An MP who resigned from the United Kingdom‘s Labour Party citing “institutional racism” has been embroiled in a race row after she referred to people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds as having a “funny tinge” after the launch of her new political grouping.
Angela Smith, who quit the Labour Party just hours earlier to create the anti-racist Independent Group, faced widespread criticism on Monday over her comments about skin colour.
In a discussion on the BBC’s Politics Live show, Smith said that society needed to address the important debate rather than run away from it.
After speaking about BAME working-class women facing greater obstacles than other working-class women, the MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge said: “The recent history of the party I’ve just left suggests that it’s not just about being black or a funny tinge, you know, different, from the BAME community.”
Ash Sarkar, a political commentator from Novara Media, swiftly interjected: “A funny what?”
Neither Smith’s comment nor Sarkar’s interjection was addressed by the BBC host.
Smith was swiftly criticised on Twitter by both her former Labour colleagues and political commentators, with Rupa Huq, a Labour MP saying: “They claim their new party is anti-racist and modern yet in the same breath describe black, Asian and minority ethnic people as having a ‘funny tinge’.
“This is, at best, the casual racism of the 1970s that I thought we’d long left behind.
“It will strike many as an appalling, racist comment. Is the Independent Group going to investigate?”
"For a party that's trying to project an image of being modern, and one of their rationales was being the anti-antisemitism party, this sort of casual racism that carelessly slips out is inexcusable."@RupaHuq on comments by MP Angela Smith.
— Sky News Politics (@SkyNewsPolitics) February 18, 2019
The Guardian columnist and left-wing activist Owen Jones said: “Wow. Just wow. Listen to how Angela Smith, one of the founders of the new party, describes BME [BAME] people.”
Wow. Just wow. Listen to how Angela Smith, one of the founders of the new party, describes BME people. pic.twitter.com/QJ4fG8o6OH
— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) February 18, 2019
“Of course she’s not racist. Some of her best friends are a funny tinge,” wrote Aditya Chakrabortty.
Of course she's not racist. Some of her best friends are a funny tinge.
— Aditya Chakrabortty (@chakrabortty) February 18, 2019
“The ‘funny tinge’ remark struck a nerve because it’s what many BAME people fear: that even those who don’t seem to be racist deep down think of us as different and ‘the other’ – of somehow not really belonging,” said Tom Kibasi, the director of IPPR, the Institute for Public Policy Research.
“Angela Smith seemed to validate that insecurity,” he added.
The ‘funny tinge’ remark struck a nerve because it’s what many BAME people fear: that even those who don’t seem to be racist deep down think of us as different and ‘the other’—of somehow not really belonging. Angela Smith seemed to validate that insecurity.
— Tom Kibasi (@TomKibasi) February 18, 2019
Smith apologised several hours later saying in a video on Twitter: “I have seen the clip from Politics Live, I am very sorry about any offence caused and I am very upset that I misspoke so badly.
“It’s not what I am, I am committed to fighting racism wherever I find it in our society,” she added.
I'm really sorry that I misspoke earlier on Politics Live – here's my statement. pic.twitter.com/7csM95TFLo
— Angela Smith (@angelasmithmp) February 18, 2019
Smith was among seven MPs who resigned on Monday alleging Labour had been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left”, and accused Labour chief Jeremy Corbyn of failing to crack down on anti-semitism.
In a founding statement on its website, Smith, Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey – who all back another referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union – said they would “pursue policies that are evidence-based, not led by ideology”.
Reacting to the announcement, Corbyn said he was “disappointed” that the group “felt unable to continue to work together for the Labour policies that inspired millions at the last election and saw us increase our vote by the largest share since 1945”.
“Now more than ever is the time to bring people together to build a better future for us all,” he added.
On Sunday, John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, warned that a party split could prevent the opposition from getting into power.
Labour’s share of the vote increased by more than nine percent in the UK’s 2017 general election, with the party winning 262 seats in the 650-member Commons.
McDonnell told the BBC that it would be “like the 1980s” when the formation of the moderate Social Democratic Party allowed Margaret Thatcher to stay on as prime minister.
“It basically installed Mrs Thatcher in power for that decade,” he said.