Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
25 June 2019updated 07 Jun 2021 1:09pm

My granddad was at Cable Street. A radical Labour government can beat the far-right again

By Bill Esterson

My granddad was at Cable Street in 1936 to oppose the fascists of Oswald Mosley. The Jewish community stood shoulder to shoulder with the Irish community, and both were backed by Labour and the trades union movement.

A few weeks ago, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – the far right activist also known as Tommy Robinson – brought his caravan of hate to Bootle and Huyton. Again the Labour and trade sunion movement stood with the local community. Mosley was defeated on the streets of East London by my granddad’s generation. Yaxley-Lennon was defeated on the streets of North West England and at the ballot box by mine.

We have a proud tradition of tolerance in Britain and it was that tradition which prevailed in 1936 and in 2019. And it is in that tradition that most British people are appalled by the ‘Go Home’ vans and the hostile environment policy of David Cameron and Theresa May’s government. Most people believe that the mistreatment of so many of the Windrush generation is a stain on our country’s proud tradition of tolerance and openness.

But the defeat of Yaxley-Lennon does not mean that we can afford to let up. We face the prospect of the new Prime Minister with a history of racist comments and links to Steve Bannon, a man who admires both Yaxley-Lennon and Mussolini and has been working with far-right leaders across Europe. Boris Johnson may not be a fascist but his willingness to engage with the nativist right should cause deep concern at the direction of our country as should his relationship with Donald Trump.

My great-grandparents came to this country to escape the Tsar’s secret police. My great grandmother was a runner for the Mensheviks and faced the threat of arrest so they decided to leave in the early part of the 20th century. But most of the extended family stayed. They lived in villages in Eastern Europe. Those villages no longer exist, a story told by countless people with Jewish ancestry. Indeed it is told by countless people of multiple ancestry who are descended from survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides. We should remember where fascism leads and that fascism does not start with the murder of millions. It starts with the language of hate and the reluctance to oppose from those who can do so.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Each year at Southport’s Holocaust Memorial Day service, I am struck by the solidarity shown in the commemoration. The contributions from the vicar, imam and rabbis, along with trade unionists, school children and college students are acts of solidarity, each with the others. We all stand up in memory and against a repeat of the horrors we commemorate. Our proud tradition of tolerance, of standing up for minorities who face the threat of hatred is by no means perfect. But we have prevailed before and we must do so again.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

At the Manchester Stand Up to Racism-Unite Against Fascism conference last weekend, every speaker spoke of the need to continue to take the fight to the far right. Many of us said we have to call out racism and fascism in more mainstream politics, especially when the source is likely to be Prime Minister.

That is all true, but we also need to offer an alternative to the simplistic answers offered by the far right. An alternative to the idea that everything will be okay if the racist and fascist agenda of attacks on minorities is allowed to prevail. An alternative to the idea that the fall in living standards and decline in communities and public services is somehow all the fault of Muslims or Jews, Black people or Eastern Europeans, or the LGBT community, when we know it is the result of political and economic decisions taken by those with power and wealth.

We have to offer the alternative of a radical, transformative programme of government. A programme which has a credible plan for new jobs and greater prosperity through investment in addressing the climate emergency. A programme which captures the imagination through the exciting prospect of developing new renewable sources of energy, of electric cars, hydrogen buses, even electric aircraft. A programme which will see an economy recovering so that we can reinvest in our NHS, schools, high quality, environmentally sustainable housing and our police. A programme which will reinvigorate communities damaged by neglect and politically motivated cuts in public services.

We have that alternative in the programme for government being developed by the Labour Party. So we must continue to fight the far right and call out those who associate themselves with fascism, racism and misogyny. We must appeal to the tradition of tolerance which my grandad was part of at Cable Street, and I was part of in Bootle. And we must offer hope that a radical, transforming Labour government will improve the prosperity, lives and communities of those the far right tries to seduce. They use fear to win people over to their ideas. We must reject fear and replace it with hope. It’s time to invest in the future not the past.