by BARONESS SHAMI CHAKRABARTI
HARROW is my home and where I was raised. It felt special going back there during a general election campaign over the weekend.
I was lucky enough to visit the Shree Kutch Satsang Swaminarayan Temple, one of the religious hubs at the heart of the Harrow East community. It was clear from speaking to people at the temple last Saturday (7) that Harrow East urgently needs a Labour government. People spoke to me about the concerns around social care, NHS and the spike in hate crime in the area.
The rise in hate crime is not something that comes as a shock to me. When my parents first arrived in England from India, they were attacked by far-right skinheads as they pushed me in my pram in north London. Still they believed in the power of democracy, of votes inspired and earned with ideas and policies; not those bought or demanded on the basis of faith, race or hate.
A classic racist smear on members of any minority ethnic community is that we are somehow not to be trusted because of allegiances to foreign powers. We remember Norman Tebbit’s infamous “cricket test” aimed at Commonwealth migrants and their kids. Jewish people the world over are painfully aware of stereotypes about their politics in general, or
views on any particular action by any Israeli government of the day.
And after last month’s appalling murders at London Bridge, British Muslims will once more fear guilt by association and even reprisals. So how irresponsible is it for any group with self proclaimed primary allegiance to politics elsewhere in the world to feed such smears and conspiracies by actively intervening in an election here in the UK?
I am talking about a sinister campaign that uses WhatsApp messages demanding that Britons of Indian-Hindu extraction vote Conservative on the basis that Labour members such as me are “traitors to their ancestral land, to their family and friends in India and to their cultural heritage”.
The Times of India reports that an organisation called the Overseas Friends of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata party) has identified 48 Labour-Tory marginal seats in which to campaign, spread fear and sow division. In July this year, Canadian officials reported the very same group spreading misinformation to influence that country’s October election.
Labour is accused of being pro-Muslim and anti- Hindu. This is simply not true. Human rights cannot be the preserve of any one group. They belong to everyone, everywhere, including in conflict-ridden Kashmir. Labour has unequivocally condemned terrorism in that region and called for India and Pakistan to come to a peaceful resolution and respect human rights.
This has also been the consistent, publicly stated policy of the Conservative government.
It is particularly bizarre that some of the messages circulating include Islamophobic rants by
Katie Hopkins. When my father received his “Pakibashing” while trying to protect me and my mum in 1969, the fascists forgot to check whether he was Indian or Pakistani. I doubt the far-right thugs of today are any more discriminating.
To add insult to injury, the Tory candidate in my late parents’ constituency of Harrow East seems to be up to his neck in this cynical attempt at divide and rule by faith. People in Harrow have already spoken out. Bob Blackman is neither Hindu nor Muslim, but is employing this far-right playbook at the expense of others so as to weigh their votes without counting the long-term cost of fanning the flames of racial tension.
It is awful to admit, because I miss my parents every day, but it is a small consolation that they did not live to see this behaviour in the place they crossed the world for, and where they invested their entire adult lives. So, before this week’s election, it was important that I returned to my childhood home to ask people to vote Labour – not on sectarian lines but for the schools, hospitals, universities and housing that all families deserve. I asked them to vote to halt a climate emergency that knows neither national nor religious borders. And to vote for personal and community security and for peace.
I reminded them that burning towers and hostile environments protect no community over another. I will never urge people to vote on grounds of faith or race. This far-right playbook is neither Conservative nor “one nation”. It is taking its inspiration from the worst foreign politics more than any migrant ever did. This divisive nightmare has to end.
I call on people to reject the politics of hate.