After Brussels, it’s more important than ever to tackle the politics of fear

29th March, 2016 2:00 pm

Nigel_Farage_of_UKIP

Europe is still reeling from the terrible events in Brussels last week. In scenes reminiscent of 7/7, the terrorists attacked during the morning rush hour on the city’s underground system and airport. It provoked an outpouring of sympathy across the globe, with world leaders offering their thoughts and prayers to the victims, and major buildings lit up in Belgium’s national colours such as the Eiffel Tower and the Wembley arch as a mark of solidarity. This grim pattern of mourning is now all too familiar to us.

However, the reactions from some on the Right were completely unexpected. Allison Pearson from the Daily Telegraph published a tweet describing Brussels as the “jihadist capital of Europe”, questioning how safe we are in the EU and calling for Brexit, just as reports of the airport explosions were still coming through. Nigel Farage, meanwhile, appeared on radio to say that lax EU borders had allowed “the free movement of terrorists, of criminal gangs and of Kalashnikovs”.

For some, it seems that nowhere is too low to stoop, including trivialising terrorist attacks from minutes earlier in order to score some political points.

Negative campaigning isn’t new. Lynton Crosby and others have used it to great effect over the last 18 months. The Scottish Referendum and last year’s General Election were both won through such fear tactics, even if in the case of Scotland it was by the slimmest of margins. Now it’s the turn of Brexiters to stoke up the fear of the British public by focussing the EU campaign towards terrorism and the refugee crisis whilst happily forgetting that the attackers behind 7/7 were born and brought up in this country.

In the aftermath of such attacks, we should be proudly standing shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Europe in unconditional defiance against terrorism instead of using the tragic events to bolster and promote our own political agenda.

It’s high time that we on the Left developed a decisive strategy to deal with this sort of dog-whistle politics. We must be able to change the course of the conversation easily and effectively if we want to win any elections in the near future, and that includes the EU Referendum. The Remain campaign must be overtly and unashamedly positive, and we need to sell the benefits of the EU in such a way that defeats any attempt at negative campaigning.

The politics of fear promoted by UKIP and others is only effective because we haven’t developed that alternative message which resonates with the public. Why are we in Europe? Why does it matter? How does it help in our daily lives? Those are the questions that we need to answer, simply and forcefully, over and over again until they stick in people’s minds. That’s the only way we can get the outcome that the vast majority of us want from the EU referendum.

In terms of successful social cohesion and diversity, Britain is the country that most people in Europe look to. We must also bear in mind that the EU came about as a direct result of the Second World War, helping maintain peace on mainland Europe and allowing Britain to continue fulfilling its moral obligations to the Continent. Although we’re an island nation, our history over the last millennium proves that we are hardly isolationist, and now is probably not the best time to start experimenting with such qualities.

The eyes of the world will be on Britain come June 23rd. If we vote to leave, the domino effect on other member states could lead to the wholesale collapse of the EU and perhaps even the end of the United Kingdom as we know it. The repercussions are just far to great for us to be complacent about Remain votes.

The last few weeks have proved that the Conservatives are in complete disarray over Europe. The onus is on us within Labour to save the EU by securing the Remain vote. We need to be seen as the party that is in control of Britain’s destiny and we must do that without creating any of our own distractions. We owe it to the British public to be an effective opposition, one that has a positive message for the future, and one that has the wherewithal to achieve it all. I know that we can do that. Our job is now to make it a reality.

Jasvir Singh is a barrister and Labour activist

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