Last weekend, Grantham, our largest town, was in the news twice…and for all the wrong reasons.
First came the shocking images of the National Front march through Grantham on Saturday, which made the national newspapers.
Estimates vary of the number of alt-right supporters there – and some claimed that many were not local.
But their rally was met by a counter-demonstration by Unite Against Fascism, and violence flared. Police managed to regain control and two people were arrested, but there was significant disruption to High Street traffic, and shoppers were warned to hide in shops for their own safety.
This story leaves many questions. Certainly, we saw an EDL rally in Boston last year, but I have never personally felt any racial animosity in Grantham and my experience of voters, shop assistants, shoppers and other people I’ve met has only been one of friendliness. And this is confirmed by many of the Eastern European residents I’ve spoken to.
So who were these people? Is the timing of the rally – just after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia – a coincidence, or does the baffling presence of a US Confederate flag amongst the NF supporters answer that question?
But more than that, to what extent has the xenophobia of Farage, Hopkins, UKIP and many in the Conservatives in the Brexit debate made fascist views acceptable, and therefore this kind of event more likely to happen? I hope not.
The second incident in the news happened just before the weekend, but was actually even more sad.
Last week, young volunteers from the National Citizen Service gave up a week of their school holidays to create a ‘forest school’ in Wyndham Park. By all accounts, it was a lovely garden area for families to explore, complete with flowers, logs, stepping stones and fencing.
The Mayor of Grantham officially opened the garden on Thursday. Just 12 hours later, it had been vandalised and destroyed…plants uprooted, fences torn down, fires lit and litter strewn around.
These fantastic teenagers were devastated that all their hard work had been lost, and, despite the programme having now finished, many were planning to try to come back over the weekend to help with the clear-up and restoration.
Why did this happen? Is this just about kids feeling bored (although the attack happened in the night, which suggests the perpetrators weren’t that young)? Or is it to do with people feeling alienated from our society, so lashing out with mindless, anti-social behaviour? And are these the same people who are drawn to alt-right groups?
Since last summer, we have faced an unprecedented assault on our society’s values. When public figures – both here and in the US – do not denounce alt-right attitudes, those attitudes become accepted. When politicians choose to ignore the damage being done to the fabric of our society by their policies, we all pay the price.
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate