Bengalis in the council chamber
in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
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Chapter 7 charts how community-based activism led to a pragmatic move into mainstream politics. Initially this meant the Labour Party, which was then dominant locally, was most immigrant friendly, and had also been supportive in the independence struggle. Bengalis subsequently joined all main parties, despite the Liberals’ notoriously racist campaigns in the 1990s, and became a major part of the council establishment. The chapter looks at how resistance to Bengali membership of the Spitalfields Labour Party was overcome by intervention of left-wingers, and how, when the party wouldn’t choose a Bengali to stand as a councillor, one got elected as an independent. It looks at patronage networks, prejudice encountered by political women, continued distrust of the ‘white left’, potential conflicts between representing the Bengali community and representing all constituents, and the demand for a Bengali MP. It ends by looking at the use of multiculturalism as a progressive veneer, and the impact of partnership governance in strengthening ethnic and faith organisations and tying them to council norms.

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