There are hundreds of stories emerging up and down the country of hostility and threats which are making a lot of people feel very uneasy. I’ll recount just two incidents that I know of personally.
I have a friend who is married to a Spanish woman. She’s lived here ages and worked in the same office for 12 years. She’s always felt part of the team at work, but on Friday she was greeted by her manager with the words “Welcome to Britain”. It wasn’t ironic, or sympathetic, it was threatening.
My next example would be comical if it wasn’t for the potential consequences. My son was walking home for his lunch when a car came round the corner and three young men shouted “Get out of our country” at him. Now, perhaps they were very well informed and knew that, although born and bred in Beeston, he is a quarter Australian (although his grandmother naturalised as a British citizen sixty years ago so I’m not sure he’s even that). No, you’re right, it was probably mindless prejudice.
So what’s happened in the last week? I think we are seeing what was seething under the surface now thinking it’s not only OK to hold racist views, but also now to express them openly.
Now before I go any further can I stress that I am talking about a tiny proportion of those that voted Leave. But they are a scary minority and they are setting a tone of xenophobia in this country.
If you look at social attitudes surveys it’s clear that for most people in Britain attitudes have genuinely changed towards minorities whether that be race, gender, sexuality or disability. But some people haven’t been touched by the arguments; they just learned that you couldn’t express your bigotry openly. We all need to stand up to these people.
If most of the Leaver voters weren’t racists, why did they vote Leave? My impression is that people voted leave for a range of reasons, but which add up to wanting change. People are fed up with their elected representatives, with the London elite, the 1% who own the country, the bankers who got off scot free after buggering the economy.
They were told that £350 million a week could be diverted from Brussels to the NHS and that EU immigration would be stopped. Of course those promises started unravelling as soon as the polls closed.
The Remain campaign was pathetic, famously ran Project Fear, which just fed into peoples’ sense of nothing will change if I vote for this lot.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting change. I want change.
I’ve got a lot of time for our MP, Hilary Benn. He’s been a great supporter of South Leeds Life and many other community groups in the constituency. However, choosing this week to launch an attack on his leader was unforgivable.
As I mentioned before people want change. They want a break from the last forty years of Labour and Tory governments that, whilst different, shared more of a world view than they might like to admit. Buying infrastructure on the PFI never-never; letting the financial services industry do as it wanted; opening the NHS up to the ‘market’ (or privatisation as I prefer to call it); starting foreign wars – it’s hard to tell the difference.
Jeremy Corbyn offered a different approach, which is why he was elected by such a large majority in the party. I accept that Labour MPs disagree with him, but for heaven’s sake listen to the wider party on this one. I realise you genuinely think Corbyn will lead you into electoral wipeout, but so will sticking with what hasn’t worked.
So while the Labour Party work that one out, we can all show some leadership locally by remaining friendly and respectful and reassuring our friends and neighbours that they are safe. Wear a safety pin to show that you will not be spouting threats and abuse.
I’ll be on back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.