David Runciman, Neal Ascherson, James Butler, T.J. Clark, Jonathan Coe, Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, Daniel Finn, Dawn Foster, Jeremy Harding, Colin Kidd, Ross McKibbin, Philippe Marlière, James Meek, Pankaj Mishra, Jan-Werner Müller, Susan Pedersen, J.G.A. Pocock, Nick Richardson, Nicholas Spice, Wolfgang Streeck, and Daniel Trilling in the LRB. Wolfgang Streeck:
Every fortnight the Institute of Race Relations publishes a round-up of racist incidents and far right activity. Many of the stories – verbal abuse on public transport, vandalism of religious memorials or places of worship, poorly attended protests by extremist groups – are culled from the local press. They’re not usually considered important enough to merit national media attention.
Now they are. On Saturday, a photograph of a National Front demonstration in Newcastle, at which a handful of supporters hung a banner demanding the ‘repatriation’ of immigrants, went viral on Twitter. Reports of EU migrants and British citizens of visible ethnic minority backgrounds being insulted or told to ‘go home’, collected under the hashtag #postrefracism, began to flow in. A Polish cultural centre in West London was sprayed with graffiti. Sima Kotecha, a Today programme reporter, was called a ‘Paki’ in her home town during a discussion on immigration and Brexit. According to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, 85 hate crimes were reported between Thursday and Sunday, an increase of 57 per cent compared with the equivalent four days last month.
Anecdotes on Twitter are difficult to verify, and reports of hate crimes can go up when more people are looking out for them, but even so it seems clear that the referendum has led to a spike in public harassment. Yet it would be a mistake to think that the referendum campaign created this racism out of nothing, or that it’s the preserve only of those who voted Brexit. While the Leave campaigns focused on a series of racist myths – the effect of Turkey’s proposed accession to the EU; a flood of refugees from the Middle East – politicians on the Remain side have also taken xenophobic positions. It was Cameron’s government that introduced the recent immigration act which turns landlords into an extension of the border police, and Cameron himself who talked of ‘swarms’ of migrants at Calais. Labour carved the words ‘controls on immigration’ into a stone tablet during the 2015 general election campaign.