The unvarnished truth when it comes to the campaign for Britain’s exit from the European Union, Brexit, is that it has unleashed the ugly forces of right wing extremism, racism, xenophobia and British nationalism in a society that had allowed itself to grow complacent when it came to the aforementioned, doing so in the mistaken belief that common human decency was as British as Big Ben; in other words in the belief it could not happen here.
Recent horrific events reveal that it can and has happened here.
Over the past few months of the Brexit campaign we have borne witness to a scapegoating and demonisation of migrants by mainstream politicians and right wing newspaper columnists reminiscent of the way Jews were scapegoated and demonised in Germany in the 1930s, and on the same grounds – i.e. they pose a threat to our way of life; they hold alien cultural beliefs and practices; their values are at odds with our values.
This scapegoating has been so intense, so vehement, it has raised the political temperature to the point where an elected MP who dared raise her voice in solidarity with migrants and for Britain’s continuing membership of the EU was murdered in the street in broad daylight in an act of right wing extremism and terrorism, reminiscent of the way democratically elected politicians were murdered in Germany in the 1930s, depicted as ‘traitors’ from the vantage point of the swamp in which fascism swims.
It is important to understand that the economic and social conditions that existed in depression-ravaged Germany back then have been replicated in Britain and across Europe today on the back of an economic recession compounded by the implementation of austerity, which has been tantamount to a mass experiment in human despair. This recession and resulting Tory austerity have combined to leave millions impoverished, marginalised, angry and fearful, thus perfect fodder for the kind of right wing populism and demagoguery that has underpinned a campaign that has been an insult to common human decency never mind the nation’s collective intelligence.
Without the horrific murder of Labour’s Jo Cox, UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s obscene anti-immigration poster should automatically have marked the point of no return for a Brexit campaign that has from the outset been predicated on exploiting the impact of austerity by politicians who have been among its biggest champions, inferring that the huge pressure brought to bear on the nation’s public services, on the social and private housing sector, and on the NHS is due to immigration rather than the extreme cuts to public spending and investment that have taken place.
As much as the EU needs to be reformed in the interests of its citizens rather than big business and the financial sector, it has been a last line of defense against a Tory establishment that would relish nothing more than to pull Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights, a statutory requirement of EU membership, and get rid of the progressive legislation that we presently enjoy via the EU on workers’ rights and protections, maternity leave, paid holidays, consumer protection, and the environment. And this is without taking into the account the harm it would do to the economy in terms of investment, exports, jobs, and the value of sterling.
But these issues are trifling compared to the main one, which is the worrying emergence and normalisation of far right nostrums and the ‘othering’ of migrants, minorities, and asylum seekers. It is a toxic brew that has gained traction on the back the growing anger of the millions who have been battered materially, psychologically, and spiritually by a Tory government in whose control the economy has been wielded as a sword to punish the poor and the vulnerable instead of a held up as a shield to protect them from circumstances and factors beyond their control.
A vote to Remain on June 23rd is now a vote for hope rather than despair, for progress rather than regress. It is a vote against the politics of division and hate, against scapegoating and in defiance of a base tribalism that offers the country nothing apart from apartness.
We can no longer delude ourselves that racism is a marginal phenomenon in Britain. It is not. Indeed, it would be hard to recall a time when it has been more prevalent than now. This is not to accuse everyone who supports Brexit of racism, of course not. It is, however, a campaign in which racism has been afforded the opportunity to grow and incubate in a way it has not in living memory.
Warning of the danger of lapsing into complacency when it came to the possibility of fascism re-emerging after its defeat in the Second World War, German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote: “The womb from which this monster emerged remains fertile.”
How those words resonate now, today, in Britain, seven decades later.
My vote on June 23rd will not be cast as a vote for the EU; it will be cast as a vote against Brexit and the ugliness it represents and has unleashed.
My enemy does not reside in Brussels. It resides right here at home.