UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman attempted to claim people who attacked and intimidated refugees in Knowsley were not far-Right: this pretence gets us nowhere, and unlike her we need to stop excusing viciousness and bullying, and instead start addressing the reasons potentially decent people are carrying out despicable acts.
The UK’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman has reacted to a riot in which far-Right thugs smashed windows, set fire to cars and were prevented by riot police from attacking a hotel in which some people hoping to apply for asylum were staying, by excusing this behaviour and effectively any similar activity which follows it.
Appearing on GB News (the UK’s answer to Fox News, though so far fortunately far less popular), Braverman was asked whether those who took part in the incident in Knowsley, on the outskirts of Liverpool, on Friday 10 February this year, are ‘far-Right’.
Now. There is a conversation to be had about how useful it is to call protestors ‘far Right’ and do nothing else.
It is acceptable, we feel, to note that Knowsley is a particularly deprived area of the UK, and that people who live there face challenges many people in developed states in the modern world simply do not face.
But we must also note that this in itself does not mean that the people who gathered to intimidate and attack innocent men, women and children seeking safe places to live, learn and work, are not, and even less that their protest was not far-Right.
While it is certainly possible that some of those who took part had been duped by far-Right groups (the racist Britain First group had first named the hotel outside which the protest took place, and we should note that members of the Conservative party, which has now been in government for approaching 13 years have consistently sought to blame people entering the UK seeking safety for problems inflicted by the Conservative party on ‘native’ citizens of the UK) this simply does not make them or their protest not far-Right.
They are people who have recognised their difficulties and chosen – whether for themselves or because they have consistently been fed poison by the UK government – to blame them on refugees. They then campaigned, violently, to have those refugees removed from Knowsley, or for them to become so terrified they left themselves.
Every part of that is far-Right, and it does no-one any good to pretend otherwise.
But what Braverman, the UK Home Secretary, and as such the person in overall charge of public order in the UK, said about the people who staged this racist violence, was not to say ‘yes of course’, but:
‘We are all frustrated by the situation we are finding ourselves in. And, er, it is clear and undeniable fact that there are really, really serious pressures on communities, and saying so does not make you racist or bigoted.’
To which we can certainly say no it doesn’t, but those pressures are not caused by refugees, and standing outside a hotel containing terrified people, shouting abuse at them and setting fire to things, certainly does seem to reflect racism and bigotry.
She went on:
‘Because of the overwhelming numbers of people arriving here illegally…’
First, as we seem to keep having to say, it is simply not illegal to arrive in the UK to ask to apply for asylum. Second, we should note that in 2022, a record 45,000 people arrived in the UK on small boats.
Any sensible human being should be asking how 45,000 new arrivals to a country of more than 68,000,000 people – the arrivals being just 0.07 per cent of the UK population – could possibly ‘overwhelm’ the state. How badly must the UK governed for this to be the case? And who has governed it for the last 12-and-three-quarter years?
‘… we are having to house them in hotels, and that is causing understandable tensions within communities, pressures on local resources, and is frankly unsustainable.
‘I very much understand people’s frustration with hotels being occupied by large numbers of illegal immigrants.’
Once again, we must note: the UK has more empty buildings – not rooms, buildings – than it has homeless people. The sole reason people are being placed in hotels is because the UK government has, in full violation of international laws to which the UK itself signed up – attempted to prevent people coming to the UK instead of working to provide places for people to sleep.
Second, why is people staying in hotels in Knowsley – not a major tourist magnet – in February, a ‘little’ out of peak season, being presented here by Braverman as something akin to a slap in the face to everyone in the UK?
It’s actually probably far better for Knowsley’s economy for people to be staying in the hotel rather than it being left empty, and it is telling that Braverman, whose policy putting people in hotels actually is, chose not to attempt this argument but instead to pretend their acts were in some way reasonable.
Now. Once again, we must note that in communities such as Knowsley, there genuinely are pressures on local resources.
But not because around 300 men, women and children are being put in a hotel. There are 149,571 people in Knowsley. Three hundred extra people is an increase of 0.2 per cent.
If Knowsley cannot handle that increase, even temporarily, that is not the fault of those 300 people, but of a government which has consistently taken food from the mouths, and more to the point cash from the pockets, of its residents, and from the community’s infrastructure, to hand to its already extremely wealthy backers.
Which brings us again to the protest. It was far-Right in its nature and its aims. We must recognise that those who took part in it have spent a significant part of their lives – a decade at least – being told by their government and the vast majority of the nation’s media which backs it, that their problems, which are real, were not caused by the government, but by ‘foreign elements’ (including the EU and refugees).
We might also accept that at least some of those people would be horrified to be told they are racists (though some would only pretend to be).
But that doesn’t mean we should not call them or their protest far-Right. It was, and right now, they are.
What it does mean is that we have to recognise their concerns about their situation, even as we show them that their proposed ‘solution’ will do nothing to help them. We need to work to reclaim decent people and decent areas (there will always be some people who are racist because that is simply who and what they are, and even because they enjoy it) from the hands of the far-Right and its poison. And we need to work to help people – those in Knowsley and those fleeing war, terror, persecution and death in their homelands – suffer less and live decent, secure and enjoyable lives.
And we must address the root of the problem: a government which has fuelled and continues to deliberately stoke racism, bigotry and vigilantism to draw attention away from its own despicable activities and deliberate casting of millions of people into hardship and misery to fuel its unnecessary and non-functional economic system.
People fleeing persecution and violence have every right to seek safety. Everyone has the right to travel to apply for it: they are not ‘illegal’ and neither do they deserve to be smeared by a government which knows this, or attacked by a public it has worked to convince that they are.
Those people are not the cause of ‘native’ British people’s problems, and neither will attacking or removing them from Britain do anything to alleviate those problems, ever.
The Conservative Party of the UK knows this. We must start encouraging people to wonder why it keeps pretending it does not.
It is a shame, though far from a surprise, that this process did not begin with Braverman’s ‘interview’ on GB News.