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Yvette Cooper MP: “Politics should be making things better not worse.”

Yvette Cooper's speech at the launch of HOPE not hate's State of Hate report is a timely reminder of the need to unite with one another to challenge the rising tide of hate.

Thank you Nick for inviting me to speak at the launch of this important and sobering report.

The work of HOPE not hate across the country is more important now than ever: monitoring, analysing and campaigning against far-right extremism and hatred.

It requires huge bravery and determination to stand up to hatred and we owe you thanks for it.

From uncovering the plot to murder Labour MP Rosie Cooper to identifying new far right networks online, we cannot underestimate the importance of the work HOPE not Hate do.

Four years ago, after Jo Cox was murdered, the Home Affairs Select Committee which I chair began looking at hate crime and its violent consequences.

A year later we published a report on the failure of social media companies to tackle illegal extremist content and hate crime online, calling for more action. We’ve taken further evidence since and will decide this week what our new committee will look at.

And along the way, we’ve often considered powerful evidence from HOPE not hate – on issues ranging from extremism to cohesion and consensus building. 

So I have great respect for the work of HOPE not hate and welcomed the invitation from Nick Lowles to respond to their report on the State of Hate today which should frankly be a challenge to us all.

This year’s State of Hate report shines an important light on what we are up against as we start a new decade.

The threat of far-right terrorism has continued to rise here and around the world

Traditional racist and far-right organisations are at their weakest for years. 

But online we have seen the growth of dangerous new far-right networks and movements.

The poison they spread is now increasingly finding its way into mainstream public debate.

And in the face of that, there’s been a failure of mainstream political parties to show proper leadership when racism and prejudice arise – a failure that should shame us all.

And too many of us are standing by while our national resilience, our sense of social solidarity and our sense of public decency that has always been the British bulwark against far-right agitators is being gradually undermined.

Today I want to touch on some of those points and how now we should respond.

The report charts the rise of far-right terrorism across the world.

In Hanau just a fortnight ago, in Christchurch, in El Paso, and across the world, the poison of far-right terrorism has taken dozens of innocent lives in the last year.

In the last seven years here in the UK we have seen three far-right terrorist attacks – including the Finsbury Park Mosque attack and the murder of my friend Jo Cox, an MP on her way to a constituency surgery, something that would have seemed unimaginable in this country only a few years ago.

Seven of the 22 plots that have been successfully foiled in the UK in the last two years were inspired by the far-right.

Across Western democracies, the number of incidents of far-right terrorism in has increased threefold in the last five years

Met’s Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the country’s most senior counter-terror police officer, told the Home Affairs Select Committee that far right extremist activity was increasing, including involving links between groups here and far-right groups in Europe too. 

It’s why there have been growing far-right referrals to the Prevent programme. And why Counter-terror police have recognised they need new ways of working and more resources to counter both Islamist Jihadist and extreme right-wing terrorism which feed upon each other. We should pay tribute to the difficult and immensely important work they do.

Last week, the Home Secretary announced that two far-right extremist groups would now be proscribed  – Sonnenkrieg Division and System Resistance Network.

Those decisions are welcome.

But the new evidence outlined today from HOPE not hate about the Order of Nine Angles is even more disturbing.

The evidence they have gathered shows it to be a group which advocates the most extreme sexual violence and murder, and propagates the most vile antisemitism and which has links to terrorist offences.

The case Hope Not hate have made for proscribing the Order of Nine Angles is a powerful one. 

Which is why the Home Secretary should immediately refer it to the Government’s Proscription Review Group – the proper process for proscribing a dangerous organisations.

Action needs to be taken to prevent them grooming and radicalising other people.

Behind the rise in far-right terror threats is a changing pattern of far right extremism, rising hate crime, the promotion of far right ideology online and changing patterns of racism and prejudice.

Former Met Counter terror chief, Mark Rowley said back in 2017, “The ease and speed in which vulnerable people can be radicalised through online propaganda and then move to attack planning has been a shocking feature of many of our cases.” 

As we saw in the Finsbury Park attack, and many of the international far right attacks too.

What starts with hateful and bigoted ideas from high profile far right personalities that go unchallenged online can end up leading people to the darkest and most dangerous places, cesspits of hatred and extremism.

In the most extreme cases, vulnerable individuals end up on social media channels that promote violence – including terrorism and sexual violence.

The Met’s current counter terror chief, Neil Basu has warned that the most dangerous threat often comes from “malleable, vulnerable people [that] are being sucked very quickly into this ideology and often having no touch-points with the rest of society”

In evidence to the Select Committee, he also warned that “as a proxy for where the country is going in terms of tolerance, rising hate crime must be seen as a very disturbing indicator”. 

Today’s State of Hate report provides a wide-ranging account of the way in which far right extremism is promoted online and through social media.

Social media is amazing. It gives us the chance to talk to friends a thousand miles away, to bring people together, to build progressive communities and networks, to promote new ideas, to provide each other with solidarity.

