Chuka Umunna is right - but his intentions are not

9 Sep 2018

 

Following a summer filled with controversy surrounding the Labour Party and whether or not it is anti-Semitic, you’d think Labour MPs would be trying to present their party as the tolerant and accepting one it promises to be.

 

Well, this is 2018. And nothing in politics is ever this straightforward anymore.

 

Labour MP Chuka Umunna has declared that he believes that the Labour Party is “institutionally racist”. Umunna said his beliefs are based on the Macpherson report, which defined institutional racism following the Met Police’s botched and prejudiced Stephen Lawrence murder investigation.

 

Mr Umuna said: “It’s very painful for me to say that. Part of the reason that I joined the Labour party, that my family supported the party, was because it was an anti-racist party. I think the failure to deal with the racism that is antisemitism is particular, and clearly is a problem.”

 

I am in no way denying any institutional racism in the Labour Party. In fact, I agree that there is, of course, an institutional racism there. However, that is exactly the same with all major UK political parties, businesses and sectors. It’s also the same with misogyny, homophobia and transphobia – they are ingrained in our society and thus our politics.

 

Chuka Umunna is absolutely right to raise a debate about institutional racism. Well, he would be if his intentions were as angelic as he attempts to portray them to be.

 

We know that Umunna does not support Corbyn, or the move of the Labour Party from the centre to the left. His political beliefs lie mainly in the centre and he’s evidently felt discomfort with the leadership of Corbyn. He has questioned Corbyn’s leadership and pressured him on his position on the single market and Brexit as a whole. All of this is absolutely acceptable and, of course, healthy for a democracy.

 

But there has to be a line drawn, and towed, somewhere.

 

What is not acceptable is the deliberate sabotage of one’s own party by labelling it specifically as “institutionally racist”. As an experienced and high-profile backbench MP, Umunna knows fine well that a comment such as this will cause a media furore. So for that reason it is incredibly difficult to believe that the comments were made in order to actively deal with the institutional racism present in Labour.

 

If Chuka Umunna wanted to talk about institutional racism, he could have brought it up in the wider context of British society. There is a wage gap for ethnic minorities. More black people are in prison than whites for the same crimes. One Cambridge college accepted no black students between 2012 and 2016.

 

But instead, Umunna pinpointed the Labour Party, only further adding to its declining reputation – undermining a party that has proudly and actively supported anti-racism policies and legislation.

 

It is clear that Chuka Umunna is more intent on destroying his own party’s reputation than the Tories, which is extremely problematic when you’re a Labour Party MP. I’m not saying ‘put up, and shut up’ about the issue of institutional racism. I’m saying let’s deal with it not just in Labour, but everywhere.

 

Seeing as now Umunna has enraged the flames of racism within the party that were quelled when it accepted the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism (and rightly so), it’s up to Corbyn and the rest of the leadership to deal with this fire better.

 

The way Corbyn and Co. handled concerns about anti-Semitism was not acceptable or ideal. It should have been both fair and assertive, taking in all points of view and coming to a decision quickly, instead of refusing to handle it until the end of the summer.

 

So, instead of turning on Umunna and calling for his deselection, calling him a ‘traitor’ and trolling him, MPs and members should take on his points and begin to make him, and the rest of the Commons, work to turn institutional racism on its head.

 

It’s time to turn this next negative wave into a positive one. Deal with it honestly and openly and make it relate to the rest of British politics and society. That way, Umunna’s unruly motives are crushed and the real, important tumour of institutional racism is dealt with.

 

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