A new book traces the roots of racism in Britain up to the present day - and shows the left need to be bolder in battling it.
June 2016 marked a key point: the political establishment realised the ‘left behinds’ had finally had enough.
It was shortly followed by the rise of Trump, his nomination from the Republican party and subsequent election to President of the United States of America. Both mark significant victories for the far-right.
Paul Stocker’s extremely well-timed book ‘English Uprising: Brexit And The Mainstreaming Of The Far-Right’ seeks to understand the relationship between the ascendancy of the radical right and extreme right and recent significant shifts made towards illiberal public policy decisions.
Stocker examines the changing xenophobias in recent history – against everyone from the Irish to Jews, West Indians, Pakistanis, Asian Ugandans, Eastern Europeans, and most recently refugees and asylum seekers fleeing the catastrophes of climate change, civil war and despotism in the Middle East and North Africa.
He hones in on the relationship between casualised, every day racism which can go generally unnoticed, and the shouty, violent racism we see on the rise today. For much of the 20th Century, a significant proportion of the British public saw immigration as a bad thing – sentiment often pushed by a virulently right-wing press.
Yet until Thatcher picked up Enoch Powell-esque racist undertones into her speeches, and New Labour capitulated on multiculturalism, the political elite had generally chosen to ignore the xenophonic element of public opinion.
This was largely because there was a consensus in Westminster (and there probably still is, behind closed doors) that immigration is overwhelmingly a good thing, both in the classical Keynesian economics sense, and in the sense of wanting a free, open society where people should be able to live, love and learn where they want.
Stocker argues that this all changed dramatically when UKIP put in a strong showing at the 2012 local elections and came second in the 2013 Eastleigh by-election. Then David Cameron promised an in/out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.
If you can remember that time, the vast majority of both the public and politicos thought that we’d vote to stay in, so it was purely a matter of settling the issue in Remainers’ favour. What it actually represented was the notion that: ‘Your concerns about immigration and the EU are legitimate’ to those considering voting for UKIP and to Leave.
In 2017, real fascists are back in the streets killing people and shouting bile about Jews, as we’ve witnessed in Charlottesville. Their political leaders will be pleased to see that the limited window (or Overton frame) through which the public are able to see world events presented to them has shifted further into the right from the centre.
For those of us who are concerned about Britain and the West turning more racist and inward looking, it’s fairly clear that we need to turn from ‘not racist’ into ‘anti-racist’. That means that instead of just not using the n-word and frowning when others do, we need a culture shift: to call out our friends for making racist jokes, to turn up to protests against the deportation of vulnerable people by the Home Office, to challenge charicatures and stereotypes whenever we see them.
I spoke to a Labour MP recently about how much of a horror show politics is at the moment. Both of us agreed that those who voted Leave still haven’t had their concerns addressed – but he didn’t feel there is any way to do so. Yet we, the Left, need to be ambitious, to reinvent the future and promote radical progressive policies that can provide an alternative to the stale neoliberalism which has failed our communities and driven people against their neighbours.
There’s so much to talk about right now from this book – it has managed to give much-needed context to a hugely dynamic political situation. It shows the link – stronger than we think – between the racist jokes your uncle tells, and the alt-right neo-Nazis proclaiming their allegiance to Trump. This succinct book couldn’t come at a more pressing time.
‘English Uprising Brexit And The Mainstreaming Of The Far-Right’ , published by Melville House, is out on the 27th September, and can be pre-ordered here.
Tom Pashby is a Green Party activist and former Parliamentary candidate.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.