During the Tory 2005 election campaign billboards were used that read: “It isn’t racist to talk about immigration.” That phrase is now the mantra of UKIP supporters, and is used as a platform to launch populist rhetoric founded on social divisions, Social Darwinism and established hierarchy. More than half of UKIP’s support in the European elections came from disenchanted Conservative voters, a poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft found.
It was the Conservatives that created the opportunity for UKIP to join mainstream political conversation. The Conservatives started the process of politically scapegoating minority groups to justify austerity cuts that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens. The rise in racism is paralleled with a rise in disability hate crime, which is now at its highest since records began.
I believe the UKIP parochial brand of Parish pump politics is a reduction of democratic politics to the social equivalent of a few people gathered in a small place gossiping about others – it nurtures fear, spite and vilifies people on the basis of one of our most wonderful assets: our human diversity.
The British Social Attitudes Survey has been conducted annually since 1983. The 2013 survey consisted of 3,244 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain.
The proportion of Britons who admit to being racially prejudiced has risen since the start of the millennium, raising concerns that growing hostility to immigrants and widespread Islamophobia are setting community relations back 20 years.
New data from the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey shows that after years of increasing tolerance, the percentage of people who describe themselves as prejudiced against those of other races has risen overall since 2001. One of the findings is that males who are unskilled manual labourers in economically deprived areas are most likely to admit to racial prejudice.
However, Dr Grace Lordan, from the London School of Economics, said her own research based on BSA data going back to 1983 showed a clear correlation between recession and the numbers who self-described as prejudiced. Her research found that the group that recorded the biggest rise was white, professional men between the ages of 35 and 64, highly educated and earning a lot of money. Their attitudes may directly affect others as many will have managerial responsibilities. When asked to consider if they are racially prejudiced, the oldest age group (55+) admit they are the most. Conversely, the youngest age group (17-34) admitted they were racially prejudiced the least. That’s at least one hopeful outcome.
More than three quarters of the public (77 per cent) wanted to see a reduction in immigration to Britain, and public views on the level of immigration are significantly more negative than in 2011.
We know from the political rhetoric of the right that there is always a subtext that runs something like this: “Don’t blame the bankers, low-paying, exploitative bosses, tax dodgers, legal loan sharks or rip-off landlords or the Government. Blame the “foreigner”. Blame the unemployed and the disabled people”.
It’s about time the public generally did some joined-up thinking and made these fundamental connections: this is a Tory standard – poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame.
Of course political party allegiance also has a significant bearing on racial prejudice. Conservative supporters have consistently been the most likely to describe themselves as prejudiced against people of other races, and against those they consider as having a lower socioeconomic status.
Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice minister, said the findings should come as a wake-up call. “This is clear evidence that we cannot be complacent about racial prejudice. Where it manifests itself, it blights our society. Those in positions of authority must take their responsibilities seriously. It also falls to us to address the underlying causes.”
Yes. The causes. Over the past four years, we have witnessed the political right using rhetoric that has increasingly transformed a global economic crisis into an apparently ethno-political one, and this also extends to include the general scapegoating and vilification of other groups and communities that have historically been the victims of prejudice and social exclusion: the poorest, the unemployed and the disabled. These far-right rhetorical flourishes define and portray the putative “outsider” as an economic threat. This is then used to justify active political exclusion of the constitutive Other.
Racism and other forms of prejudice are normalised gradually, in almost inscrutable stages, as Allport’s ladder demonstrated all too well – as an explanation of how the Holocaust happened. Allport describes social processes, and how the unthinkable be comes acceptable, by a steady and unrelenting erosion of our moral and rational boundaries.
Not enough people read Allport’s pioneering work, and I’ve yet to see it cited in the current debates about contemporary social prejudice. Allport’s scale indicates hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subtle expressions of prejudice, and pleas for “free speech.” But prejudice and hate speech doesn’t invite open debate: it’s about using speech to intentionally oppress others and close down debate. It escalates when permitted, into harassment and violence. We learn this from history, and formulated human rights as a consequence, to safeguard minority groups from discrimination and prejudice.
Prejudice may be expressed in oblique and strange ways. I remember pondering this in a sociology lecture that assigned the book The Nature of Prejudice by Allport. In Chapter 12, Allport wrote: “Why do so many people admire Abraham Lincoln? They may tell you it is because he was thrifty, hardworking, eager for knowledge, ambitious, devoted to the rights of the average man and eminently successful in climbing the ladder of opportunity. Why do so many people dislike the Jews? They may tell you it is because they are thrifty, hardworking, eager for knowledge, ambitious, devoted to the rights of the average man, and eminently successful in climbing the ladder of opportunity.”
Prejudice becomes apparent on a symbolic level first – language – and it starts with subtlety, such as the use of phrases like immigrants “swamping” our shores’ in the media, as part of political rhetoric and so on. Racists very seldom own up to being racists. They also quite often employ linguistic bullying strategies that makes challenging them very difficult. But as history has taught us, we really must challenge them.
