Britain lurches ever rightwards

Yvonne Aburrow
Oct 9, 2016 · 8 min read

Every time the British government commits a new outrage, someone comments, “And so it begins…” presumably quoting the line in Babylon 5 when the right-wing Clark administration takes over the government of Earth by dint of blowing up the incumbent president.

I was thinking “And so it begins…” as far back as when the Conservatives were elected for a second term without the “inconvenient” (for them) brake of being in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. When the election result was announced, I started thinking of all the nightmare scenarios that could happen, like people being rounded up and deported.

We are like the proverbial frogs in the boiling water. I’m not sure who was sick enough to do the experiment, but apparently, if you drop a frog in boiling water, it will jump straight out; but if you heat the water up slowly, the frog will stay in the water, not noticing the change in temperature, until it dies. Well, the water is heating up.

Lists of foreigners

There are already a number of human rights abuses being committed by the UK government, and a significant erosion of our freedoms and the promotion of right-wing agendas and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Amber Rudd’s proposal to make businesses list foreign workers is only the latest in a whole series of right-wing measures. She has had to climb down from that proposal, but one wonders if it was a smokescreen for some more obnoxious policy that will seem benign by comparison with the foreign workers list. One obvious candidate for the policy that it was designed to be a smokescreen for is the policy of getting schools to compile lists of children who were not born in Britain. Parents may decline to respond to this question on the form, but if they do, teachers are required to make an “educated guess” as to the child’s nationality. Currently, the Department for Education has no plans to pass this information to the Home Office — but it doesn’t look good.

Detention of asylum seekers

I have been involved with a group called Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary for a while. They campaign for detained asylum seekers, who are indefinitely detained in immigration detention centres. I have stood outside Yarl’s Wood detention centre, and I can tell you it looks like a more sturdily built version of a concentration camp. The only difference is that these places are staffed by private security firms, with insufficient regulation, and the guards regularly sexually assault the women detainees. Theresa May, when Home Secretary, refused to disclose the extent of sexual assault in Yarl’s Wood, because it would harm the commercial interests of the security firm. If you want to read first-hand accounts of life in immigration detention, read the Detained Voices blog. It is harrowing reading. And please remember that asylum seekers are not “illegal immigrants” — they are people who have fled oppressive regimes — many of them because they were being persecuted for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, or were resisting the practice of female genital mutilation, or because they were in an extremely dangerous war zone. They have every right to seek asylum under article 14 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But instead of giving them that right, the government subjects them to an extremely unfair tribunal process, and refuses to believe that they were genuinely persecuted.

EU citizens used as bargaining chips

The government has conceded that they will not deport EU citizens after Brexit — but only because the law will not allow them to. The Telegraph (which seems to be mostly pro-Brexit) announced:

All EU nationals currently living in Britain will be allowed to stay following Brexit, after the Home Office discovered that five in six could not legally be deported.

So they were clearly investigating whether they could legally deport them, then! However, according to the above-quoted Telegraph article, Theresa May has not ruled out using them as bargaining chips to secure the rights of British nationals living in EU countries. There was considerable controversy earlier in the year when Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary, advocated using them as bargaining chips.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric results in hate crimes

There has been a significant rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric, both before and since the Brexit referendum, and not only from UKIP, but from the Conservative Party, and even from the Labour Party, with their “Controls on Immigration” mug in the 2015 election campaign.

British politicians’ “divisive, anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric” during the EU referendum campaign fuelled a surge in hate crimes immediately following the vote, a United Nations body has said. … Immediately following the referendum hate crimes surged by 42 per cent in England and Wales, with a total of 3,076 incidents recorded across the country between 16 and 30 June.

The rise in racist incidents after the referendum is well-documented, but if you need more evidence, check out This is what you have done, Brexit, PostRefRacism, iStreetWatch, and Worrying Signs. An article in The Independent, “Brexit caused lasting rise in hate crime”, states:

The rise in post-Brexit hate crime reports peaked at nearly 60 per cent and is still 14 per cent higher than at the same point last year, new figures show.

The latest figures released by the National Police Chiefs’ Council show that in the week following the vote to leave the EU the number of incidents rose by 58 per cent.

Another very disturbing development in the anti-immigrant behaviour of the government was the “Go home” vans which Theresa May’s Home Office sent around areas with high populations of immigrants. The only reason that they climbed down from this obnoxious behaviour was because it didn’t actually work.

