TWAFA New Year Message 2018

As we start 2018, it is clear that, in many respects, the vast majority of the people of Northeast England generally want little or nothing to do with the far-right. The BNP never won a single council seat in this region and the numbers on far-right demonstrations have regularly been outnumbered by counter-demonstrators, often several times over. However, some of the reason for this can be seen by the evidence as being down to the incompetence and stupidity of many of those involved in the far-right in Northeast England and there are still many causes for concern as we go forward

The first cause for concern is of course the uncertainty caused by Brexit.  We have already seen the EU referendum result causing a spike in hate crimes as people intoxicated by a mixture of inflammatory remarks by unscrupulous politicians and a feeling in the days after the referendum that somehow they could do what they wanted with impunity, caused a number of people in the region to behave in quite shocking ways towards their fellow citizens. This in turn means that when Brexit actually happens, it is not unreasonable to expect a further rise in xenophobia.  If this is coupled by a large economic downturn, especially if there is a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, then this could produce a really toxic situation. There is also the distinct prospect that those who voted Leave may not find things are any better, and what then? It is argued that a Hard Brexit will cause more economic pain in a region like Northeast England, which voted leave, than in other more prosperous areas.  If that does happen, then it is important that real solutions are found to the eeconomic problems which will follow, not just more scapegoating of marginalised and poorer groups in society.

At the same time we are beginning to see the mainstream media and particularly sections of the right-wing press, starting to lose their influence as a younger generation show little of the interest in and loyalty to them, that preceding generations did. As a consequence of this, we could well see sections of the traditional right-wing press getting increasingly desperate, especially if the Brexit they did so much to encourage, is shown to have been a false dawn for this country. We have already seen , with the use of words like traitors and mutineers in headlines in the right-wing press an ever more shrill attitude towards they don’t approve of and if this then continues, it could well lead to more divisions in society and more opportunities for the far-right to stoke the flames of prejudice. Linked to this is the rise of social media and fake news, which may also lead to further rises in hate crimes and prejudice as people are fed dubious stories aimed at inflaming prejudice. There is also the rise of the alt-right, with their evidence-free conspiracy stories, many of which have a right-wing bias in them.  Here in the Northeast we must be vigilant throughout 2018 and reject any attempts by those using media of any kind to divide us and stir up hatred.

We should all be concerned about the prospect of both further far-right violence in 2018 and Islamic terrorism, while it is still unlikely, partly because of their rank incompetence, that the far-right will make a breakthrough in elections. Rather, it is also almost certain that the far-right will continue to make little or no progress at the ballot box. This must not, lead in turn to the increased use of violence, as their only way of expressing their views.

There is also cause for concern could be coupled with economic prospects highlighting continued austerity, low growth e.t.c.. The growth figures in the Budget for 2017 made it clear that economic stagnation probably lies ahead.  Workers in Britain are already facing the longest squeeze in wages since Victorian times. The poor economic outlook for the next few years will almost certainly lead to a shortage of resources, which could lead in turn to more conflict. However bad economic problems may be, they will only be made worse by the use of violence and hatred from which ever source it comes from. We have solved our problems in Northeast England in the past, by coming together, not by fighting each other.

Finally, there are the massive problems in the education system with the increasing use of unqualified staff. real cuts, and marginalisation of Humanities and PSHE subjects, which, if not addressed, may well lead to a generation ill equipped to deal with the challenges posed above.  This can be coupled with the huge inequalities in present-day British society, where it was reported in 2017, that the top 100 FTSE CEOs had an average income 180 times greater than their employees average. Unless the gross inequalities in British society are properly tackled it is not unreasonable to suggest that people will feel aggrieved. Again it would be both wrong and counter-productive to scapegoat innocent people in response. Let us lay the blame at the doors of those responsible; those who have carried out the policies, which have caused the problems – not innocent members of poor and marginalised groups in society.

Another area of concern is the prevalence of mental health issues among many of those involved in hate crimes. We have to have concerns about the future given the ongoing austerity and  threats to the provision of help for people, who may have violent and racist tendencies with accompanying mental health problems and the threats to the economy caused by Brexit. A stark warning about what could happen was given by Professor Wendy Burn in The Guardian on Thursday 23rd November, the day after the 2017 Budget, when she wrote that, “there is a real and imminent danger that the promises made to improve mental health services for the millions of people who need them are about to be betrayed. This is because the chancellor failed to give the NHS the money it needs to continue to deliver current levels of care.”

In 2017, there was also plenty of evidence of the tit-for-tat nature of much of the hatred and violence, with it seems the far-right and Islamic extremists feeding off each other.  anybody who remembers the Troubles in Northern Ireland will see a familiar pattern and be rightfully concerned.  Again this must be exposed.

The influence of the EU referendum result is also clear, in that it appeared to give a green light to some people to indulge in the kind of racist activities many of us had hoped and liked to think were a thing of the past.  It would also appear that this problem has been exacerbated by some of the message coming out of certain sections of the media.  The vote in the EU Referendum gave the government the green light to pursue a Brexit strategy; it did not suddenly mean that basic human decency was thrown out of the window.  As we continue to prepare to leave the EU we must be clear that hate crimes are still hate crimes and are still totally unacceptable.

Finally, there were also some disturbing signs in 2017 of racist language and behaviour becoming the new norm, or if you prefer, the norm again.  We must never allow this to happen.  This year must see a return to the high standards of human decency for which our region can be rightly proud.

(C) TWAFA January 2018