Far-right and nationalist parties have often sought power by blaming and scapegoating ethnic minorities and immigrants. We saw it in the 1930s with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany, and the similar unsuccessful activities here of Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists. Similar campaigns waged in the post-war years by the National Front and the British National Party ended in abject failure.
But far-right parties have tended to do better in some other European countries. In the wake of the global economic upheavals of recent years, we have seen the rise of the overtly neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece, and nationalist and anti-immigrant parties led by charismatic leaders in the Netherlands, Geert Wilders, and France, Marine Le Pen. Here in Britain, we also now have a nationalist anti-immigrant party with a charismatic leader. That party is Ukip. It is basing its campaign on an explicit anti-immigration appeal similar to its counterparts in the Netherlands, France, and elsewhere.
In a short tweet yesterday, I stated: “Hope Ukip racist posters encourage all decent British Commonwealth and EU citizens to ensure on register by May 6 and vote on May 22.” In response, I have received several very abusive tweets and emails.
It appears that I have hit a raw nerve. I stand by my view that this Ukip campaign is a racist, xenophobic campaign designed to win votes by whipping up animosity against foreigners living and working and contributing to this country. And it is worth noting that some of the abusive tweets and emails I received are directed not at EU migrants but at ethnic minorities overall and at Muslims in particular.
I am proud to represent thousands of hardworking Ilford people, including first, second or third generation immigrants struggling hard to do their best for their families and society, faced with rising bills and falling real wages, job insecurity and a lack of affordable homes.
I am proud of the contribution that migrants from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere in Europe have made and are making to Ilford, to London and to our country. Our National Health Service has always depended on recruiting doctors and nurses from other countries. Many of our top business people, scientists and academics and Nobel prize winners are immigrants.
We do need much stronger action against bad employers to stop immigrants being abused and exploited by stronger enforcement of the minimum wage, tougher measures by councils against “beds in sheds” and prosecution of “cash in hand” employers. But it is dangerous fallacious nonsense to say that British workers are facing a threat from 26 million unemployed Europeans. The real threat to British workers’ jobs and British society comes from the incompetent coalition government carrying out policies to cut taxes for wealthy millionaires while millions suffer a cost of living crisis; creating a house price bubble while failing to invest in housing, infrastructure and skills, and privatising our National Health Service.
Two million EU citizens live in this country but two million British people live and work in other EU countries and receive benefits, health, education and other public services there. The prosperity of our country and the continuation of the single market depends on free movement of workers within the European Union.
The policies of the nationalist right, whether of Ukip here or Le Pen or Wilders, are a threat to the future harmony of our country and also to the future harmony and prosperity of the EU. That is why all British, Commonwealth or European citizens living in this country should make sure they are registered to vote, and vote to defeat the Ukip extremists on 22 May.
Mike Gapes is Labour MP for Ilford South. This piece originally appeared on his website.