There has also been a backlash against Muslims over the last few years. Tell MAMA UK reported that incidents of anti-Muslim abuse rose by 326% in 2015, and Muslims are routinely searched at airports, and there have been several incidents of Muslims being escorted off planes for being seen to be reading a book in Arabic, or a book about Syria. There’s even a Wikipedia page about it, Flying while Muslim.

The Independent reported the extent of hate crimes after the referendum, with a significant number of attacks on people from Eastern Europe, especially Polish people.

Deaths of disabled people

Thousands of disabled people had their benefits cut because they were ruled to be “fit for work” and died as a result. There has also been a significant amount of negative rhetoric around disabled people being “benefit scroungers”.

Add to that the fact that the way disabled people’s appeals are being dealt with is going to be changed for the worse:

A new online system for appeals is to be introduced, along with more decisions being made “on the papers” and the ditching of medical and disability members from most panels. The result is likely to be a significant and sustained fall in both the volume of appeals and the success rate for claimants.

Rise in anti-LGBT hate crime

Homophobic attacks in the UK rose by 147% in the three months since the Brexit vote. Given that the referendum result appears to have given the impression to many racists (who are often also homophobic) that 17 million people agree with their reactionary views, the referendum result seems to have given a sort of ‘green light’ to all kinds of violent behaviours — homophobia, transphobia, and racism:

Mr Appleby said he thinks the result of the EU referendum has led the perpetrators to believe they have a free pass to “unleash hatred”.

He told the Standard: “I’ve never really experienced anything like this before and yes, it upset me.

“Of course, I realise that it was probably a mix of alcohol and goading each other on that led to the singing but I can’t divorce the referendum result and the unleashing of latent hatred that has enabled this kind of thing.

“People who may well have had these views beforehand would not have expressed them publicly. Now they feel they can.

“British values”

The UK government has been promoting their toxic brand of “British values” for a while. For one thing, there was a move to revise the way the First World War was taught in schools and commemorated in public. The government wanted to present it as a patriotic war that succeeded in its aims, instead of the truth that it was a horrific slaughter. The government expressed concern that most people’s idea of the First World War was based on the Blackadder series about it, which presented it as “lions led by donkeys”, and wanted to present a commemoration that would glorify the war.

In addition to that, there was a revisionist move away from presenting a more diverse and inclusive view of history (such as including people like Mary Seacole in the curriculum) so that teachers could spend more time focussing on figures like Nelson and Churchill.

Then there was the time when Michael Gove decided to distribute Bibles to all the schools in England.

The latest move by the current Education Secretary makes these efforts look relatively benign, however: Michael Fallon is planning 150 new cadet corps units in schools:

The CEP [Cadet Expansion Programme] was initially launched in June 2012 as part of the government’s aim to promote “military ethos in schools; to instil values in young people that will help them get the most out of their lives, and to contribute to their communities and country”.

And while the first 100 were led by demand, the initial selection process for the next ones will prioritise schools in less affluent areas.

Another potentially worrying development is the Prevent Programme, which seeks to undermine radicalisation and extremism. However, the government seems overly interested in preventing the radicalisation of young Muslims, and not interested enough in preventing the radicalisation of young white people by far right groups. In March 2016, the National Union of Teachers called for the Prevent programme to be scrapped. This was partly in response to the fact that it was being applied disproportionately to Muslims:

The UK’s terror watchdog has called for an independent review of the government’s flagship anti-radicalisation strategy, Prevent, over concerns that it is sowing mistrust and fear in the Muslim community.

The programme, particularly its duty on schools to spot and report signs of radicalisation in pupils, has become a “significant source of grievance” among British Muslims, encouraging “mistrust to spread and to fester”, said David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws.

Historical parallels

I am sure that alert and historically-astute readers will have been drawing historical parallels throughout this article. Several commentators have remarked that the idea of making lists of foreign nationals sounds like a precursor to making them wear a yellow star. The rise in hate crime after the Brexit referendum prompted many commentators to wonder if we had woken up in 1933, or some other extreme dystopia. The gradual erosion of our freedoms, the rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric and hate crimes, and the general atmosphere of Little-Englandism, should certainly be ringing alarm bells.

What can we do?

  • Get involved with Hope Not Hate
  • Join a left-wing political party
  • Sign all the 38 Degrees petitions
  • Protest at immigration detention centres
  • Learn about civil disobedience
  • Learn about how to resist fascism and racism
  • Raise awareness — talk to people
  • Get involved with local anti-fascist and anti-racist groups

Yvonne Aburrow

Written by

Writer, blogger, poet. Wiccan. Green. Social and environmental justice.

More From Medium

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade