I got arrested once for swearing at Nick Griffin. It was a dark night in a small town in Nottinghamshire and he was in a parish hall whipping up hatred against immigrants. People in Kimberley were angry – it used to be a coal town, and then a centre for the brewing industry, but by 2006 the traditional jobs were gone – leaving the people I spoke to that night feeling hopeless. That sense of loss, and of hopelessness, will always be a target for dangerous politicians.
The reason I’ve always feared the far right is that they prey on our fears and blame all the problems of the world on migrants, Jews, Muslims etc. It’s a simple message and as we’ve seen in our history, sometimes it sticks – even when the evidence proves the fact that people born elsewhere contribute hugely to our society. And it’s a message that we’re seeing repeated time and again in this referendum campaign.
The Leave campaign might be funded by fascists, but most of them aren’t from the far right. Sadly that hasn’t stopped them using age old xenophobic tactics to whip up rage and make immigration the main issue of this referendum. The Establishment has fulled the fire with false migrant caps and offensive mugs. In the last six years we’ve had a Government, and at times an Opposition too, which has allowed migration myths to percolate in towns and cities across Britain. It’s always been in the interest of bad bosses and slum landlords to shift the blame – and all too often politicians have taken to the stage and proclaimed against new arrivals. This referendum was the moment anti-migrant politicians have been waiting for so long.
Tomorrow people will be voting for many reasons but I’ll be going to the polling booth with a single thought in my mind: saving British multiculturalism. By voting to leave tomorrow we would be letting the Government off the hook for passing on a crisis of capital to workers and students, and allowing UKIP and others to make political capital out of people who come to here to make a life for themselves. There’s no doubt in my mind that a Leave vote risks emboldening right-wing and far right politics in Britain – indeed we know which way the BNP are voting.
I don’t think for a second that tomorrow is the end of a process. It’s clearly only the beginning – and it’s down to all of us who celebrate a diverse modern Britain to make a case for migration (and the equitable sharing of its benefits).
I know that by voting to remain we won’t fix everything but, at the very least, we pour water on the fire and give ourselves a chance to stop the country descending into further division and despair.
Yesterday – on the way to Wembley for the ‘big debate‘ – we drove through the part of London I grew up in. We passed a Polish centre in Neasden having a barbecue while watching the football, a Portuguese Deli on the Harrow Road, my old local chip shop owned by Greeks, the park opposite my mum and dad’s house where kids whose parents were born in every corner of the world used to play together. I know it’s just a small part of a small country, but it shows that migration and integration can work well – and that when it comes to multiculturalism our whole is greater than the sum of our parts.
So I guess what I’m saying is this: tomorrow we all have one vote and we are all equal. I’ll be voting to remain because I will always fight far-right populism wherever it occurs. I hope you might join me in voting ‘In’ and persuading your mates to do the same. Then on June 24th the real work can begin – we have a country to heal.