For a long time, evidence has suggested far-right extremism rises during prolonged economic hardship, and our recovery from the 2008 crisis has been slow and the Conservative party’s austerity policies have dealt out further hardship on a lot of the country.
However, austerity isn’t the only reason for the recent rise in hate crimes against immigrants, though, and it would be so easy for us to excuse ourselves by declaring it a lingering side effect of the global economic crisis.
The BBC reports that for a two-week period in June, xenophobic hate crimes were nearly 50% higher than the same two-week period in 2015. That two-week period, of course, includes the EU referendum vote, and the day immediately following the referendum result saw the greatest number of hate crimes for the whole month: 289. Historically, hate crimes are always under reported, so we can assume that the true number of hate crimes is far greater, and the rise between 2015 and 2016 at least proportionately bigger.
We cannot deny the impact of the referendum and the discussion surrounding it has had on how British people, particularly white British people, view immigrants, refugees, and to some extent all BME people. Campaigning for Brexit featured stories about so-called “welfare tourists” coming to the UK because of our inclusive welfare state, about not being able to send home migrant criminals, about segregated communities, and about the EU putting us at greater risk of terrorism.
Few people, even on the Remain side of the campaign, had a positive thing to say about migrants – the huge contribution they make to our economy, for example. Some might even argue that the reason migrants segregate themselves is because of the level of xenophobia in our society.
Pandering to the fear of migrants didn’t start with the referendum, though. It started before the 2015 election, when leading politicians in both Labour and the Conservative party started to see UKIP as a legitimate threat. Even in spite of outrageous claims such as same-sex marriage causing the Somerset flooding, polls were ranking UKIP higher and they were getting more and more press. Ed Miliband carved in stone his desire to see greater immigration controls, and David Cameron promised that if you just voted for the Conservative Party, you’d get that referendum.
Politicians need to be held accountable for the hostile, xenophobic environment they’ve nurtured, and the UN agrees. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination cited coverage of migrants and refugees in the media, the anti-immigrant rhetoric in the lead up to the referendum, and the anti-Terror strategy that led to negative portrayals of Muslims as concerns that led to the rise in hate crimes.
Instead of pandering to xenophobes, politicians should have stepped up – like the Green party did – and said they supported migrants. UKIP made immigration a scapegoat for the problems of disaffected voters, problems lingering from economic hardship and de-industrialisation. There are real ways of addressing those concerns and attracting those voters that don’t involve catering to the lowest common denominator: UKIP.
There is now a culture of xenophobia in the UK which has been created by UKIP, the Conservatives, Labour, and the media, and it is harming real people who are not – despite popular belief – stealing our benefits or degrading our culture. We used to be proud to be a multicultural country. Should the fact that migrants want to come here and create a better life for themselves not be a point of pride?
I cannot be proud of a country that turns away migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. I cannot be proud of a country which jeers and tells migrants to go home, they’re not wanted here. The leaders of our country allowed this to happen, and they must be held accountable.