Labour party. This is a process that started in the days of Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair and continues under Starmer today.

Today’s representatives are far removed from ordinary voters and party members. Members of parliament should live like us, should stand on a workers’ wage, should be accountable to a genuinely democratic party and trade unions, and should be subject to deselection and recall.

Of the Tory, Labour and Plaid Cymru candidates for the Welsh Parliament 2021 elections, twelve candidates each are professional politicians and have never had jobs outside politics.

My organisation, the Socialist Party, and the electoral alliance in which it participates, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, will be tested too. Our democratic traditions are important but alone are no guarantee. I’ve witnessed our ability to recognise and correct our mistakes. But what really gives me confidence is our political ideas.

In anti-cuts campaigns we have consistently argued, even against other so-called left trends including the SWP, Labour Left, and the Green Party, that we shouldn’t accept a limited, shrinking, pool of rights and resources to fight and compete over. We can fight all the cuts, not only the ones that affect us personally. Divide-and-rule can be fought with a united working class struggle for the resources we need.

This is the minimum bar against which any political party claiming to champion equality must be measured.

“Triaging” and rationing services is a last resort. We can win the resources we need if we transfer wealth from the rich.

Austerity measures dutifully passed on by Labour, Plaid, or Green administrations will never achieve LGBT+ liberation and will fail to cut across prejudices. These parties will never fully resolve their internal turmoils while they still have this perspective. And it gives cover to transphobic and racist groups and individuals who, while they have no solutions, can “get a foot in the door” for their ideas with a pretend concern over lack of resources.

It is the role of genuine socialists to fight for the maximum unity of the working class: not by ignoring issues like racism, anti-semitism, sexism, or LGBT+ rights, or pitting one section against another, but by arguing for the working class to unite on and champion these issues and link them to economic demands and the struggle for the socialist transformation of society.

Anti oppression movements must orientate towards the working class because its democratic structures and collective power give it the revolutionary potential to consciously change society, including ultimately the ability to sweep aside capitalism and lay the basis for ending oppression altogether.

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