Diane Abbott: Let's revive the spirit of anti-racism

It is no surprise, more than 30 years later, to have it all but officially confirmed that the police caused the death of Blair Peach

Share
Related Topics

Certain campaigns evoke an era. And the campaign to find out "Who Killed Blair Peach?" evokes the anti-racist campaigning of the late 1970s like no other. If you had not been on the demonstration, you had the poster.

The campaign reverberated through Left politics in London and beyond. It encapsulated a number of themes: multi-racial resistance to fascism; concern about police brutality and an overweening state and, above all, simple solidarity. And these themes ran like a golden thread through Left politics – from the 19th-century trade union movement right up to the advent of Tony Blair.

But 1979, when Blair Peach lost his life in an anti-fascist demonstration – almost certainly at the hands of the police as a Scotland Yard report accepted yesterday – was a very different era from today. Now, although politicians are careful to condemn Nick Griffin as a person, they fall over themselves to adopt his agenda. One of the most depressing parts about the recent TV debates is how all three leaders competed to demonstrate how tough they would be on immigration. No one is brave enough to explain to the British people that, in an era of globalised trade and currency flows, globalised labour flows are inevitable. Nor is anyone prepared to explain that, far from being a burden on schools and hospitals, much of the public sector could not survive without immigrant labour.

I went to a Labour Party briefing meeting with Jack Straw when he was preparing for his Question Time appearance with Nick Griffin. To my surprise it was full of Labour MPs insisting nervously that, whatever Jack did, he should not accuse BNP supporters of being racist. It is a long way from marching against a National Front building in Southall, to trying to pretend that people who vote for the BNP are not racist. And it is at least arguable that the failure in recent years to confront racism, in the uncompromising way that Blair Peach and the other marchers did, has allowed the BNP to flourish.

The other strength of the anti-racist movement of that era was that it was genuinely multi-racial. Black, white and Asian went to Southall to resist the fascists. Since then we have seen a regrettable fragmentation. First Asian people resisted being called black. Now Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus all insist on a separate identities. A distinct cultural identity is one thing. But the struggle against racism has been immeasurably weakened by the political fragmentation we have seen in past decades.

It is no surprise, more than 30 years later, to have it all but officially confirmed that the police caused the death of Blair Peach. Innumerable witnesses at the inquest could not have been clearer. One, Martin Gerrald, said that "Mr Peach was hit twice in the head with police truncheons and left unconscious. The police were wielding truncheons and riot shields. It was a case of the boot just going in; there was no attempt to arrest anybody." And Commander John Cass's inquiry at the time, now made public, was in no doubt either. "It can reasonably be concluded that a police officer struck the fatal blow."

There is some consolation in hearing the truth from the police themselves. But how much have we moved on? Ian Tomlinson allegedly died at the hands of the police at last year's G20 demonstrations, but prosecutors have still to come to a decision on whether to charge anyone. But the lasting effect of Blair Peach and those who marched with him is that they drove the fascists off the streets of Southall never to return.

There is no doubt that some aspects of the late 1970s, like mullet hairstyles for men, are best forgotten. Others, like the Sony Walkman, are now completely outmoded. But as the era of the New Labour project comes to an end, there are many Labour movement values which are worth reviving. And an uncompromising resistance to racism, which the demonstration that Blair Peach lost his life on exemplified, is something that we could all benefit by rediscovering.

Diane Abbott is standing for re-election as Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella  

Sure, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella

Chloe Hamilton
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album