Politics have a way of influencing community cohesion and public perceptions. Over recent years that has been evident in the lead up to the EU Referendum and Brexit negotiations. The public has been influenced by a combination of UKIP publicly challenging the democracy of the European Union and campaigning for the UK to leave the EU. This has shifted the focus of other political parties and has lead to division within political parties and wider society. The way the media have reported on politics and migration has also caused division in society as many people have been lead to believe that a decrease in the quality or accessibility to public services is due to influxes of migration, rather than significant budget cuts across the public sector.
Christine discussed how EU related politics have made people less tolerant of migrants. She raised concerns over how the media uses statistics to spin stories and how it contributes to scapegoating. “I think it was with the European migrants, I think the politics hit a nerve. I think it was this idea that, they [government] weren’t counting people [who were] coming in. In my mind, that’s what upset people. They just thought that, that it was a never-ending number of people coming in. And I think that was – Yeah, I think that might have been a factor for people to turn quite nasty in a way.
I think it’s just about politics and the way the media especially represents things. You never believe statistics but people do believe [Giggle] statistics and the way reports are written and they pick up on the negativity and they use that to place blame. ‘That’s why I can’t get my kid into school’ or ‘that’s why I can’t get a job’. You end up on in a cycle.” Christine M (Interviewed 23 May 2017)
Pratima believes that racial equality is taking a step backwards due to negative coverage from Trump and Brexit. “I think the national politics at the moment, both with Brexit and Trump, and all the rest of it, has actually undone so much of the stuff that we’ve all tried to work very hard at. So it feels like a whole different world in a whole different environment that you’re having to manoeuvre and make sense of, you know.” Pratima Dattani (17 February 2017)
Similarly, Issa discussed the negativity targeted towards migrants from Brexit campaigners and Trump. She raised concerns that people are being judged collectively in a discriminatory way based on their race etc, rather than on their personal behaviour and values.
“I mean, to come out of Brexit to me, was a very narrow-minded thing to do. I’m not massively politically minded. Though obviously, I do have opinions to me, it’s very arrogant to think you can live a life so independent that you don’t have to think of others and to me, that’s what Brexit is. And someone in a position of authority of a nation like the United States of America to make the type of comments, he has about people, it’s opening the door to everybody to say just what they want.
If you have an opinion of someone and you don’t like them, that’s fine by me. You can’t like everyone, but you do not have to say what their ethnicity is, what their religion is. It’s an individual that’s done something maybe to upset you that you don’ like… I know that everything [that] I believe in may not be right but I’m entitled to my opinions, but I would never, I hope, identify someone as being different, and that’s why I didn’t like them. I didn’t like them because of something they may have said to upset me or behaved…” Issa Norton (Interviewed 13 November 2017)
Navin also compared the negative influences of politicians like Trump in the media. “I guess it’s to do with politics and media mostly cos – You see all sorts of horrible news stories in the tabloid press where they’re making terrible race claims, blaming crimes on minorities and that just perpetuates it, I think. That just continues people’s ignorance really. And when politicians like Trump, as well, are using governments to essentially enforce those sort of ideas, then I think that’s part of the problem.” Navin Pandya (Interviewed 28 January 2018)
Andrew raised concerns about how EU politics have had a negative effect on racial tolerance and how it has even divided political parties. “I think that the whole expansion of the European Union, free movement through to [the] Brexit debate, has poisoned public discourse quite badly and has given some people, who I suspect were pretty racist all along, some sort of license in their minds to express views that they would have censored a few years ago. Probably complaining about political correctness, but not saying it. Behind the words, I think, unfortunately, there are also actions. Not so many people will actually take direct action, but nonetheless, there is this sense of… Partly because of the way our political leadership have taken this country, that things that were being driven out, certainly of polite discourse in this country a few years ago, are coming back. And it’s extremely unpleasant.
Even many people in the Labour Party have been arguing that Labour should come down – ‘Tough on Immigration’, which is wrong on two levels. The first is – it’s just simply wrong! The second is that it makes absolutely no sense, even if you’re a cynical politician, to be the third best anti-migration Party. But I think the fact that people inside the Labour Party, which has always been reasonably sound on these issues, are prepared to contemplate dancing to a right-wing racist tune, in terms of the public discourse, in order to win back votes, is an indication of how far our politics and our national life has moved.” Andrew Scarborough (Interviewed 11 July 2017)
Nevertheless, politics will only be as diverse as the people it attracts. Elayne highlighted the fact that politics is still heavily dominated by mature white males and that she is the only black female in local politics. “Yeah…It just feels as though, I’ve always been in careers or areas where it’s male-dominated. There are[relatively] few women involved in local politics and I’m the only Black woman. [Laughs]” Cllr Elayne Francis (Interviewed 03 November 2017)