Meanwhile, the right are attempting to make words like “fascism” “racism” and “bigotry” taboo. One ploy is to claim the words are “overused” and “offensive”. I’ve seen a conflation of “condemnation” with “censorship” – fascists ludicrously claiming that anti-fascists are fascist because they have merely used the term appropriately. This is a clear use of Techniques of Neutralisation as a propaganda strategy. Again, it is a tactic used to close down debate, and appeals to our feelings of fear and anxiety, rather than to our rationality.
Using such words can be qualified when they are legitimately used to describe a lack of democratic principles, extreme right-wing, authoritarian, intolerant views or practices and racism describes oppression and illegal political discrimination.
I’ve said before that “political correctness” arose originally from attempts at making language more culturally inclusive. Critics of political correctness show a curious blindness when it comes to examples of “conservative correctness”. Most often, the case is entirely ignored or censorship of the Left is justified as a positive virtue. Perhaps the key argument supporting this form of linguistic and conceptual inclusion is that we still need it, unfortunately. We have a right-wing logocracy, creating pseudo-reality by prejudicial narratives and words. We are witnessing that narrative being embedded in extremely oppressive policies and practices and in their justification.
It’s something of an irony that fascists use democracy to promote fascism, but they do. There was only a 36% turnout at the Euro elections, a mere 10% of the public voted for UKIP – they were determined UKIP supporters. It’s another irony that fascism gains momentum through public apathy. The Right ALWAYS vote. The left need to learn a valuable lesson here. The battle isn’t about establishing “ideological purity”: it’s about uniting and fighting fascism. VOTE!
Ordinary people did not caused the financial crisis. The real culprits are sat untouched in mansions, making even more money from the “austerity” imposed on the most vulnerable, whilst too many comply with misdirected blame of their oppressed brothers and sisters, rather than a political elite that have deliberately engineered a prolonged recession in the UK. Conservative governments always do. Thatcher did, Major did and Cameron has also. Our current social hardships have been created by this government’s policies and not powerless immigrants, disabled people or the unemployed. These are people whose lives are being broken by an elite.
Here’s something to think about for those pleading that they voted UKIP only as a “protest”: fascists don’t stop at discriminating against the group of your choosing, such as the poor migrants. Fascists are fascists no matter what country you came from. It’s obvious that any political group that has councillors and MEPs calling for the compulsory euthanasia of disabled children, that are also sexist and homophobic, really don’t have good intentions towards British citizens either. What exactly were you “protesting”?
I remember the Thatcher era, yet another inflicted Tory recession, and I remember needing stitches after getting my head kicked in by the BNP on a Rock Against Racism (RAR) march. The RAR was a campaign set up in the United Kingdom in 1976 as a response to an increase in racial conflict and the growth of white nationalist groups such as the National Front. Conservative governments always engineer social prejudices and divisions, and here we are again, after the progress in equality and diversity legislation made by the Labour party, we’ve regressed via some covert Tory default programme that resets a moral and social race to the bottom. It happens every time the Tories are in Office.
We are so much better than this. At least I hope so, and that we are underestimated by parties like UKIP and the Tories.
But everything positive that we had as a civilised society – rights-based policy and institutions, education, health care, anything that is deemed socialist or left wing, egalitarian, democratic is being re-labelled negatively, as “evil”, corrupted, and all of the intentions and purposes of our great institutions are being turned on their head through right wing narratives, they are re-writing our history. Those post-war settlement gains we made were never mistakes, they were amongst our finest and most civilised, civilising achievements, yet they are being scorned by a bunch of greedy opportunist heartless elitist neo-feudalists and vulture capitalists.
“And what rough beast, it’s hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” W.B Yeats.
Labour have always promoted positive policies that are inclusive, and embrace equality and diversity. It was Labour that pioneered inclusion, equality and diversity policies. Labour don’t vilify any social group. Labour have shown historically that they do reflect the needs of the majority, and respond appropriately with positive, supportive policy. That is precisely what democratically elected governments are meant to do.
I believe that inclusion, equality and diversity reflects our strength – this is the best of us.
It’s not for politicians or the media to set the political agenda – to tell the public what is and what isn’t legitimate, what we should and shouldn’t be concerned about. In a democracy, WE TELL THEM. Don’t ever lose sight of that – because that is precisely how fascism works. You begin to forget that governments are there to reflect and represent OUR needs. They don’t “rule”, us: they serve us. WE set the political agenda, and we must; despite the constant cognitive dissonant, indoctrinating media accounts. If we continue to allow the right to set the agenda, all of those things we valued – democracy, justice, freedom, rights, equality, diversity, fairness, public services – will be taken away.
It’s time we let them know what we want, and what we expect of a government, because once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.
A more in depth analysis – UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism.
Collaborators – Kanjin Tor