There’s no place for the politics of hate in our society
A month ago, Nigel Farage was interviewed about the EU Referendum by the BBC. His words were spoken with unwavering conviction and, as we’ve come to expect from the UKIP leader, time and time again, wild generalisations. He spoke confidently about the “facts” of the EU referendum without actually providing any, before his comments then took an astonishing turn.
"If people feel they have lost control completely - and we have lost control of our borders completely as members of the EU - and if people feel that voting doesn’t change anything, then violence is the next step.” Farage might not be an elected MP, but, whether we like it or not, some people vote for him, some are even influenced by him. What if they took these comments at face value? Could they see violence as the next logical step if the vote didn’t go their way? It’s hard to remember a comment of more staggering irresponsibility in UK politics.
Early on Thursday afternoon Farage appeared again, just one day after taking part in the widely ridiculed Partridge-esque ‘Farage-flotilla’. This time he was pictured in front of the latest UKIP ‘vote leave’ campaign poster. “BREAKING POINT”, it read, in glaring capital letters, “The EU has failed us all again.” The poster showed a long line of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border.
It was outrageous for so many reasons. It woefully misled the British public: the picture wasn’t taken in the UK where we have border control - it had no relevance whatsoever to our referendum debate. It reduced the campaign, yet again, to nothing more than a debate on immigration. It was the lowest form of dog-whistle politics. But worst of all, the poster was eerily reminiscent of Nazi propaganda; it has since been reported for inciting racial hatred. The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones argued in an eloquent piece that the poster was a pictorial version of Enoch Powell’s appalling ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. The similarities are indeed terrifying.
Just after seeing the UKIP poster, I saw reports on Twitter of British football “fans” cruelly mocking child migrant beggars on the streets of France. I watched links to replays of British football hooligans chanting “fuck off Europe, we’re all voting out” before an eruption of bloody violence at Euro 16. Across the internet, I saw people furious with Donald Trump about a tweet in which he thanked his supporters; they were congratulating him for “being right on radical Islam” following the horrific slaughter in Orlando, despite clear evidence suggesting it was a homophobic attack. And then I saw the news just after 5pm when it was announced that one of the brightest young stars in UK politics, Jo Cox, had been brutally murdered by a man allegedly shouting “Britain first” whilst carrying out the attack.
We can choose to view these events in isolation, or we can connect the dots and see them as part of a wider problem where the politics of hate has entered public discourse from a wealth of angles, all at once. Distressingly, this politics of hate is now manifesting itself in a politics of violence - and it’s hard not to see the violence in our society getting worse before it gets better. Owen Jones perhaps summed the mood up best last week on Twitter: “I love this country but never have I been so scared about it. The growing bitterness, resentment and hatred is genuinely frightening.”
The language of hate has been the ugly, everlasting legacy of this miserable EU referendum
Jo Cox, by all accounts of those that knew her, was a shining light in UK politics. Elected to the House of Commons just a year ago, Cox campaigned passionately for those facing inequalities not only in our own society here in the UK, but also those overseas dispossessed from their war torn homelands. Her humanitarian and charity work was far-reaching and her voice, perhaps more than anything, shouted loudly for a unified society. “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us,” she stated in her maiden House of Commons speech. Her husband, also a passionate human rights campaigner, has called for us to “unite… against the hatred that killed her.”
Jeremy Corbyn has said Jo Cox was killed by a “well of hatred.” The man charged today with her murder refused to say his name in court - “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” was his only answer. Police have confirmed that far-right links are a “priority line of inquiry” now in what is increasingly looking like a hate killing driven by differences in political opinion.
The language of hate has been the ugly, everlasting legacy of this miserable EU referendum, whether it be from the voices of those campaigning or those voting. We cannot, and must not, lose sight of the largely good work that so many of our MPs do - #thankyourMP trended on Twitter shortly after the shocking events on Thursday - but far too many have campaigned irresponsibly, far too many have been abusive in response on social media. Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London has called the campaign “poisonous” saying “we should all reflect on the way the referendum campaign has been conducted.”
This poisonous politics in many cases has been built on scaremongering, outright lies and in some instances, it has become as terrifyingly right-wing and fascist as anything Enoch Powell or Oswald Mosely wrote, both of whom were dispelled with disgrace from British politics. If it’s not dog-whistle politics that play cruelly on people’s uncertainties and fears, it’s dangerous untruths used for political gain, even by those much higher up in the political food chain than Nigel Farage.
Politicians need to create a space for the disenfranchised
Michael Gove was challenged this week by a Spanish migrant on Question Time after his “take back control” comments on migration were slammed for, yet again, reducing the EU debate to nothing more than that of immigration. Just weeks ago Gove even told the Andrew Marr show there was a “large proportion” of UK businesses backing a Brexit when the actual figure was closer to a mere 5%. Gove believes “people have had enough of experts” - since when? If we don't base our facts on the experts then what hope do we have of making an informed decision? George Osborne is threatening us with another “austerity budget” if we leave the EU - albeit a much more severe one - at a time when the nation is already on its knees financially, drumming up more fear for those still visiting the food banks. David Cameron last year used dehumanizing language, referring to the “swarms of migrants” from the Mediterranean. And who can forget Boris Johnson's comments about President Obama’s heritage on his visit to urge the UK to stay in the EU. The arguments for and against have been presented poorly. They are either overly-complex, confounding those of us without a politics degree, or crudely - no facts, no figures, just wild statements made for cheap political gain.
Many of the newspapers politically aligned with the ‘out’ campaign have been as equally irresponsible. Last Thursday the Daily Mail published the headline “Lorry Load of Migrants” crying “We’re from Europe, let us in.” On Friday the paper was forced to print a correction after readers complained of misleading content, inflammatory sentiment and racist language. The politics of hate is not only perpetuated by a more political media than ever - it’s being driven by it. A YouGov poll revealed that the British media is now the "most right wing" in Europe, a fact we must surely be ashamed of.
One way or another, this campaign has caused rage in all of us. Be it the rage of seeing an innocent woman so cruelly murdered, the rage we feel when reading racist rhetoric or the rage of seeing children cruelly mocked, it’s angered us all. What we can’t do is fall to pieces and resort to violence - humanity must always, always, come first. Our political leaders need to be vocal and proactive now in driving out the language of hate from UK politics - it has no place in any political system.
Where can we go from here? We could perhaps learn from the ideas of cultural politics like those of the late cultural theorist Stuart Hall. Part of the problem with the hate rhetoric is that people are trying to simply identify themselves in binary terms - as one or the other - and nothing else. As human beings, it is impossible to do that. We are many things, often all at once. A politics that doesn’t allow for the inclusion of multifaceted identities will never include all of the electorate - they will inevitably drift to the peripheries where much of the darkest hate is found.
Politicians need to create a space for the disenfranchised accepting that a significant number of them have driven people to political outer lands during this whole sorry campaign. To achieve this, the wild untruths must stop - it is unforgivable to undermine the electorate so recklessly. Present the facts, clearly, objectively, and let voters decide - but please, don't lie to them for your own political gains - they deserve so much more. The last few difficult days have at least seen a unified voice from key EU political players admonishing hate and violence. This is their chance to form a new political model where they work together to eradicate the language of hate from politics – and their media mouthpieces.
Only by working together can politics rid itself of that hateful “poison” Khan talked about. But as we enter voting week, I can’t help but share the sentiments of the writer Robert Harris last week on Twitter: “How foul this referendum is. The most depressing, divisive, duplicitous political event of my lifetime. May there never be another.”
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