Nadhim Zahawi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and MP for Stratford On Avon.
As London faces the decision on Thursday about who should be the new Mayor, many politicians in the Labour party have, during the last few weeks, been accusing Zac Goldsmith of running a ‘racist’ campaign. It’s the same old accusation from the same old Labour party. If you’re not comfortable with something, get up on your high horse, claim someone’s racist until they’ve been shouted down – and then you can go home and convince yourself you’ve won the argument.
Quite frankly, it is appalling for the accusation of racism – an accusation that is one of the most serious that can be made – to be thrown around and used to make political points and to provide protection against questions that need to be asked.
This use grossly devalues the term of racism. It detracts from the suffering of people faced with real racism; whether they’re attacked in the street, or find themselves unable to find a job because their name or face doesn’t quite fit. Anyone that has actually felt the sting of racism for themselves should be disgusted with its use in this pathetic way.
Why do I feel so strongly about Labour throwing around this term? Firstly, because Sadiq Khan has genuine questions to answer. I’ve known Sadiq for many years, having both served together on Wandsworth Council in the 1990s – and I know he is not a radical Islamist. But no one is saying he is. He’s simply being asked why he has, not just once but repeatedly, allowed himself to be associated with a number of individuals who have expressed abhorrent opinions, again and again. As a man who wishes to run London, he should answer questions about judgement without hiding behind cries of racism.
The idea that Zac Goldsmith, or any other Conservative is raising these issues because they have a problem with Sadiq being a Muslim is a joke. Has there been an outcry amongst my party whenever a Muslim, or any other individual from an ethnic minority background has ascended to be a councillor, an MP or a Secretary of State? No: in the modern Conservative party every person from every background has been supported, valued, and encouraged. I should know.
The invalidity of this accusation, and the obviousness of its weakness is shown by Yvette Cooper’s about-face on the subject. When she was running against Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest – just eight months ago, remember- she was saying that he should distance himself from those who “have quite extreme views, homophobic and pushing homophobic abuse and pushing extremist abuse”. Now that Zac has said much the same about Sadiq she has said that it is a “full blown racist scream.”
Is it seriously only legitimate to ask such questions of a white man but not, in exactly the same terms, of a Muslim? If this was genuinely their thought process, it would be a case of patronising oversensitivity, but it’s not. The difference is not one of race, but one of party. Sadiq Khan is Labour, and Zac Goldsmith is a Conservative. Therefore it’s legitimate for Cooper to question Corbyn, but Zac cannot do the same to Sadiq. In reality, it is throwing around the accusation of racism for party political ends, to help a Labour candidate win an election, and it has been disgraceful to see.
Questions still need to be asked about the judgement of Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn. They are both putting themselves forward for difficult positions of great responsibility. No one wishes to see Hamas being invited to Downing Street, or anti-Semites visiting City Hall – and they have met with these people, and spoken alongside them on many occasions. If their attitudes to legitimising these people has changed, then that’s great. But we need to know why it has changed, and how they came to realisation that it is wrong to legitimise them. I cannot see how asking this is anything other than reasonable
Of course we’ve seen people being called racist for asking valid questions before. Just remember the last Labour Government, when anyone questioning their open door immigration policy was accused of being racist. They couldn’t have been worried about the increase in demand for hospitals, schools or housing; they were just racist idiots. Or as the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said in one case, just “bigoted”. It’s sad that despite claiming they’d learned their lesson on immigration, Labour quickly reached for the racism card, cynically and offensively.
It is even more galling that these accusations come at the time when another Labour MP stands accused of having made and supported anti-Semitic statements. Statements that included the “relocation” of Israel from the Middle East; this is not legitimate questioning of Israeli policy, but a suggestion that fits the description of ethnic cleansing. And in the context of a procession of anti-Semitic scandals involving a number of Labour members and councillors making other disgraceful comments, it just beggars belief that the party can still feel comfortable throwing racism around to silence others.
So no, Labour. I will not take a lecture on racism from you. Racism is awful, it blights too many lives in this country and it must be tackled by everyone; but we cannot allow false accusations of racism to be used in this way. It has to stop.