How bad is this problem? According to the Independent website. hate crimes surged by 42 per cent, though the figure it gives, 3076 crimes between 16 and 30 June, compared to 915 reports in the same period of 2015, indicates that this is 200 per cent rise. However, scepticism has been expressed in some quarters.
The problem is hard to assess. For one thing, we only report hate incidents. We do not compile statistics for instances when encounters between indigenous and migrants are characterised by respect, tolerance and kindness. While waiting for a train in Euston station last month, I bought a magazine from a Black African vendor from W H Smith and polished the interaction with the usual social niceties. So did all of the other customers in the shop. These sorts of everyday, quotidian interactions do not get reported. Only deviations from them do.
In part, this is because the media – and its consumers – are hard-wired to pick up bad news.Plane crashes and medical negligence make news. Safe landings and successful operations do not. But, when coming to the question of hate-crime, there seems to be a default assumption that the indigenous population of these Islands seethe with mindless hatred for foreigners. If so, then the mundane, everyday instances of kindness and respect can be discounted. These are instances of the superego repressing the racist id. Hence, the atypical of the bigot is in fact the typical, just more honest and brutal than the rest of us.
The spate of hate-crime in the wake of Brexit was real – even allowing for arguments over how you can tell the difference between genuine hate crime and ordinary forms of crime, and allowing for the possibility that any form of tension of conflict between indigenous and the foreigner is automatically conflated with hate crime.
But we need a sense of perspective. The taboo against overt forms of racism and discrimination is still very strong. The social and legislative changes we have seen over the past 40 years are not in any danger of being overthrown. The rule of law is holding. Inveterate bigots may have taken Brexit as a signal that open season had been declared against foreigners but they were wrong. We are not seeing flaming crosses going up all over the place.
As I discussed in my post about the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox, murdered by a fascist a week before the EU referendum, no one wanted to speak up in public for the killer, not even the far right. Even the opponents of her liberal, cosmopolitan values lined up to pay tribute to her. It was telling that Nigel Farrage felt obliged to lay a bouquet of flowers in her honour. One could scarcely conceive the likes of Donald Trump doing the same.
The country has not changed that much from the day of her murder to now. Some in the Leave camp have accused some Remainders of wanting to see Britain plunge into recession, to be punished for voting the wrong way. There is some truth in that. There is also the sense that some in the Remain camp have never held a high opinion about the tolerant trends of the majority of this country’s indigenous population and, in a perverse sense, want the reports of the surge of hate crimes to herald some rightward shift in the country, in order to make the times we live in just a little less dull.
In this sense, there is a symmetry between them and the likes of Melanie Philips, who really wants to believe that most of Britain’s Muslims are covert suicide bombers, because it satisfies a yearning for an apocalyptic confrontation involving stark choices and the dissolving of moral conflict in decisive action, ending moral ambiguity once and for all.
But Brexit was not the apocalypse. Politics carries on as normal. But things of course are not the same as they were. A fringe political movement – the Eurosceptics – got for what they wished for. They got their country back. But we are still in the EU and the current Prime Minister is making no sound as to when she wants to head towards the exit. The ring leaders either jumped ship (Farrage, Johnson) or were thrown overboard (Gove). May’s cautious approach seems to be accepted by public opinion.That suggests that people are less polarised around the issue that the most passionate advocates for either side think.
Whatever her intentions are, I think that we can consider rumours of her deporting EU citizens as overblown. EU citizens are not just doing the jobs that the indigenous do not want to do – hundreds of thousands of them are professionals, working in both the public and private sectors. Their sudden eviction would deplete key sectors of the economy like finance and crucial public services like the NHS. Perhaps May is habouring some white version of ‘indigenisation’ programmes dreamed up by people like Robert Mugabe. It seems unlikely. It would be resisted by the Tories own key allies in the business class and Any Trump style mass deportation plan would be impossible to implement in an open society with a strong rule of law. Perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part. But I take heart in the fact that towns like Boston, Lincolnshire have not seen gangs of local thugs instigating pogroms against migrant workers. There are reasons for that and perhaps we ought to start asking why, instead of expecting the worst?