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MANY would have believed that the sacking of Suella Braverman might herald the end of the Sunak government’s systematic attempts to scapegoat refugees and stir up the far right, but it’s clear that this is not the case.
Braverman was a long way out there. She’s been pushing at the margins of politics, associating herself with the far-right great replacement theory and ramping up rhetoric that she knew could lead to far-right mobilisation and violence.
The government’s failure to push its Rwanda plan through the Supreme Court led, not to reflection, but instead Sunak promising emergency legislation and a new treaty with Rwanda.
Sunak is truly desperate. With the Tories lagging in the polls and Braverman now sharpening her knives on the back benches, Sunak still believes that his “stop the boats” strategy can save him.
It was Sunak who began the ridiculous speculation a week ago about the “clear and present threat” to the Cenotaph, that, amplified by Braverman, led to a thousand thugs marching with fascist Tommy Robinson.
So where is all this going?
Sunak is bucking the tide. Social attitudes towards refugees and migrants are more liberal in Britain than many other European countries, so for Sunak and now leader in waiting Braverman, it’s not the majority they are aiming at but a more radicalised minority that may come out to save them at the polls and may mobilise for them on the streets.
In such an environment Labour’s leadership could challenge the racist rhetoric, but instead seem more inclined to talk up their “smash the gangs” (people smugglers) plan and their ability to do a better job of keeping asylum-seekers out of Britain.
The gang of football hooligans and racists who supposedly “honoured” the memory of the fallen on Armistice Day could, if we are not very careful, be the outriders of many more to come.
Almost every town and city in Britain has had some kind of anti-refugee and/or far right mobilisation in recent weeks.
A permanent far right camp has been established at the ex-RAF Dambusters base at Scampton in Lincolnshire, with staff left intimidated and an obvious potential threat to the 2,000 asylum-seekers the government plans to house there.
In the wake of the intimidation and violence that led to the withdrawal of plans to house refugees in Llanelli, South Wales, a very disturbing pattern could emerge.
There is certainly little room for complacency.
A year ago when, under far-right influence, people rioted against refugees in Knowsley on Merseyside, one of the most deprived areas in Britain, we could see the awful possibilities inherent in the situation and things have not improved.
Alongside the ongoing brutal reality of institutional racism in Britain, from the shooting of Chris Kaba a year ago, to the ongoing humiliations of the Windrush generation we face a worrying future.
But in recent months we’ve also seen a wave of positive protests defending refugees and opposing far-right and fascist groups like Homeland, Patriotic Alternative and the pound-shop Hitler Alek Yerbury.
Turning Point UK and others have tried to head up the attacks on Drag Queen Story events. But they have been met by large-scale mobilisations in defence of LGBT+ communities, particularly at the Honor Oak Pub in south-east London.
In Portland too we have seen a fantastic campaign over the Bibby Stockholm where anti-racists have been able to shape the debate around the prison barge — opposing the use of dangerous accommodation while making very clear that refugees are welcome.
Trade unions such as Civil Service union the PCS and firefighters’ union FBU have challenged the government’s toxic rhetoric on push backs, the Rwanda plan and the use of the Bibby Stockholm prison barge.
At the Honor Oak Pub NEU members bravely opposed the use of the area around a local primary school by the far right, even in the face of some brutal policing. Our conference tomorrow is supported by the TUC and many leading trade unionists will be speaking.
More and more sections of the movement are arguing that we have to challenge the government’s racism and the growth of the far right.
We recently worked with XR London (Extinction Rebellion), the Peace and Justice Project, Homes for All, the NEU, PCS and Aslef and others to target Braverman’s policies at the Home Office with a vibrant protest.
The truth is that we will never be able to challenge the government’s austerity assault on working-class communities or its attacks on civil liberties and the right to protest if we don’t tackle the attempts to divide and rule us through racism.
In a world in crisis we are seeing the growth of racism, Islamophobia and anti-semitism and the re-establishment of the far right on an international scale.
The Tories have been increasingly moving towards a Trump-style racist populist style of politics that looks like it will continue despite Braverman’s departure and would intensify if she were to replace Sunak at some point.
Far-right and fascist groups can clearly benefit and seek legitimacy from a government that is prepared to demonise both refugees but also increasingly the Muslim community that is once again being targeted as an “enemy within.”
It’s not inevitable that racism will benefit the Tories electorally or that the far right will successfully break back off the margins. But to prevent these outcomes as a movement we have to be prepared to publicly challenge attempts to blame refugees for a lack of resources and we have to be brave enough to call out and confront the far right when they come into our communities to organise.
Weyman Bennett co-convener Stand Up To Racism
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