But it can also be poisoned. At their worst, alternative platforms such as Telegram and 8chan can be used to incite and organise violence and promote terrorist propaganda, training manuals or instructions for carrying out attacks. Even the big mainstream social media channels are too often manipulated by far-right figures to radicalise people and to stir up hatred and division that is corrosive to our trust in each other and in our way of life.

The Government has promised legislation to tackle online harms. The most harmful but also some of the hardest to tackle are some of these smaller, alternative platforms. But this is the area where most international action is needed, seeking different ways to challenge the ways the platforms operate, different ways to protect the public.

Some of the biggest social media companies Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are now doing more to tackle extremism online. 

When we first took evidence from them three years ago, we were frankly appalled at how little they were doing, and how little they felt any responsibility to act, despite the fact that their platforms were being used to spread poison, illegal and dangerous material, and to destroy peoples lives, despite the fact that they were profiting from hate.

We found for example the same propaganda videos promoting National Action on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter years after they had been banned, and many months after the same video had been reported by us to them.

Three years on, they are doing far more. And HOPE not hate have documented the positive impact of the decisions they have taken to deny certain extremists or groups the power to broadcast for free to millions of people.

But serious problems remain.

Facebook still need to get a grip on the closed and secret groups sharing hate and dangerous, offensive and illegal content, often to tens of thousands of members, which is used to incite violence and criminal behaviour. 

And YouTube need to get a grip on the way their algorithms are working to promote hatred. 

Last night we set up a new YouTube account and searched for one of the groups listed in HOPE not hate’s report Millennial Woes. YouTube immediately recommended we watch videos of Tommy Robinson (who they claim not to be promoting) and lots and lots of videos of Nazis. 

Look up one thing out of curiosity, and YouTube is ever willing to offer far, far more – often getting more extreme with every click.

Don’t tell me YouTube can’t tackle this. Google that owns YouTube is king of the algorithm. And one of the richest companies in the entire world. They can do anything to algorithms they want. Instead one of the biggest companies in the world has become an organ of radicalisation, that makes money out of promoting ever more extreme material to keep us watching and suck people in.

It is shocking and immoral. And if Google wont sort this, the Government with its new online harms legislation must.

But there’s a responsibility on the rest of us too, and particularly those of us in public life.

The most shaming part of all in this year’s State of Hate report is on racism in Britain’s mainstream political parties.

As the report says, the Conservative party is yet to solve its systemic Islamophobia, and Labour has only begun to make headway on its antisemitism problem. The past year also saw a new far-right. 

It would be heartbreaking if it wasn’t so horrifying.

The two biggest parties in Britain, between them they have been in Government for more than a century.

Labour, the party that brought in the Race Relations Act, the Macpherson Review and the Equalities Act, now being investigated by the EHRC for antisemitism, the oldest hatred of all.

At a time when antisemitism seems to be on the rise across Europe, our party isn’t leading the charge against it, we are complicit in its rise.

And the Conservatives, the party that appointed the first Muslim woman to serve in Cabinet, refusing to face up to its own problem of Islamophobia amongst its members.

At a time when Islamophobia is on the rise across Europe, the party of Britain’s government isn’t leading the charge against it – it is blind to it.

Our public institutions should be the bulwark against extremism.

Our biggest political parties are failing in that task.

And so, both parties need to show humility, commit to changing and sort it out. And that means being willing to face up publicly to the scale of the problem.

For Labour, all our leadership candidates have rightly signed the pledges for action drawn up by the Board of Deputies, but we have to prove ourselves with action – including independent, transparent complaints and proper leadership to rebuild the trust of Jewish communities.

The struggle against racism and prejudice is in the DNA of our Labour party. We passed the Race Relations Act, to tackle discrimination on “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins” wherever it was found in British society. And at the start of the last decade, we introduced the Equality Act to enshrine in law the protection of individual rights and the principle of a fair and equal society. But we will not have earned back any moral authority on racism and prejudice until we have drummed every strain of antisemitism out of our party.

And the Conservatives will not rebuild trust with Muslim communities across the country or have any moral authority on tackling racism or injustice until they stop denying their problem and open themselves up to a proper independent investigation into Islamophobia in their party. 

But the problems in our political debate go far wider than Labour’s problem with antisemitism and the Tories’ problem with Islamophobia.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May warned before she stood down about the “coarsening” of public debate. She said, “Some are losing the ability to disagree without demeaning the views of others…. The descent of our debate into rancour and tribal bitterness – and in some cases even vile abuse at a criminal level – is corrosive for the democratic values which we should all be seeking to uphold.”

In the last twelve months we have seen a 10% rise in recorded hate crime – more than doubling over the last five years.

The Met Commissioner Cressida Dick has said the number of threats faced by MPs is now unprecedented – with the number of cases reported to the police doubling last year.

In one week my office had to report 35 threats to the police.

And I haven’t had the worst of it.

Diane Abbott received almost half of all the abusive tweets sent to female MPs in the 2017 general election.

Jacob Rees Mogg’s children have been bombarded with abuse in the streets.

