‘Challenge the culture. Stop it. Now.’

‘Challenge the Home Office,’ said the Guardian in a robust editorial on 10 August, ‘challenge the culture, stop it, now.’ The references were to politicians deploring the elevation of Doreen Lawrence to the House of Lords, and talking openly and unashamedly about the Global South as bongo bongo land; to the Go Home billboards touring parts of London, a component in the government programme to make Britain, in the government’s own official phrase, ‘a hostile environment’ for immigrants; and to the government’s casual disdain for the Equality Act 2010, which requires public authorities to ‘foster good relations’ and therefore to engage in ‘tackling prejudice’ and ‘promoting understanding’. The debate over migration, said the Guardian, ‘has gone off the rails. Politicians are so scared of challenging voters’ prejudices they are stoking them instead. This should be Nick Clegg’s moment. Challenge the Home Office, challenge the culture, stop it, now.’

The editorial acknowledged there are individual Tory and Lib Dem MPs who make no secret of the fact that they are deeply uneasy about the way the government has been operating, and noted that Labour has condemned the billboards exercise as a publicity stunt aimed at potential Ukip voters. But much damage, it said, has been done. ‘Racist expressions have been legitimised by their use by elected politicians and, worse, the government itself. Social cohesion is repeatedly challenged by the knowing use of debasing and divisive language, a politics where voters are encouraged to imagine all benefits claimants are scroungers and every migrant as potentially illegal. For some Conservatives, and in some quarters of the media, this is what success looks like. Everybody is talking their language, there are ministers in touch with ordinary voters’ prejudices, elected politicians [are] not afraid to use the racist language of the 19th hole.’

The relevance and implications for the world of education are well reviewed in a recent article by Gus John (http://www.gusjohn.com/2013/08/go-home-or-face-arrest-promoting-community-cohesion-in-post-racial-britain/). ‘It is critical,’ he writes, ‘that as many of us as possible send a message to David Cameron, Theresa May, Eric Pickles and the rest of this government that the xenophobic society they are projecting and the nation of snoopers they want us to become is NOT the society in which we want to live or want our children to live. And we won’t ‘Go home…’, because for far too many of us, going ‘home’ means going to Manchester, or Leicester, or Brent, Bristol or Bradford.’

One immediate way of showing opposition to current trends, Gus John points out, is to sign the petition organised by the Black Feminists collective in association with the Refugee and Migrant Forum in East London (RAMFEL) at http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-theresa-may-and-ukhomeoffice-to-stop-public-targeting-of-immigrants-2?utm_campaign=twitter_link_action_box&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=share_petition.

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