The anti-racism group( Hope not hate) hit back at Nigel Farage after he accused it of being violent and ‘extremist’ this week. This is what really happens at their workshops.
This week, former Ukip leader Nigel Farage accused the widower of the Labour MP Jo Cox of having links to extremism. The “extremists” in question are the anti-racist group Hope not Hate, an organisation supported by Brendan Cox through his wife’s memorial fund. “He backs organisations like Hope Not Hate, who masquerade as being lovely and peaceful, but actually pursue violent and undemocratic means,” Farage told LBC Radio on Tuesday. Hope not Hate said it might take legal action in response, and has begun crowdfunding for its legal costs.
The group’s chief executive, Nick Lowles, says he has been overwhelmed by the support. “For a lot of people, including ourselves, there is a wider issue. People are horrified by the toxic nature of our political debate, certainly in terms of what has gone on in Britain and in the US – and this is just one example of it.”
Lowles says they have received thousands of donations, not just from existing backers, but from the general public. Though it has also exposed them to new attacks from online trolls, the controversy has significantly raised the group’s profile, making many more people interested in what they do.
In November, I went to a Hope not Hate event at a mosque in Cardiff – a three-hour workshop on how to challenge and discuss anti-migrant and prejudiced sentiments. It drew a crowd of around 20, one or two of them local muslims and a few with migrant backgrounds, but the majority were white Welsh, many of whom had not previously been in a mosque. The organiser, Jonathan, began the session by asking what had prompted people to attend. Many described feeling worried, frustrated and in need of a toolkit for discussing race and immigration with family, friends and colleagues.
What usually happens is I either move the conversation on to something else, or I get angry,” said Amy (some names have been changed), a 30-year-old with family roots in Wales. “I want a third way.” One woman in her 50s, from a village in the south Wales valleys, said she was struggling to discuss these issues with her fellow allotment gardeners. A younger man living in Cardiff worried that facts and statistics were no longer getting through to people he spoke to.
Next we split into groups to draw a chart of the kind of opinions we would expect to find in the wider public about migration, and in what sort of numbers. Afterwards, the organiser shared with us Hope Not Hate’s research on public opinion around migration, explaining that, while there may be a very vocal “hostile” camp, most people in Britain are in the neutral section of the spectrum – perhaps holding concerns, but not with strong animosity. We then took part in some roleplays, practising listening skills and conversation techniques such as asking open questions that encourage broad responses, rather than a simple yes or no.
“We don’t have all the answers, but we know two things work,” explains Jonathan later. “One is listening to people, to challenge prejudice constructively. The second is building an inclusive narrative through shared action.” The former, he explains, is about being respectful and creating space for open discussion. The second is recognition that this work has to be community-led, finding shared pursuits and common ground.
Sarah, a Welsh woman in her 40s, told the group she had been struggling with racist conversations, including with her own family. “People have become more open about saying these things,” she said. Afterwards, she spoke of having more usable strategies. After the workshop, some participants joined a small group of volunteers to go door-knocking. They travelled to the Adamsdown neighbourhood of the city, near one of Wales’s four asylum-seeker dispersal areas. Adamsdown is a low-income, inner-city area of Cardiff; the idea of door-knocking along its terraced streets on a Saturday afternoon was to put some of the techniques picked up into practice – to start the conversations.strategies. “Being in that meeting gave me support that I’m not on my own – because sometimes you do think, ‘Is it just me, am I the only one that doesn’t think this way?’”
You might think this exercise could result in a lot of swiftly shut doors, but Jonathan says most people are happy to talk (“as long as you’re not a politician, a salesman or from the council”). Using events at a local centre for asylum-seekers and refugees as a conversation starter, the door-knockers encountered a range of views. There was the couple who wanted to support the centre, and the man in his 60s who was deeply hostile; in between were the ambivalent or anxious – the target group. “Everyone seems surprised that we are asking these questions,” says volunteer Sian. “I was pleased we were able to have the conversations – nobody slammed doors in our faces. It’s reassuring that we can go to doorsteps with this complicated and turbulent issue.”
It’s this sort of slow, grassroots effort that Hope not Hate considers vital in post-Brexit Britain. Their concern is that, in the absence of such engagement, an opportunistic, populist right will find it easier to take hold. In May this year, Ukip took seven seats in the Welsh assembly – before then, it had zero.
Jonathan says that, since November, there have been two more training sessions in Cardiff, and others in Swansea and Newport. Volunteers have also been door-to-door several times in Adamstown, where some of the locals who initially expressed doubts about the area’s refugee centre attended its Christmas bazaar a few weeks ago. Workshops are oversubscribed and attendees have included local activists from Plaid Cymru, Labour and the Lib Dems – as well as people with no background in politics. There are 18 more Hope Not Hate events planned across the UK in the new year, including in Manchester, Liverpool, Derby, Bristol, Swindon and Sheffield. “Recruitment is not a problem at the moment,” says Jonathan. “It’s just something that people really want.”