Demonising migrants and minorities is not just the privilege of the Tories. You only have to listen to the latest reactionary remarks of former New Labour cabinet minister David Blunkett to realise that.
Blunkett achieved notoriety during his time as home secretary in the Blair governments for all the wrong reasons. In November 2001, he persuaded parliament in a 90-minute debate to derogate – partially revoke – a section of the Human Rights Act dealing with lawful detention.
Blunkett declared that there was a permanent “public emergency” in the wake of the 9.11 attacks and Britain had to be able to intern terror suspects without due process.
In April 2002, Blunkett turned his fire on another vulnerable group when he claimed that the children of asylum seekers were threatening to “swamp” some local schools. His incendiary remarks were denounced as “emotive” by the chair of the Commission for Racial Equality (since abolished).
Blunkett’s remarks then were compared to Margaret Thatcher’s talk of Britain becoming an “alien nation” by being “swamped by” newcomers. Now Blunkett has gone one further by declaring that Roma immigrants are responsible for community “friction” and “understandable tensions” in his Sheffield constituency.
Unless the Roma “change their culture” the community could “explode” and there could be rioting on the streets. "If everything exploded, if things went wrong, the community would obviously be devastated,” Blunkett said.
“We saw this is Bradford, Burnley and Oldham all those years ago when I first became Home Secretary. If things implode it’s not outside here that cops it, it’s the community.”
No, this is not UKIP, or a spokesman for far right parties. This is a senior figure in so-called One Nation Labour. Blunkett claimed he did not want to “stir up hate”, but his calls for police to intervene to discourage Roma people “not to spend all their time in the street” points the finger in a provocative fashion.
His remarks on BBC Radio Sheffield came the day after an anniversary of an historic attack on a minority that presaged murder on an industrial scale. On 9th/10th November 1938, Nazi storm troopers led a wave of violent attacks on Jewish people and property throughout Germany and Austria.
Many Jews were killed, thousands sent to concentration camps, synagogues destroyed and Jewish-owned shops smashed. Many fled abroad but as a statement by prominent British Jews points out, Britain was already in the grip of an “aliens scare”.
Newspaper headlines declared: “Alien Jews Pouring In”, and claimed that “Refugees Get Jobs, Britons Get Dole”. The media accused Jewish asylum seekers of “over-running the country. Sounds familiar? In a statement to mark the attack on German Jews, they say:
“75 years after Kristallnacht, racists and fascists inspired by the Nazis continue to attack minorities in Europe. In Hungary neo-fascists target Gypsies and Jews. In Greece Golden Dawn members and supporters brutally attack migrants and political opponents. Here in Britain, minority communities, especially Muslims, have been targeted in an atmosphere that is increasingly hostile towards migrants and refugees.
“As Jewish people mindful of this history, we are equally alarmed at continuing fascist violence and the toxic sentiments expressed by many politicians and much of the media against migrants, asylum seekers, Gypsies and travellers.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in their efforts to live here in freedom and safety, to contribute to society, and be treated as equals. As Jews we stand together with all communities seeking to combat racism and fascism here and elsewhere.”
When it comes to the statement’s reference to “toxic sentiments”, Blunkett’s are notoriously up there with the worst of them.