As the Labour Party’s spokesperson on Culture and Education in Europe, as MEP for NW England and as President of Greater Manchester Stand Up to Racism, I am very concerned about the threat of far-right Islamophobic group, the Football Lads Alliance who are planning to march in Manchester on Saturday May 19th with a rally outside the Football Museum.
The FLA is clearly using the popular appeal of sport to promote a racist agenda. Their insidious campaign against elected BAME Labour members, particularly Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and Diane Abbot, the Shadow Home Secretary, reveals the true nature of the organisation. Far from being genuine football fans the FLA encourage racist and mysogynistic abuse through a private Facebook page that incites violence. Their invitation to far-right ex UKIP leadership candidate Anne-Marie Waters to speak at their recent Birmingham rally demonstrates a dangerous political agenda.
Following the murder of Labour MP and refugee activist Jo Cox by the far-right extremist Thomas Mair a week before the U.K. referendum in 2016, we have seen a continuing increase in hate incidents both on our streets and online. Groups such as the Football Lads Alliance seek to create divisions within our society, exploiting fears whipped up by the Conservative government’s anti-immigration rhetoric.
I am honoured to represent Manchester which is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. We are proud of our diverse communities and the common bonds between people of different faiths and ethnicities. We have welcomed migrants and refugees for centuries and recognise the important contribution they make to our society. Mancunians work hard and play hard. We love our music and our football and we despise organisations such as the FLA who seek to exploit the personal tragedies of those caught up in violent attacks. The timing of the FLA march on May 19, shortly before the anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack, demonstrates their true intent. Whether you support United or Man City this is one issue where we need to come together and stand firmly against racism and Islamophobia. We are one, we love Manchester. Refugees and migrants are welcome. Racists and fascists are most definitely not!