Last week, a small gang of racists thugs harassed refugees housed in a Mansfield Hotel. The crowd included members of the Skegby Scooter Club who regularly sport far right symbols and have close links to Lee Anderson. Afterwards, Mansfield MP Ben Bradley fanned the hatred by refusing to condemn the harassment and saying he ‘understood the concerns’ of the racists. This all happened before the far-right’s violent attack on the hotel in Knowsley, Liverpool.
The far right have been emboldened by a succession of home secretaries who have upgraded Theresa May’s hostile environment to a downright dangerous one. But this week broke new ground. Never before have the links between a Conservative MP, now Conservative Party deputy chairman, and far right extremists been so open. Nor has racist violence been given support by a local MP, a man who also happens to be the leader of the ruling Conservative Party on Nottinghamshire County Council.
Refugees are welcome here
It’s easy to dismiss the people of Mansfield as ignorant racists. The ex-mining town voted 71% in favour of Brexit and Mansfield and its neighbouring constituencies are part of the Red Wall that began to crumble in 2017 and collapsed in 2019. In the area’s local elections, once-safe Labour wards have switched to either Tory or independents.
In Lee Anderson’s Ashfield, five of the independents are under police investigation for fraud and one, the deputy leader, was convicted of harassing a neighbour and then the next day, convicted of crashing his car into a police car.
So when local campaigners joined activists from Nottingham to hold a ‘Refugees Are Welcome Here’ event in the middle of the town there was some apprehension. Especially as the far-right had initially planned to repeat their harassment ahead of Mansfield Town FC’s home match.
Yet, like so much of the far right and Conservative Party rhetoric, it turned out to be nonsense.
The reaction from shoppers was overwhelmingly positive. There was a constant stream of people signing petitions, taking leaflets and stopping to chat. Not once did the campaigners get any form of harassment, not even insults from passersby, something which is common when campaigning in the multicultural, Labour-held, Nottingham city centre.
Just as importantly the people who came to support the event were not the usual anti-racism campaigners. There was a strong turnout by the GMB and PCS unions alongside members of Unison. The racists like to claim they speak for the ordinary people but unions are the ordinary people. To see unions taking the lead in the fight against the far right exposes the racist’s lies and makes clear that the vast majority of residents and workers in Red Wall seats will stand-up against the rising tide of racial violence.
The racists are loud
The racists are loud, they are good at amplifying their voice on social media, and they cleverly craft their message to appeal to those worst hit by the Tory’s disastrous economic policies but they are, and always will be, a tiny, tiny minority.
Saturday’s event, organised by Stand Up To Racism (Nottingham) and the Notts & Mansfield Trades Council, needs to be repeated across the country. Not in big cities but out in the small towns, the areas ignored and mistreated by Westminster.
The battle against the rise of fascism will be won on the streets of ex-mining villages and council estates. We must go to where the racists are strongest because if we wait until they are marching through London or Manchester, then we have already lost.