Britain is in the grip of an epidemic, apparently. An epidemic of hate. New figures, compiled by the Press Association, suggest that hate crimes soared to 'record levels' in the three months following the EU referendum. Only four police forces around the country recorded a decrease in hate crimes; the others saw a spike. And in the case of three forces - the Metropolitan, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire - the spike was significant: these forces recorded more than 1,000 hate crimes each post-referendum.
This is being held up as evidence that prejudices and madness were unleashed by Brexit. In truth, the hate-crime spike looks more like a classic crime panic, a constructed 'crisis'. The rise in reported hate crimes is likely down to the fact that various officials actively trawled for evidence of hate post-Brexit, imploring people to phone police hotlines, and to the fact that almost anything can be recorded as a hate crime these days, even if there's no evidence for it. We're witnessing the invention of a crime epidemic to the cynical, political end of defaming Brexit as hateful and dangerous.
If you feel like this epidemic of hate doesn’t tally with your experience of life in Blighty in 2016, you aren’t alone. There is a great disparity between the handwringing over hate crime and what Britain is actually like. The open racism even I can remember in the 1980s has all but vanished. Racist chants at football matches are a distant memory. Hard-right, foreigner-bashing parties may be thriving on the Continent, but they are dying over here. The likes of the BNP and EDL have withered due to lack of interest. This is a British triumph.
It’s not vainglorious to say that Britain is the most tolerant country in Europe, perhaps the world. In France, for instance, a national news-making hate incident is the attempted burning down of a mosque, which happened last month in Toulouse. In Britain, it is somebody shouting something nasty on a bus.
It’s almost impossible to argue reasonably that Britain is a bigoted country where ethnic minorities are somehow kept down. On the contrary, they are now more likely than whites to hold top jobs (doctors, lawyers, chief executives). More than a million Londoners voted for Sadiq Khan in May, giving him the largest direct mandate enjoyed by any individual in British history — not bad for the capital of a nation in which, according to Lady Warsi, it has become ‘socially acceptable’ to despise Muslims.
Yes, the statistics are scary, and nobody should downplay the hurt caused to those who are attacked and abused. The number of hate crimes recorded by the cops has grown year by year. Six years ago, there were 42,255; in 2014-15, there were 52,528.
But these figures need to be taken with a fistful of salt. There is something wrong with the way we report and measure hate crimes in this country. The numbers do not necessarily speak to any objective spread of hate in modern Britain. On the contrary, what the BBC calls an ‘epidemic’ is a product of the authorities redefining racism and prejudice to such an extent that almost any unpleasant encounter between people of different backgrounds can now be recorded as ‘hatred’.
Consider the Brexit aftermath. The police say that 14,000 hate crimes were recorded between July and September. But can we engage in some scepticism here? Many of these incidents are likely to have been reported through True Vision, a police-funded website that allows anyone anywhere to report something they either experienced or witnessed, anonymously if they like. No evidence is needed. Everything is instantly logged as a hate incident. This inevitably presents a warped view of reality.
Already, two infamous post-Brexit ‘incidents’ have been debunked. It was widely claimed, for instance, that an attack on a tapas bar in Lewisham, south London, was a hate crime; actually, police say it was a burglary. A photo of four boneheads in Newcastle holding a banner saying ‘Stop Immigration, Start Repatriation’ was widely shared as evidence of xenophobia. But Geordies have pointed out that those idiots have been holding up that banner every weekend for ages, long before Brexit.
Beyond the post-Brexit hysteria, it’s incredible how subjective the idea of ‘hate crime’ has become. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service first agreed a common definition of hate crime ten years ago and started measuring national hate-crime levels in 2008. A hate crime, the police say, is ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic’. They monitored ‘five strands’: crimes driven by prejudice based on race, religion/faith, sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity.
