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Politics today is toxic, but it must not fuel intolerance


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Since the result of the EU referendum we have seen a rise in violent hate crimes, with many having racial links. The National Police Chiefs Council has stated that there were 331 reports of hate crimes in the week after the EU referendum compared with an average weekly rate of 63. This rise is startling to not just the police but also society as a whole. It shows that statistically our nation is becoming less tolerant, albeit even if it is just for this period.

Now I will not for one-minute claim that the UK is a freedom loving country where all communities are treated with equal respect, because there are a significant number of hate crimes that occur in this country on a daily basis. However, one thing I will do is admit that the majority of the nation is in support of these incidents being eradicated and successive governments have implemented legislation to enable all sectors of society to be treated equally. How successful this has been is a topic for another discussion.

One observation that we can make today, however, is that the rhetoric that was spread throughout the referendum debate was poisonous from both sides. The biggest issue in my opinion was the fact that whenever any individual or organisation vocalised their thoughts on the referendum, they were instantly labelled a scaremonger. This damages our society’s tolerance for difference of opinion.

And here’s where I think we started to go wrong; when the Leave camp claimed we send £350 million a week to Brussels they were labelled liars (which they were), and then George Osborne claimed that every household would be £4,300 a year worse off if we voted Brexit, so he was labelled as a scaremonger – and the fact that an entire campaign was labelled project fear just goes to show how much people were refusing to listen to each other’s opinions.

Then Nigel Farage weighed in with one of the most appalling political campaign posters in recent years. But the problem was not necessarily the poster itself, it was the ideas, meanings and feelings that the poster encouraged. It allowed people to ‘hate’ those in the picture; it allowed the Syrian refugees on the Slovenian border to be seen as the reason why people struggle to get their children into their local primary school. Essentially it legitimised groups of people being allowed to label minority groups and eventually treat them as the ‘problem’ in our country.

And now that we have voted to leave we have seen a staggering rise in racist attacks, mostly verbal but a number have been violent. But I would add that I do not believe that attacks have increased because of the vote to leave; I believe the number of attacks have increased because of the atmosphere of the debate and the way that cheap but dangerous political point scoring has allowed people to ask foreign-born citizens to go back home.

One shocking incident was when the BBC news reporter Trish Adudu was racially abused in my home town of Coventry. The clip of her interview on BBC Midlands Today after the incident was heart wrenching. How a citizen of our country could be treated so disgustingly is beyond belief.

The referendum debate has been toxic; there is hardly a single politician that has not been tarnished by this in some way or another. But to conclude I would like to remind us all of the most appalling incident during the past four months: the murder of the Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox.

Jo was murdered by an extremist who believed his view of the world justified him murdering a devout and dedicated public servant. I think despite the grief and sorrow that will be carried by Jo’s family and friends for the rest of their life, the true sadness of Jo Cox’s death was when the politicians called for unity and an end to the vicious politics that was under way and then catastrophically failed to deliver this. Less than a month later, joint leader of the leave campaign Michael Gove stabbed his partner Boris Johnson in the back to run for party leadership and Jo’s own party MPs have abandoned their leader Jeremy Corbyn in true Caesar style.

Whether you agree or disagree with either of those two political moves you must admit that it is further evidence that politics today is toxic and, unfortunately, even when one of their own is murdered politicians refuse to change their style.

Intolerance will always exist, whether it is in the UK or globally, but one thing we must do is ensure that our politicians do not fuel these intolerances through their campaigns or their own actions.

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