Stop blaming Brexit for rise in abuse towards politicians, says MP Yvette Cooper

A senior Yorkshire MP has accused the main political parties of failing to "show proper leadership" in the face of the racism and prejudice she says new far-right movements are helping to enter public debate.

By Rob Parsons
Monday, 2nd March 2020, 4:25 pm
Updated Monday, 2nd March 2020, 5:01 pm

Yvette Cooper said Labour and the Conservatives were failing in their task of acting as a "bulwark against extremism" as dangerous new networks and movements develop online.

She was speaking at the launch of a report by advocacy group Hope Not Hate which said far-right activism has moved off the streets of Yorkshire and onto Youtube and other social networking sites.

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West Yorkshire MP Yvette Cooper, pictured in December at the General Election results. Pic: John Clifton

And the Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford said new groups were springing up online despite traditional "racist and far-right organisations" being at their weakest in years.

Ms Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "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."

In her speech Ms Cooper said social media giants Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were doing more to tackle online extremism but that "serious problems remain".

She said her team had searched for far-right groups on video sharing platform YouTube, recommendations appeared suggesting that viewers might want to watch neo-Nazi videos.

The MP said: "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.

She added: "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."

Ms Cooper said her office had been forced to report 35 threats against her to police in one week, said: "It’s time we stopped blaming Brexit for all this, or using Brexit as an excuse."

She added: "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."