LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11: Police continue a presence outside the Suites Hotel in Knowsley, Merseyside, the morning after a protest and counter-protest. Picture Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The truth about Knowsley

Britain’s media and political classes refuse to address the causes of the violent scenes in Liverpool

Artillery Row

On Friday night protests against the housing of refugees in a hotel in Knowsley turned violent, with fireworks hurled and a police van set alight. The tensions were sparked by a video circulated on social media appearing to show a refugee aggressively propositioning a local 15 year old girl for sex. 

The media and political class have scrambled to condemn not only the violence but the protests themselves, and to find someone to blame well ahead of the emergence of the facts. We’ve heard that the protestors were fascists, far-Right, even a mob whipped up by the Home Secretary. 

On the basis of an as yet unsubstantiated suggestion that the far-right may have been involved, an improbable narrative has been promoted in the media that Liverpool is the tip of the spear of British fascism, wielded by the Home Secretary against innocent migrants.  

There is method to the madness. The wild claims steer the national debate away from the issue at hand — the impact of illegal migration on British communities, and the potential victimisation of vulnerable women and girls — and into the far more comfortable territory of condemning the bogeyman of the “far-right”. 

We don’t yet know the veracity of the Knowsley video, any more than we yet know the extent of the far right’s involvement. But what we do know, from extensive government inquiries and in-depth reporting, is that police, government and social services have historically ignored the abuse of white working class girls by Pakistani gangs out of a fear of appearing racist. We also know that four Afghan refugees have been arrested for the rape of another 15 year old girl in Kent, and that in just one hotel housing migrants in East London, there were two cases of sexual assault of underage boys within weeks of each other. 

In a context where the British public has every reason to believe that authorities may ignore and under-police sexual abuse perpetrated by migrants; where illegal immigrants are disproportionately young men, generally without employment, and whose criminal records in their home countries are unknown; and when there are numerous reports of incidents involving the hotels housing refugees, how can we dismiss the concerns of Knowsley residents as irrational and bigoted? And are their actions driven by prejudice supposedly inflamed by Suella Braverman, or is it precisely the inaction and silence of politicians that is provoking fear and anger? 

Part of the anger is the lack of power that people feel over questions of migration. The public have, at every opportunity, voted to slam the brakes on immigration. For two decades and more the electorate has gone to the polls and backed the party promising to institute border controls: from Tony Blair’s campaign against “bogus asylum seekers” to David Cameron’s promise to get numbers down to the tens of thousands, to Brexit. And through it all there has been one constant. Immigration did not simply spike under Blair, it has continued to go up and up without any apparent limit, in the face of massive public opposition. 

But the issue goes beyond just numbers. We lost tradesmen from Eastern Europe and gained illegal migrants from the rest of the world. They are people from troubled and often disproportionately crime-ridden and lawless societies like Albania and Somalia, who have illegally entered and been permitted to stay. They are put up in hotels, fed, watered, and awarded a weekly cash allowance, all at public expense. This would be wrong at any time. But during a crisis in which people are freezing to death in their own homes, it is inexcusable.

When Sir David Amess was murdered by an Islamist, the media drove the national conversation into a frenzy over hate speech on Twitter. After the Manchester area bombing, the public were instructed not to look back in anger. After Knowsley, we are told the problem is not the policy but the reaction to it.

In this world of contrived and controlled speech, issues like the hotel policy simply cannot be allowed to come under scrutiny. There are continuous horror stories, with one hotel in greater Manchester apparently enduring: “overflowing bins with rotting food. Rubbish piled high in hotel corridors. Mouldy, damp rooms with water constantly dripping near a child’s cot”. Not to mention the “500 rape alarms” issued to the female residents after multiple incidents of alleged sexual abuse. 

The media report on it, and human rights groups condemn it, but these same groups oppose the detention centres which should be housing illegal immigrants; oppose still more fiercely deporting them from their (government-funded) accommodation back to their home countries; oppose turning back the boats they arrive in before they land; cried out when illegal migrants were left in London to stay with family; and would probably start a riot themselves if we attempted to house illegal migrants offshore as they do in Australia. 

The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has come under fire for “provoking” the rioting. Her comments are said to have roused the Merseyside protestors into action. You can almost hear the narrative creaking as it is stretched to breaking point.

Responding to the protests in Knowsley the Home Secretary wrote

Labour’s Stella Creasy said Braverman was “not fit to be in office”. Oliver Kamm of The Times described the remarks as “gross and inflammatory”. Nesrine Malek of the Guardian called her “dangerous”.

The shadow levelling-up secretary, Lisa Nandy, told BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, “You’ve got a government that talks about things like ‘an invasion’ in relation to immigration; you have a perfect storm”. The Bishop of Kirkstall preached from his pulpit that the government had used “language which incites, language that enables those bad actors of the far right to march from the margins and threaten the common good.”

A number of outlets have relied for their coverage on the reporting of Clare Mosely, refugee rights activist and founder of the Care 4 Calais charity, who was present at the scene as part of the counter-protest, and described the protesters as “far right”.  

The Guardian picked up on this language in its headline: “Far-right protesters clash with police at Merseyside hotel housing asylum seekers”. Mosely told the paper: “Our politicians’ rhetoric of hate and division is destroying our society and our British values”. The paper also quoted the campaigning organisation Stand up to Racism (a group frequently linked to the Socialist Workers Party), who similarly blamed the Home Secretary. In a Tweet, they wrote: “Events in Liverpool tonight — the bitter fruits of #Braverman and #Sunak’s scapegoating of refugees — giving space to the racists and the far right.”

