An article in local Stoke paper, The Sentinel, draws attention to a 2011 report by the Institute for Race Relations on racism in Stoke-on-Trent. The report, ‘The New Geographies of Racism’, is based on casework analysis of racism in the city which the IRR has documented as well as interviews with ethnic minorities; studies of local and national government documents, and interviews with key organisations tackling racism. Author, Dr Jon Burnett, argues that patterns of racist violence and the rise of far right tendencies in the city have been influenced by New Labour policies.
Some of the key findings of the report are summarised below:
Economic and demographic changes in Stoke on Trent
The report looks at the changing demography in Stoke on Trent noting “in large part, those who settled in Stoke were from Pakistan and Bangladesh, and these communities now make up the largest proportion (over 50 per cent) of the city’s BME population.” People from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities made up 7% of the population in 2009.
The politics and presence of the far right
The report states that “The rise of the BNP in Stoke was rapid and it indicates how a particular set of political conditions have been opportunistically exploited in an area which, previously, has not had such a historical connection with far-right movements,” however, “this changed when the BNP began systematically campaigning in the locality in the late 1990s.” The report details the BNP’s campaign centering on two schools which the far right party claimed were experiencing a ‘low-intensity race war’. In 2002 the city elected its first BNP councillor and in 2003 it became the main opposition party to Labour in the local council. In 2008, nine BNP councillors were elected, making it the joint-second largest party represented on the local council. However, in the local elections last year, the BNP was completely wiped out of the council, losing all its seats.
The report states that a narrative ascribing the success of the far right to the failure of mainstream political parties developed, but that this “bypasse[d] the extent to which the politics of the mainstream actively shifted to the right at the beginning of the 21st century – in part as a conscious attempt to accommodate some of the far right’s messages.”
It adds that such political shifts have been documented by human rights organisations and academics, who for example, have highlighted the government’s stance on the rights of asylum seekers; the war on terror, which “systematically stigmatised entire Muslim communities as potential terrorists in the public mind, whilst constructing a parallel criminal justice system for them which was based on this same premise,” and debates on integration which asserted the threats of unchecked ethnic and cultural diversity. Such discourses “legitimised aspects of the agenda of the far right”, Burnett argues.
Patterns of racial violence
The report states that “The conditions which have enabled the intensification of specific manifestations of racism and racial violence in Stoke are the same conditions which have been exploited by the far Right.” It notes an increase in racial violence at the beginning of the 21st century- “between April and September 2001 recorded attacks increased by 214 per cent, and in the three months following 11 September 2001 they increased by another 319 per cent.” By 2005, research indicates that one third of people from BME communities had experienced racial harassment in the past three years.
The IRR also documents attacks on settled BME communities including attacks on people working in the night time economy, in which a disproportionate number of Asians work. It notes specific anti-Muslim hostility and racism which was exploited by the far right. One cited example is the move by then-BNP councillor, Michael Coleman, to ban halal meat in local schools.
The report details some of the local responses to the issue of racism, such as the creation of an anti-racist organisation and the formulation of PARINS, “a multi-agency partnership incorporating the police and working in conjunction with the local authority”. It also notes that many initiatives have failed and dissipated, allowing racism to persist in the city.
The report concludes by emphasising that “the racial violence which has erupted in the city and the resurgence of far-right movements are, in some senses, by-products of New Labour’s racist policies,” adding that such policies and narratives have not disappeared under the coalition government.
The report sheds an important light on the way in which just one city has been affected by a climate conducive to racism. The decline of industry in the city is an important factor- as a 2012 report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance highlighted, economic crises fuel anti-immigrant hostilities. Moreover, the mainstreaming of right-wing policies and discourses is exemplified by Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on the ‘failure’ of multiculturalism. The war on terror and the way in which Muslims have been stigmatised by the mainstream is also significant for its legitimising more extreme and explicit far-right tendencies.
Stoke on Trent was once the heart of the BNP’s activism in the UK, and whilst the party’s influence in the area has declined in recent years, it is clear that its impact has far from disappeared. Only last month, the BNP’s leader in Stoke-on-Trent, Michael Coleman was given a suspended jail sentence for using racist language on his website. In another high-profile court case last year, a two men, one a former soldier and both supporters of the English Defence League, were sentenced to ten years in prison for attempting to blow up a mosque.
The full report by the IRR is available to read here.
|< Prev||Next >|