Friday, 31 August 2007

Promoting segregation is not the way to tackle the BNP

In my previous post, I mentioned that BNP councillors had asked questions during the Barking and Dagenham borough full council meeting. Two of these questions concerned issues related to perceived 'preferential treatment' of ethnic minorities within the borough.

BNP Councillor Bailey asked how much the council spent on translation and interpreting costs for 'foreigners' during the financial year 2006/07. Labour leader Councillor Fairbrass responded saying that £64,600 was spent on translation and interpreting costs but this included braille and sign language for the blind and deaf respectively. He stated categorically that the council rejected the notion that translation costs were a waste of money and that they were bad for race relations. He pointed to a recent report from the Commission on Integration and Cohesion which confirms the importance of translating official documents for local authority residents.

I thoroughly disagree with the Labour Party policy on this because I think they are actively promoting segregation. Racialising municipal policies plays right into the hands of the far right. I think that councils should do more to integrate ethnic minorities and immigrants living in their areas for whom English is not the mother language. For as long as ethnic minorities are encouraged to live in ghettos then there can be no cultural integration of the kind which creates social solidarity. Furthermore, learning English would help ethnic minority communities to obtain jobs where effective communication is a requirement.

Also, I feel very strongly that Labour Party policies should seek to unite working class communities rather than dividing them along ethnic lines. For a working class area with a restricted housing stock and a high demand for council accommodation, £64,600 is money which could be directed into housing as well as social services and education. Socialists should use money to improve the lives of all residents in a working class area and not offer it to specific identity groups. If we want to create social cohesion, we should integrate all community groups to make them open to all residents and not just one section of it.

BNP Councillor S. Doncaster asked how many single race groups B&D council funds and how much this costs the taxpayer. Councillor Fairbrass replied saying that the council had identified eight ethnic minority groups and that they had spent £89,500 on them. Combined with the figure for translation work, this is a total of £154,100 ethnic minority-specific projects. The Labour leader argued that this expenditure was justified as most of the money is given to the council in the form of a grant and that each resident only pays 8.12p for these services. For me it is not a question of the money but the principle: a Socialist council committed to working class unity should not be segregating that community along ethnic or racial lines.

Unfortunately the Left has not managed to throw off the influence of identity politics which influenced public policy during the 1970s and 1980s. 'Multiculturalism', 'edginess' and 'diversity' have become buzzwords for metropolitan academics, public sector professionals and policy makers who often lack the necessary life experience to understand the effects their ideas have on working class people. It is time for the left to promote racial and cultural integration along socio-economic lines. If the left fails to do this, then the far right will seize the opportunity for their own ends.

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