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Marginalized Communities Fear for Their Future in the U.K. in Wake of ‘Ugly’ Election Campaign

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Marginalized communities have expressed fears over their future in the U.K. after the recent general election campaign, in which Brexit led the debate and fears over racism were raised. The Conservative Party under the leadership of Boris Johnson won a majority victory in the results announced Friday.

As voters headed to the polls on Thursday, they were faced with a choice between two political parties which have faced accusations of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The result of the general election was declared on Friday, with the Conservative party winning 365 seats—a land-slide majority and the party’s biggest victory since the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher.

“Among marginalized communities, there is a real angst and fear,” Dr Joe Mulhall, the head of research at Hope Not Hate, a charity campaigning against racism and facism tells TIME. “It was a really ugly campaign. It was very divisive and polarized.” The charity was set up in 2014 after the British National Party (BNP), a far-right party, was winning substantial votes and they saw efforts to stop fascism and racism were failing.

“I know a lot of people in the anti-racist movement felt they couldn’t vote for either of the two main parties,” Mulhall added. “They felt they couldn’t legitimize Labour’s anti-Semitism or the Conservative’s racism and Islamophobia, which is a pretty dire situation to find yourself in.”

Mulhall has researched racism and fascism, a far-right political ideology, in politics for years. There was a time when the charity focused on marginal fringe parties like the BNP and their far-right policies, said Mulhall. “But this time around, more than ever we look at mainstream political parties and that’s because of the normalization of prejudicial politics in the U.K,” he says.

“One of the really scary things about going forward is where does this trajectory lead us?” Mulhall added. “The mainstreaming of prejudice and xenophobic politics is really really worrying. We’ve got a really turbulent few years ahead.”

There has been a rise in the numbers of hate crimes recorded and an increase in levels of discrimination and abuse in the wake of the Brexit referendum in 2016, according to research. More than 70% of the people polled from ethnic minorities now report experiencing racial discrimination compared to just over half before the referendum vote, a survey by Opinium in May this year found.

In the last year, the number of hate crimes recorded by police in England and Wales has increased, while the number of race related hate crimes accounted for around three-quarters of hate crime offenses (78,991 offenses), according to the U.K. Home Office.

The Conservative Party has been accused of Islamophobia; in 2018, Boris Johnson wrote in a newspaper column that Muslim women who wear burkas look “like letter boxes”. More recently, twenty-five sitting and former Conservative councillors were exposed for posting Islamophobic and racist material on social media by media in November. The party suspended the sitting councillors and said it would open an inquiry.

“There is a palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities around the country,” Huran Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said.

“We entered the election campaign period with long-standing concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party,” Khan added. “Now we worry that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government.”

E.U. citizens who now live in the U.K. have also expressed their fear and distress over the result of the election and what this means for their future post-Brexit. Just this week on Dec. 9, Boris Johnson said that for too long E.U. nationals have been “able to treat the U.K. as though it’s part of their own country.” Citizens of a country within the European Union are entitled to move freely and live in other E.U. countries.

“We’ve had lots of distressed messages this morning from E.U. citizens who don’t feel this government has their interests at heart,” Maike Bohn, the co-founder of the3million, a charity which campaigns for E.U. citizens rights, tells TIME.

“E.U. citizens [living in the U.K.] were helpless bystanders in a vicious election campaign, scapegoated and talked about but not listened to,” Bohn adds. “[The government] has demonized E.U. citizens for electoral gain and has so far not guaranteed their rights.”

The Conservative government’s immigration policy has been under fire and been described as “cruel and sadistic” by a human rights lawyer. In October, a two-year-old girl was facing deportation from the U.K. despite her two parents each holding a British passport. The toddler has since won the right to stay in the country following outrage.

In 2015, the Conservative government was forced to apologize over the “Windrush scandal” after scores of U.K. citizens whose families were originally from the Caribbean were threatened with deportation or lost access to government services.

For the Labour Party, the election results were disappointing, capturing 203 seats, compared to 262 in 2017. The party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn said he will not lead the party in the next election, given the “very disappointing” results, according to the BBC.

There have been criticisms from prominent figures in the Jewish community that anti-Semitism has been allowed to fester in the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership. The Chief Rabbi has been critical of Labour and accused them of being “utterly inadequate” in addressing anti-Semitism in the party. Whilst the party has claimed that it has “investigated every single case” of anti-Semitism, there are at least 130 outstanding cases before the Labour party, and thousands more have been reported but remain unsolved, according to the Jewish Labour Movement.

“When he eventually steps back, history will not look kindly on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party,” says Marie van der Zyl, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “Anti-Jewish racism has been allowed to run amok and some at the highest levels of the Party have appeared to collude to protect antisemites.”

Van der Zyl has also urged the next leader of the Labour Party to act quickly against anti-Semitism, in order to solve the “crisis” and move our politics forward.

The Chief Rabbi argues that the country must come together.

“The elections may be over, but concerns about the resurgence of anti-Semitism very much remain,” the Chief Rabbi said. “Islamophobia, racism and other forms of prejudice continue to afflict our communities and… even our political parties.

“It is vital that we now bring the country together,” he added. “We must focus on our shared values and leave all hatred and prejudice far behind us.”

Hope Not Hate have been campaigning up and down the country fighting against racism and hatred. “We won’t give in to this type of politics. So there is hope,” says Mulhall.

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