The BBC couldn’t describe the protests as far-right, since there is as of yet no solid evidence that they were. Instead, they reported that “The BBC is yet to establish the nature of the protest” before going on to quote Clare Moseley saying what they could not. She told the BBC: “The far-right people were very organised and very violent.”

But just how impartial is Clare Moseley as a source? Even leaving aside her declared interests as a supporter of high migration, an advocate for refugees, and her role in running a charity that fundraises on this issue, there are more serious reasons to question her judgement and objectivity. 

In 2017 the Sun reported that the (married) Clare Moseley had conducted an affair with one of the Calais residents her charity was supposed to be helping, a 27 year-old Tunisian man named Mohamed Bajjar who was posing as a Syrian refugee, and was also employed as a volunteer by the charity. When the affair ended, Bajjar attempted to set the charity’s HQ on fire, and threatened to kill everyone involved in it. 

Despite this extraordinary lapse in judgement, Ms Moseley is still cited as a source and authority on refugee issues in the media. 

It’s not that the British press and politicians don’t (mostly) know better, when they imply that everyone at the protest was a brownshirt, or denounce Braverman as demagogue. Is it credible to believes that the hotbed of anti-Toryism that is Merseyside was mobilised by a three-month-old remark by a politician most of them may not be able to identify. But it easier to focus on Braverman than addressing the issues underlying the disturbances. 

Notice that the protesters never have their views carried — unless they make a slip-up, an indiscretion or a politically incorrect remark. That’s because they’re easy to ignore. The working classes don’t have well-funded NGOs or a rotating cast of spokespeople to offer commentary and context. Where workers might once have looked to the unions for a voice, they now serve to police the spectrum of acceptable opinion. When Mick Lynch says “no person is illegal” he is taking the side of those in the British business community who equate immigration — all and any immigration — as a wages’ cost depressant and therefore welcome. 

There may well have been individuals who have far-Right views or affiliations at this protest, as there may have been (for all we know) on the picket lines or blockading ambulances in recent months. But there is as yet no evidence that there were. There is a good chance the majority of the protestors were Labour voters. 

The difference in how Knowsley has been covered compared with “progressive” protests is brutally stark. On 7 June 2020, Sky News reported on Black Lives Matter protesters who (like the Knowsley protestors) attacked police in central London. To footage of officers retreating under assault, the report began:

They are the images organisers of this protest had desperately hoped to avoid. But for a second night, police officers under attack from an angry crowd around Whitehall. Running for cover as protestors threw bottles and other objects at them … This will be disappointing for the many thousands of peaceful demonstrators who turned up outside the US embassy earlier in the day … Two weeks after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, the passion and sense of injustice is still profound

Here’s how Sky reported on Knowsley: 

Last weekend a far-Right group delivered leaflets in this area, and posted a video claiming people are outraged migrants are living here. Unverified footage on social media appearing to show a migrant talking to a 15-year-old girl sparked anger locally. The police are investigating but have warned of rumour and misinformation. I’ve just been speaking to two local women who didn’t want to go on camera but say they were at the original peaceful demonstration. They say they came here because they are concerned about approaches migrants have made to children in the area. When I asked them if they had any evidence that had actually happened, they said they’d seen comments on social media … The MP for Knowsley believes the anger here had been fuelled by misinformation.

Clare Moseley (yes, her again) is then brought before the camera to say “If people don’t want asylum seekers in hotels, they need to tell the government to process their claims faster and let them work.”  

One event is reported as an extension of righteous indignation, and the other as a sordid affair sparked by misinformation, and by extension — the misinformed. The locals are denied a voice — but Care 4 Calais is given space to explain.  

These descriptions could be entirely reversed. The BLM riots could be said to have been based on claims about racism that lack evidence. That misinformation about policing and racialised outcomes in the UK had fuelled violence on our streets. That far-Left and Communist groups had distributed leaflets and placards in the area to incite a mob. 

And it could well be said the Knowsley protest was fuelled by a sense of injustice. The injustice embodied in these hotels standing as towering monoliths to inequality. That billions are spent accommodating illegal migrants in the middle of a housing crisis. That pensioners who gave for their entire lives are hiding under blankets in front of gas fires, scrimping and scraping to manage to both heat and eat. Why should this injustice be felt less keenly than the killing of a man across an ocean?

As ever the elite are insulated from the consequences of their own actions. The migrant hotels are booked out in the very poorest, often Brexit-voting areas. Knowsley is the second most deprived borough in England, suffering severe problems of unemployment, ill health, and child poverty. The council was given less than 48 hours notice of the Home Office’s intention to house asylum seekers in the area, and neither the council nor local residents were consulted or given any say in the matter. 

However you wish to label them, the ugly scenes had had nothing to do with Suella Braverman’s comments. They weren’t even, really, the result of what Sky News says are “unverified videos claiming to show a migrant talking with a girl”. That was just the spark that set this tinderbox ablaze. The migrant hotel policy is a disaster. 

The only surprise about the Knowsley protest is that it didn’t happen sooner. As of August last year, households in Britain received over 100,000 Ukrainians with open arms. As of November 76,000, Hong Kongers had arrived, without so much as a peep. But it appears what they will not accept, is unreconstructed abuse of the system, and of their hospitality. When someone solicits a human trafficker to illegally ferry them into the country, intentionally discards their documents to exploit human rights laws you are dealing with illegality, not vulnerability. 

As the progressive Left are fond of telling us in relation to crime, to understand is not to condone. One doesn’t and absolutely shouldn’t condone Friday’s violence, but it is imperative that we understand why it happened, and why, if we do nothing, it may happen again. 

Equally, we should appreciate that regrettable and deplorable manifestations of discontent do not delegitimise the discontent itself. Public anger is not just a phenomenon to be managed, but an urgent warning to be heeded. 

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