The police’s ‘Hate Crime Operational Guidance’ now stresses that the victim’s perception is the deciding factor in whether something is measured as a hate crime. No evidence is required. ‘Evidence of… hostility is not required for an incident or crime to be recorded as a hate crime or hate incident,’ the guidance says. ‘[The] perception of the victim, or any other person, is the defining factor… the victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief, and police officers or staff should not directly challenge this perception.’ So you don’t need actual evidence to prove hate crime, just a feeling. The police are discouraged from asking for evidence. This is reflected in the policies of individual constabularies. So the ‘Hate Crime Procedure’ of the Surrey Police says ‘apparent lack of motivation as the cause of an incident is not relevant as it is the perception of the victim or any other person that counts’. No clear hateful motivation? Doesn’t matter. Record it as a hate crime anyway. Indeed, even when nothing hateful was said to the victim of a crime, still the police must record the incident as a hate crime if the victim perceives it to be so. The police guidance gives the example of a gay man being ‘sworn at and threatened’ by an assailant who said absolutely ‘nothing… about his sexual orientation’. If this gay man ‘perceives that he was targeted [because] he is openly gay’ then the police must ‘record this as a hate crime based on sexual orientation’. Think about this. If any gay man is shouted at in the street, by anyone, about anything, with no mention of sexuality, that can be recorded as an anti-gay hate crime. There’s no need for any proof whatsoever that anything anti-gay in sentiment was said or even intimated.
The unhinged subjectivity of the hate-crime definition becomes even clearer on the issue of what is called ‘secondary victimisation’. This is when a victim of an alleged hate crime feels that the police are not being sensitive enough and thus compound the ‘hate’ he or she has experienced. The police guidance says ‘secondary victimisation is based on victim perception, rather than what actually happens. It is immaterial whether it is reasonable or not for the victim to feel that way’. Again, this sanctification of perception over ‘what actually happens’ has trickled down into hate-crime policies of local constabularies. So the ‘Hate Crime Policy and Procedure’ of Greater Manchester Police says that if a hate-crime victim feels indifference from the police, this ‘victimises them a second time’ and ‘whether or not it is reasonable for them to perceive it that way is immaterial’. Truth, then, is ‘immaterial’.
In a world obsessed with evidence-based public policy, it is odd that a new crime category which explicitly eschews evidence in favour of emotion is subjected to such little scrutiny. And it gets worse: the prosecution of a hate crime doesn’t actually have to prove that hatred was the motivation. The CPS states: ‘The prosecution does not… need to prove hatred as the motivating factor behind an offence.’ The CPS says any crime that involves ‘ill-will, ill-feeling, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment, or dislike’ on the basis of a ‘personal characteristic’ could be a hate crime. So unfriendliness can now be criminal. Next time you read about a hate-crime epidemic, bear that in mind.
Burglaries and robberies are often recorded as hate crimes. According to the Home Office, of all the hate incidents in the Crime Survey for England and Wales, 8 per cent are burglaries. And 1 per cent is bicycle theft. A racially motivated bike theft? You might think stealing is just about stealing, but if the victim thinks his stuff was nicked because he’s foreign, gay or trans, then it is recorded as hate crime.
The ‘Hate Crime Operational Guidance’ demands ‘increasing the reporting and recording of hate crime’. It specifies that success should not be measured by a reduction in hate-crime levels, perhaps because this will give people the impression that community life in Britain is getting better, and we can’t have that. ‘Targets that see success as reducing hate crime are not appropriate,’ it says, as this won’t ‘motivate managers’ to ‘promote positive recording’ or ‘increase the opportunity for victims to report’. So ‘success’ has one meaning only: creating evidence to suggest the problem is getting worse. The police are incentivised to find hatred, because their goal isn’t to tackle crime so much as to create a public impression of mass hatred.
Why are our authorities so willing to push this deceptive agenda? Why is our country determined to see itself as bigoted? It’s because creating a panic about hate crime gives officials and others a sense of purpose and history. But the squalid search for, and exaggeration of, hatred is dangerous and, to use a word so popular on social media, divisive. It is a slur on the white working classes to claim that what they think and say — on immigration, Europe, life in general — is racist. Such a perception convinces minorities that they should live in fear. It spreads anxiety and silences discussion. It rips Britain apart.
According to one leftie online magazine, Britain now evokes ‘nightmares of 1930s Germany’. But this doesn’t square with the reality of our country today, and you shouldn’t believe it. The hate-crime epidemic is a self-sustaining myth — a libel against the nation.
This is an updated version of Brendan O'Neill's Spectator cover piece, which appeared in the magazine last August