Time to stand together against hate and say refugees welcome here – John McDonnell

“We need to be absolutely clear that the Government is pursuing the same old strategy of past Tory governments when unpopular. They target a scapegoat to distract and divert people’s anger and unrest.”

By John McDonnell MP

As a born scouser, like many people across the country I was appalled and shocked by the events in Knowsley on the evening of Friday February 10th.

As shown here, asylum seekers – to whom every country has clear obligations under international law – had to watch a reactionary and threatening mobilisation against them, including fires being lit.

To see some of the most vulnerable people in our society today threatened and made targets in this way is inhumane, cruel and must be stopped.

Many of those taking part may have been directly mobilised by the hate politics of far-right groups such as the so-called Patriotic Alternative, but the clear context is that the Government and their anti-refugee rhetoric – including the Home Secretary disgracefully and repeatedly talking about an ‘invasion’ – must shoulder much of the blame.

This persistent campaign of intolerance has as its centrepiece the anti-refugee bill which they are currently trying to rail-road through Parliament.

This week, an unprecedented range of religious leaders, charities, businesses, unions and legal groups condemned the bill as cruel, with signatories to an open-letter rightly saying they were “horrified by the proposed legislation that shames this government and marks the UK as running roughshod over human rights”.

This all-out offensive against refugees also saw Tory Vice-Chair Lee Anderson say recently that, “I’m foaming at the mouth over this Care4Calais organisation,” adding that “They’re acting like a magnet for these young men to set up camp here. They’re basically feeding them, clothing them, they’re teaching them how to speak English, how to read and write in English, and waiting for them once they cross the Channel and volunteering hotels to support them while they’re there.”

This continual Tory campaign is inciting hatred against refugees and the people who support then.

There are many more examples of this overblown anti-refugee rhetoric in recent months, including from the Prime Minister himself.

And when I recently challenged the Home Secretary in Parliament to tone down her language as it is putting people at risk, many Tory MPs just wanted to shout me down

.As the MP for Knowsley George Howarth put it after the horrendous scenes there, “The misinformation about refugees being feather-bedded is untrue and intended to paint a picture that does not at all represent the facts.”

We need to be absolutely clear that the Government is pursuing the same old strategy of past Tory governments when unpopular. They target a scapegoat to distract and divert people’s anger and unrest. In the past it’s been trade unions or young people or black people  and now it’s refugees. 

Facing polls showing a 20 point lead for Labour, the Tories are deploying ongoing attacks on refugees in a desperate bid to mobilise some of their support base. 

This is directly leading to an explosion in far-right activity, and there is deep concern now amongst campaigners that the horrifying scenes we saw in Knowsley may be seen again and again in similar anti-refugee actions that are now been called practically every week.

It is not refugees – or other targets of the Tories’ reactionary so-called ‘war on woke’ such as trans people, BAME communities and disabled people – that are to blame for the ever-deepening cost-of-living emergency but the Government who have overseen over a decade of ideologically-driven austerity that has decimated communities.

When Lee Anderson has declared that a “mix of culture wars and trans debate” will be at the heart of the next Tory election campaign, it is clear that we need to stand up to this reactionary agenda now and put forward positive alternatives.

This government’s scapegoating agenda is all about divide-and-rule, but the majority of people today are against racism, and we can mobilise this majority to both roll back the Tory’s attacks and stop the far-right in their tracks.

The massive public outcry in support of Gary Lineker after he stood up against the anti-refugee legislation and the good numbers that protested outside Parliament on Monday illustrate just how widespread opposition on this issue is.

Additionally, around the country campaigners against the far-right are mobilising regularly – as they did with the recent emergency march for unity in Liverpool after the Knowsley events and in protests against the far-right in Oxford, Erkskine, Skegness, Rotherham, Dover and Cannock over the last month – and deserve our full support.

Moving forward, Saturday March 18th’s #ResistRacism demonstrations must be a priority for all of the labour movement.

We also need to be supporting refugees and migrants – as groups such as Care for Calais and Migrants Organise have done so importantly – and making a clear stand against racism and scapegoating.

Most people understand that we should welcome refugees and give them safety, especially when we see the footage of wars in the Ukraine, Yemen and elsewhere.

Now is the time to stand for human rights, unity and solidarity – racism can, and must, be defeated.

  • Take part in the #ResistRacism demonstrations organised by Stand up to Racism in London, Glasgow and Cardiff on Saturday March 18th. Find out more here.
  • This article was originally published by Labour Hub on March 14th, 2023.
Featured image: John McDonnell speaking to fast food workers holding a strike meeting at London’s Leicester Square on Thursday 4th October 2018. Photo credit: Garry Knight under CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication

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