Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death in a heinous, violent, racist attack in 1993. But ‘Sir’ Tony Blair, when faced with the opportunity to address racism in Britain, wanted nothing to do with it.
In fact, the newly-knighted former PM believed it was ‘OTT’ (over the top) to sack racist police officers. At the same time, he blocked his ministers from producing a report on racial inequality.
Later, in 2007, the same Tony Blair went on to describe knife and gun crime as not caused by poverty, but ‘distinctive to black culture’.
Recently released Cabinet papers have exposed the role of Blair’s New Labour government in opposing an inquiry into police racism, following the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
Blair came to power in 1997, some years after Lawrence’s murder. But the significance of the case – and the ongoing lack of progress in achieving justice – loomed large.
The Home Secretary at the time, Jack Straw, wrote to Blair, stating that:
“At the extreme, black and Asian youngsters have observed their grandparents and parents suffer discrimination, harassment and racial violence and are developing very hardened attitudes against the white community. We have to win back their confidence in the institutions of British society.”
What was the knight’s response? That this would lead to a “regulation nightmare”.
More specifically, it seems that Blair’s office was concerned about the reaction from right-wing newspapers, such as the Telegraph.
On top of this, the New Labour leadership wanted to ensure continued support and confidence in the police, and not produce a report that would present ‘unachievable goals’.
Well, given that they couldn’t bring themselves to support the firing of racist police officers, we can understand why they didn’t want to make any promises about ending racism in Britain!
Racism and the police
Racist violence was and remains a plague on society. In 1998, a black man named Christopher Alder, 37, died handcuffed and face down in a Hull police station, while officers chanted monkey sounds.
This is the context in which Blair feared more the opinions of right-wing newspapers, over the lives of black people.
This report, therefore, is a sharp reminder that being a full-throated champion of the capitalist system, as Blair was, ultimately means defending the racism that comes with this. You cannot have one without the other.
Even if the review had gone ahead, however, nothing fundamental would have changed.
Jack Straw, who was the original proposer, went on to increase police powers against terrorism. This strengthened the impunity with which the police used racial profiling and other discriminatory methods. Clearly this was not a man about to oversee an end to police violence or racism.
Capitalism is racist
Beneath this, lies the secret truth of capitalism. You cannot have a non-racist police force.
Despite the undoubtedly reprehensible views of certain individual officers themselves, it is not the thoughts or prejudices of those individuals that creates institutionalised racism – it’s the other way round.
Policing – in Britain and elsewhere – is rooted in the need to suppress the working class and defend the interests of the ruling class. And racism is a useful tool for the capitalists to achieve these same ends, propagated by the ruling class in order to divide, oppress, and exploit workers.
Nauseating nonsense that tries to uphold Blair as a progressive figure is a slap in the face to workers and youth. The truth is that he defended the racism of capitalism while he was prime minister, just as he promoted and defended all other aspects of the capitalist system.
Blair – and the system he defends – shouldn’t be honoured with knighthoods, but swept into the dustbin of history.