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The Rise of Dog-Whistle Politics

Racism and demonisation of migrants is no longer coming from the political fringes – it’s entered the mainstream, warns SABBY DHALU

FOR the first time in a while, the National Front (NF) made headlines last Saturday. At its demonstration in Dover the NF were openly sieg-heiling — emulating Hitler’s nazis is unlikely to draw large numbers of support.

Anti-fascists outnumbered the NF in Dover and Britain First in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, on the same day.

For at least half a decade anti-fascist mobilisations have been consistently larger than those of fascist groups.

Unite Against Fascism has been at the forefront of these demonstrations, and the defeat of the British National Party and the English Defence League — important victories in light of the rise of the Front National in France and other European fascist movements.

However, we cannot be complacent. The NF made headlines not because of the size of the demonstration, but because of the vicious and violent attacks on anti-fascists.

To understand the dangers of the present period, one has to look at the context in which fascists are mobilising.

The cutting edge of the NF’s mobilisation in Dover was the racist reaction to refugees and, in particular, refugees stuck in squalid conditions in Calais and Dunkirk — most of whom are fleeing war and persecution — and for various reasons are desperate to come to Britain.

A few days before the Dover NF demonstration in response to Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to the Calais and Dunkirk refugee camps, David Cameron described these refugees as a “bunch of migrants” — on Holocaust Memorial Day.

Describing refugees as a “bunch of migrants” or “swarms,” as the Prime Minister has, is deliberately dehumanising and dangerous.

This is dog-whistle politics. In the 1970s this came from the fringes of the Conservative Party with Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration “Rivers of blood” speech.

Today it comes from the Prime Minister and the front bench of politics. This is what distinguishes the current period from other periods in the post-war era. And this is why now, more than ever, we must mobilise against racism.

There is a direct correlation between this language and racist attacks on the ground. Anti-Muslim hate crime is increasing and recent figures show a staggering 37 per cent rise in racist attacks on public transport. There is also a direct correlation between such language and violent fascist demonstrations.

A startling feature of the Tory government elected in May 2015 is the unrelenting racist offensive it has waged.

Speech after speech, policy after policy attacking refugees, Muslims and economic migrants are fast becoming normal.

Two weeks ago Cameron threatened Muslim women with deportation if they failed to meet arbitrary targets on learning English — while simultaneously cutting funding for English for speakers of other languages.

The latest episode includes proposals to withdraw tax credits from EU migrant workers for the first four years after arriving in Britain, as part of a deal to prevent a “Brexit.”

Aren’t there more important issues to discuss regarding Britain’s membership of the EU? Why shouldn’t EU migrants who pay the same tax receive the same in-work benefits?

The purpose of elevating this to an issue on which Britain’s membership of the EU depends is to distract attention away from the government’s dire economic policy, scapegoat immigrants and divide and rule by pitting British-born workers against immigrant workers.

As the impact of austerity bites, public opinion is lacking confidence in the economy. So racism goes hand in glove with austerity.

As we build a movement against austerity, we must also build a movement against racism and fascism. We must unite and mobilise against Tommy Robinson’s relaunch of the British equivalent to the German racist Pegida movement in Birmingham this Saturday. We must also build a movement that says: “Refugees are welcome here.”

The government is clearly feeling the pressure from the #RefugeesWelcome movement. Although nowhere near enough, the government conceded to pressure when it announced in September that it would take 20,000 refugees over five years directly from Syria and more recently when it announced that it would accept some unaccompanied refugee children.

Britain must adhere to its international obligations and take a fair proportion of refugees currently in the EU, including those in Calais and Dunkirk.

Instead of whipping up racism and Islamophobia, the government must address economic stagnation and improve the living standards of the British population.

That is why the “Refugees Welcome Here — Stand up to racism, Islamophobia, anti-semitism and fascism” UN Anti-Racism Day national demonstration on Saturday March 19 is vital. Let’s build the biggest and broadest anti-racist demonstration in recent history.

  • Sabby Dhalu is Unite Against Fascism joint secretary and Stand up to Racism organiser.

- UAF will be be discussing these issues at its national conference this Saturday February 6, 10.30am-4.15pm, Mander Hall, Hamilton House, NUT HQ, Mabledon Place, London WC1H 9BD. For further details visit www.uaf.org.uk.

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