Luke Pollard’s constituency office has been repeatedly graffitied with homophobic abuse.

And Joanna Cherry had to have a police escort to her constituency surgery after a death threat.

More significantly, people are being driven out or stopped from putting themselves forward to be councillors or MPs in the first place.

And most troubling of all, I know many local campaigners and activists, often not involved in political parties at all, but who were keen to do something practical and local in their own communities who ended up giving up, or going quiet because of the nastiness or abuse from a minority online.

Jonathan Evans, former head of MI5, not one to be squeamish about the tougher threats in life, now head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, has warned that the pressure exerted on MPs because of threats and abuse would be seen as a serious national security issue if it were done by a foreign state.

It’s time we stopped blaming Brexit for all this, or using Brexit as an excuse.

Too often I’ve heard people who felt strongly that we should remain blame Brexit for the rise in hatred and abuse.

Too often I’ve heard people who felt strongly that we should leave blame the delays in Brexit for rise in hatred and abuse.

Nothing about Brexit should have made any of us, whatever our views on Britain’s future relationship with Europe, start being nastier to each other in the streets or online.

Brexit didn’t cause the rise of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Delays to Brexit didn’t cause the rise of islamophobia in the Tory party. Many of us had begun warning about the increase in misogynistic abuse online here in Britain long before we had a Brexit referendum.

And other countries – from the US, to Australia, to Germany and France – have seen similar increases in online hatred, threats and abuse. Organised threats and intimidation targeted at Julia Gillard, Hilary Clinton or Greta Thunberg are similar in kind to the escalating threats we’ve seen here – and none of them had anything to do with Brexit. 

So it’s time we all took some responsibility for our behaviour on and offline without hiding behind the structural relationship between Britain and our European neighbours.

Time our political parties started sorting themselves out.

Time for all of us to pause for breath about the way we treat each other online.

We are British. Normally we are decent. We are compassionate. We are polite. 

When we talk to each other we are friendly. Most of the time. 

The shouting matches on Twitter. The sneering abuse on Facebook. The continual accusations of betrayal and treachery, simply because others take a different view. I don’t believe this is who we really are. But it is in danger of being who we become.

Because whilst the vitriol comes from all sides, it undermines our resilience, our sense of decency, our respect for our common humanity, our social solidarity. 

These are all the things that have always been our British bulwarks against hatred or far-right extremism. The dehumanising of each other that takes place too often online makes it easier for the far-right to exploit and easier for those who are vulnerable to get drawn in. 

Instead of undermining our resilience we should be building it up and strengthening the values, institutions and sense of common purpose that have always helped us resist the far right.

And that should come from the top.

Politics should be making things better not worse.

We need to stand up for kindness and respect. For each other and for our opponents, challenging the vitriol that comes sometimes from within our own.

That’s why I’ve called for all parties to agree and sign up to the joint standard of conduct drawn up by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the Jo Cox Foundation.

We should stand up for the public institutions and ways of working that promote facts, integrity, the rule of law and respect for others. 

And yes, that means the independent judiciary, the independent BBC, a free press including strong local papers, an independent civil service. 

And why we have to challenge the myth perpetuated by some of those right at the heart of Government (and sadly some of those in our party too) that somehow to be radical you have to be horrible, that to deliver real change you have to be prepared to bully to get it.

It’s rubbish and all of us know it, but it is coarsening debate and corroding our sense of decency.

It’s why the deterioration in the conduct of Government in recent months really matters. The macho briefing about the bullying behaviour of Dominic Cummings, getting armed police to march a young Spad out of Downing street, the briefing war engulfing the Home Office, the allegations against the Home Secretary, the threats made against the independent civil service, the judiciary or the BBC. 

Of course, governments can be radical – I hope to see a radical Labour government in future. Of course, there will and must be robust argument, anger at injustice and determination to achieve change. 

But it is quite possible to be radical and kind. It is quite possible to be fierce about change and still friendly towards others, to shake up the system and still show other human beings compassion and respect.

On left and right ambition for change doesn’t have to become aggression towards everyone else.  

And indeed on the left, the kind of changes we want to see, the better Britain we want to build, should always have kindness, compassion and respect at its heart.

Whilst one of the people later convicted for a threat against me was shouting outside my office, I was marking the Great Get Together with Jo Cox’s family in Birstall.

The best of Britain – bringing together the community. Talking to your neighbours, showing kindness to strangers, going out into parks and streets up and down the country. 

For all the anger and argument, we still live in a country where most of our neighbours are kind and would help you if you get into trouble. When you meet people in the street, they’re friendly, smiling and happy to chat. A country which still hates hatred.

A country where volunteers still work to help HOPE not hate stand up to extremism.

All that gives us hope. Decency, kindness, friendliness and compassion in the end always drown out hatred. 

As Jo said; “We have more in common than that which divides us”.

Standing up for each other, regardless of race, class, where you live, who you love.

Some will always seek to divide us and spread hate.

That’s why we stand up for kindness and respect. For resilience and social solidarity.

For hope, not hate.

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