Sometimes in politics there are days, weeks or months that you’d rather just forget because they’re so grim. So grim that it’s hard to not think about the world negatively or to think things can’t get better.
This week is one of those weeks.
Across the world, the politics of hate is looming large: Last Sunday, a homophobic attack in Orlando sent the global LGBTQ community into mourning as 50 people were killed and 50 injured, leaving many more lives never the same again.
During the week, the EU ‘Leave’ campaign ramped up its campaign of hate and xenophobia, brandishing new posters scapegoating refugees.
Then, on Thursday, Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered in an act of terrorism by a member of the far right, who ran away shouting ‘Put Britain First!’ or something similar. At his first trial, he also said ‘Death to traitors, freedom for Britain’ when asked to confirm his name.
None of these things are a coincidence. In the US, not only are the Republican party currently whipping up hate against the LGBTQ – and particularly trans* – community, but their presidential candidate, Donald Trump, is also standing on a pro-gun platform that vilifies ordinary Muslims and plays into the hands of extremists.
In the UK, the movement wanting to take us out of the EU is one predicated on the idea that immigrants are the reason our public services are so poor and why incomes are falling. The political right have managed to circumvent anger at the effects of globalisation and neoliberal governments toward the EU, convincing many that nationalism is the medicine that will let them take back control of their lives.
The likes of Nigel Farage and UKIP have run a campaign based on the politics of hate and fear. Just hours before Jo Cox was killed, Farage unveiled a new banner saying ‘Breaking Point’ with a line of refugees on it, seemingly depicted as trying to get into the country. Tommy Mair’s despicable actions are an outcome of such politics. Alex Massie’s polemic written the after of the attack makes this excellent point about its relevance:
‘When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.’
The politics of hope is an overused term and in fact what we really need now is a politics of solidarity. Many of the people backing Brexit are working class and, as I’ve discussed, have been won by fear. Only by winning them to a politics that makes everyone’s lives better can we erode the current and growing climate or resentment and hate.
This has to start with apologetically making the case for migration. One of the reasons that the political right’s scapegoating has been allowed to grow is due to the meek attempts of the Labour party and movement to challenge it. Not only did the Party pander during the general election (printing mugs with ‘Controls on Immigration’ on them) but now some are even suggesting that we should curb free movement in the EU after a remain vote. This is not only bending to the pressure of Leave, but it gives oxygen to the idea that immigrants are harming the NHS rather than the Tories.
People have genuine concerns about immigration and our party and movement has ducked this admittedly difficult fight for far too long. However, Polish builders can’t drive down wages if we have strong trade union rights and a statutory living wage. Many bemoan a lack of integration, but this cannot happen if we have large scale social housing available to all. This integrates communities and would also tackle the housing crisis being blamed on migrants. Immigrants ‘not speaking English’ isn’t a problem when you run the education system for the needs of society and remove the financial cost of learning. Nor does the NHS come under pressure when you stop burdening it with private debt or underfunding it. I could go on.
I have no illusions about how difficult these points are to make, particularly given the onslaught of almost daily negative media portrayals of immigrants in the press, not to mention their anti welfare-state ethos. However, capitulating with arguments that immigration is detrimental only serves to bolster the arguments of the nationalist right.
I don’t like the politics of ‘hope’ because it leaves too much to chance, like markets that make society so unfair already. A socialist politics of solidarity is one that tries to put people’s fate into their own hands or that of their communities – something many Brexiters are crying out for, but have been sent down a misleading route. It acknowledges inequality and tries to raise everyone up, rather than pointing fingers and encouraging others to hit people down. Most importantly it speaks to people in a way they can understand and relate to in everyday discourse – this is particularly large challenge for the left if we want to win people to these ideas.
Politics is a bit grim right now, but Jo Cox personified many of the positive values I’ve discussed above. She was compassionate about those who had less in the world, including refugees, who she campaigned for to be allowed to enter the UK at a time when they were referred to as ‘A swarm’ by David Cameron.
If we want to stop a repeat of Jo Cox’s tragic murder, we need to smash the politics that fuelled the climate that made it possible. We must destroy the divisive rhetoric of not only Nigel Farage, but of politicians like David Cameron and Zac Goldsmith who have both played on people’s prejudices when it comes to race. We must drive this type of politics into the fringes and out of existence, follow Jo Cox’s example and fight for a politics of solidarity, that smashes division and makes the case for a better society for all.
Jo Cox, Rest in Peace