Let's make this election campaign hate-free – for once

United Kingdom
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Leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party Nigel Farage poses during a media launch for an EU referendum poster in London. The poster was widely criticized as promoting xenophobia during the campaign. © REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Fizza Qureshi and Helen Drewery write an open letter to candidates and commentators to improve the standards of the British election campaign

When we heard that Britain was to engage in yet another vote, our hope was that this time it would not descend into negative rhetoric and hate. Not again.

Already though, we have heard of a candidate spouting Islam as ‘a cancer’, seen reports of anti-immigration marches in Croydon, and read of a media commentator possibly inciting violence. What will be said next?

The language we use matters because to describe someone who has chosen to make Britain their home in dehumanizing ways affects us all in society.

After the brutal 20th century, people in the 21st should know better than to use words that compare people to insects. These lessons have not yet been learnt.

Even more prevalent is the use of the adjective ‘illegal’ in front of the noun ‘immigrant’, or even using ‘illegal’ as a noun unto itself. This is not only harmful but inaccurate – being undocumented is not a crime. In the case of people seeking sanctuary, it is a legal human right to claim asylum from persecution, but the lack of a system of formal humanitarian routes makes it all too often necessary to enter informally.

It is also wildly misleading to conflate undocumented migration with migration in general – the vast majority of people in Britain not born in this country have (and have to have) vastly more documents than anyone would ever wish for.

In order to achieve the democratic ideal of ‘rule by the people’, all people must feel welcome to participate in that process. But would you want to go to a hustings if there was a chance a candidate on the platform could use the same words about you as racists shout in the street?

Quakers and the Migrants’ Rights Network share the conviction that every person is of equal value and deserves respect and careful listening to in this election campaign.   

Therefore, we ask every single candidate or commentator in this election to abide by the three basic principles suggested by Race Equality Matters and the Runnymede Trust:

  • Work for a welcoming country and area which values all its people, celebrates its diversity and provides equality of opportunity for all;
  • Commit that, if elected, they will seek to represent everyone, and not pitch one group against another for short-term political or personal gain;
  • Ensure they do not take actions or use words likely to generate prejudice or hostility between different groups.

Seeking to be ‘patterns and examples’, we have asked that these are the principles which inform any husting in a Quaker Meeting Houses. From the depths of our hearts, we encourage other hustings hosts – including public authorities – to adopt similar principles.

We will never cease in our belief that to achieve unity and peace we need leaders of integrity. To get there we need candidates and commentators who are aware of the effects of their words.

Fizza Qureshi is Director of the Migrants’ Rights Network. Helen Drewery is Head of Worship and Witness at Quakers in Britain.

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