Labour Party shadow equalities minister apologises over anti-Traveller leaflet

In the same week as a botched Governmental report found the UK was not institutionally racist, there have been a number of incidents proving the contrary.

Peter Stoddard, is the Student Officer of the YCL

Notably, we have seen numerous racists making their pitch to become Members of the Scottish Parliament, including former EDL, BNP and Britain First activist, Jayda Fransen who is standing in the same seat as current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

In addition, we have seen another Met police officer struck off after it emerged that he was an active member of National Action, the far right anti-Semitic neo-nazi organisation banned by the government.

This comes after weeks of protest in response to the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill progressing its way through Parliament which has resulted in dozens of arrests at protests around the country. In particular, in response to its specific targeting of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities, who are likely to bear the brunt of the legislation alongside protesters.

The latest controversy emerged following a tweet from Labour MP for Warrington North, Charlotte Nichols. In the Party literature being handed out, the Labour Party pledged to deal with “Traveller Incursions”. There has been a mass of resistance in response, and many have called for the MP to resign.

The controversial Warrington North Labour Party leaflet

In response, Miss Nichols said she wanted “to unreservedly apologise for the offense and hurt that I have caused to the [sic] Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community”. She assured people that the leaflet had been destroyed and was not in line with Labour Party values. She also said she “genuinely wasn’t aware of the meaning of “incursion” or its negative connotation until this morning”.

Seen as coming from the left of the Party, Nichols has been supportive of progressive measures in the past, particularly under Corbyn’s leadership. However, as with many in the Party, she seems all too happy to swing right if it helps her chances to move up the rans under Starmer. Nichols supported Rebecca Long-Bailey in the previous leadership election.

The leaflet is unacceptable, there is no two ways about it. However, rather than hounding out an MP, who has been an ally to the GRT community in the past, it is more important to understand why the GRT community has been so targeted, not just in Warrington, where canvassers were leafletting, but across Britain and Ireland.

GRT Socialists, formerly Labour GRT, released a statement in response saying “One resignation doesn’t solve the underlying issue. [Labour] needs to do better. MPs really do need to be actually forced to talk to their willing GRT constituents and members of our community to really get into how bad it is out there. An hours zoom [sic] isn’t enough.”

Local YCLer, Josh Booth, said “Warrington has a real problem with attitudes towards travelling communities, and seeing local politicians trying to capitalise on this hatred is as sickening as it is unsurprising. The portrayal of marginalised groups as an invading force is nothing new, and to see Labour so comfortably align themselves with dangerous talking points like this on a local and national level is deeply distressing.”

Particularly in light of the Policing bill, it is obvious that so much more needs to be done to ensure the GRT community are actively listened to and engaged as a crucial part of the community. Instead, for decades we have seen them scapegoated and targeted in one of the last areas of seemingly acceptable racism.

From the Labour Party to the Met Police, to the communities across the country, this week has proved more than anything that the report made to Parliament was a whitewash. Rather than attempting to tackle the issues of racism, it instead sought to disregard the views of those most affected. In addition, it sought to whitewash the crimes of the British Empire and of imperialism, in an attempt to portray the cultural benefits of each.

It’s clear that we all need to do more to combat the scourge of racism on our streets. The first step in that is electing progressive forces to Parliaments and town halls up and down the country next month, and defeating the insidious Policing Bill after that.

Peter Stoddart

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