The Victims of the Hostile Environment Call to Us, We Must Answer – Labour Against Racism and Fascism


“If the government had not already signalled its racist intentions clearly enough, the Prime Minister’s statement of his desire to see “Chain gangs” on Britain’s streets must surely put any debate to bed.”

By Joshua Kelly, Labour Against Racism and Fascism (LARAF)

The Hostile Environment is far from over. Popularised under Theresa May, this slogan continues to summarise government policy, inspired by savage, barbaric cruelty to migrants and people of colour.

For far too long, the Hostile Environment has served a key role for successive Conservative Governments. It is a cornerstone of a broader “culture wars” strategy. Deportations, the continued expansion of “random” Stop and Search and sinister sermon’s directed at undocumented migrants imperiled in the channel, are designed specifically to provide red meat for their voter base.

Fearful of a challenge from a populist right wing party, the government feels it can (and must) bring forward more extreme right wing policy to keep the threat of right wing challenge at bay.

It must surely be for this reason that the government is so bullish in their defense of culture war policy, especially when it comes to the Hostile Environment. When challenged on its unjust continuation of deportation flights, the government response usually contains justification that those detained are violent and pose a threat to the public.

In reality these claims are grossly exaggerated. Of those targeted for the most recent deportation to Jamaica, many came to the UK as children and have only minor, non-violent offences on their record. There are also several reports of those scheduled for deportation being victims of torture/abuse either in the UK or Jamiaca.

The government is hardly likely to let these facts get in the way of their story. For them, deporting people of colour, whether it is to Jamaica (11th August),  Vietnam (28th July) or Zimbabwe (21st July) is another tool to secure the support of extreme right wing voters. Their justification based on violence and the threat to the public echoes racist tropes about the violent nature of black people (men in particular) that emanated from the deep south. Like in the US South, criminalisation of black people for minor offences can be easily exploited for political ends and to circumvent any legal protections from those the government deem unworthy.

Deportation flights are not the only policy to be justified using this trope. The continued defence and signalled expansion of “random” stop and search is justified in a similar way. Stop and Search disproportionately targets Black people and is a key pillar to the disproportionate incarceration of Black people in the UK. If the government had not already signalled its racist intentions clearly enough, the Prime Minister’s statement of his desire to see “Chain gangs” on Britain’s streets must surely put any debate to bed.

The hardening of racist rhetoric and policy from the government demands a strengthening of our resistance. The valiant work of campaigners, activists and trade unionists in opposition to these policies is making a difference. The huge wave of support for the RNLI shows a deep wellspring of resistance to these policies. Tireless fighters like Joan Martin, have struggled heroically and received huge support to save her son Osime Brown. Deportation for Osime would have been a death sentence on account of his complex needs.

For Labour Against Racism and Fascism (LARAF), this new period demands change from us. It is a time for us to reassess the needs of our movement and how we can best meet our central purpose, to advance anti-racist and anti-fascist policies within Labour. LARAF must bridge the gap between external campaigning groups and Labour politicians. We must fight hard against those who believe that fighting the “Culture War” can (or should) be sacrificed for some mythical “electability”.

The victims of the Hostile Environment call to us now, and we must answer now.

  • Joshua Kelly is writing on behalf of Labour Against Racism and Fascism (LARAF), you can follow them on Facebook and twitter.
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