Angela Smith’s ‘funny tinge’ comment is just the tip of the iceberg – these Labour defectors are anything but progressive

This group hardly consisted of the creme-de-la-creme of politics. Unless what is left at the bottom of the barrel can be redefined as ‘creme’

Lester Holloway
Monday 18 February 2019 19:34 GMT
Anglea Smith appears to say 'funny tinge' when describing black people on Politics Live

There are few more meaningless Blairite phrases than “modern Britain”, and this cliche was unfortunately given another outing by formerly Labour MPs today as the Dinner Party Seven launched their breakaway independent group.

Yet it didn’t take long for them to look decidedly unmodern – about an hour and a half to be precise. No sooner had Angela Smith, one of the seven, sat down in a BBC studio than she burbled something about brown people having a “funny tinge”, thereby plunging the new group into its first race row (and then its first apology).

It was a timely reminder that this group hardly consisted of the creme-de-la-creme of politics. Unless what is left at the bottom of the barrel can be redefined as “creme”. Alas, the talent pool that came into government with Blair in 1997 has largely dried up, gone to the Lords or moved upstairs from there. Things have changed. Young talent is now very much of the Jeremy Corbyn tendency. Youth is on his side, as he quipped on Marr.

McDonnellomics – the word will catch on, trust me – may be embodied by two old silver-haired white men, but it stands for something more: diversity, reversing the gap between rich and poor, shifting the balance of power so that workers reap the benefits of their labour, and transforming public services to give everyone quality housing, jobs and income.

What remains of “the project” – as Peter Mandelson used to call it – are now largely old white men and women, bitter at the temerity of people to take control of the Labour movement, blinking in disbelief as the political landscape rumbles and moves around them.

Change is now driven by a more diverse, youthful and principled movement demanding answers to the big questions that face Britain. And they are scornful of Labour moderates who deploy focus-group-tested terms like “fairness” while delivering public-private partnerships that drain our schools and hospitals of funds today.

Blair and Brown made progress on gender representation but failed to make much headway on racial diversity in the Commons. After 1987, when Diane Abbott, the late Bernie Grant and two others were elected, we had to wait until 2010 for the first big jump in BME representation, largely due to a mass exodus of retiring MPs who didn’t fancy a period in opposition under somebody even slightly left-wing.

While the Labour government gave us the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, it subsequently rolled back gains claiming that the Macpherson recommendations had all been fulfilled despite evidence of increasingly unequal racial outcomes across the board, from police stop-and-searches, to rates of BME homelessness. The Blair and Brown years were better for race equality in some respects than Thatcher and Cameron but not by much that you could really feel.

This once-cool Cool Britannia generation, which largely marginalised the race issue is now embodied by the more diverse faces of Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger. But behind this facade are the real moderates, like Mike Gapes and Angela Smith. Old has-beens – and never-weres – who went unnoticed during the glory years and who did little for race equality then, yet now claim to care passionately about racism on behalf of all "funny tinged" people.

Nobody is going to be fooled by this act. Jeremy Corbyn is the real anti-racist, he’s been there and got the T-shirt. A large collection, in fact, all in his garage. And it is the new Labour Party that is driving an agenda to genuinely tackle racial disadvantage. The class of ’97 have had their chance, and no assortment of austerity-supporting capitalists are going to stop it.

Lester Holloway is a Labour and Momentum member. He used to work for Operation Black Vote, the Runnymede Trust and was editor of New Nation and news editor at The Voice newspaper. He writes in a personal capacity

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