Joanna Williams

What the increase in hate crime really tells us about post-Brexit Britain

What the increase in hate crime really tells us about post-Brexit Britain
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It’s official: there is 41 per cent more hatred in Britain now than there was before the vote to quit the EU. Home Office statistics out this week reveal the torrent of religious and racist fury that was unleashed on June 23rd. Only a reversal of the democratic will of the people can possibly save us now.

Really? We all need to calm down. The recently invented and chillingly Orwellian concept of ‘hate crime’ tells us absolutely nothing about the state of the post-referendum, pre-Brexit nation.

Hate crime is defined as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic.’ In other words, hate crime statistics are a record of hurt feelings. Hate crime is not found in the act of violence or damage to property. Rather, hate crime is the intention. It’s found in the mind.

Once, the punishment for impure thoughts was a round of Hail Marys and a dozen Our Fathers. Absolution required confession; you knew you had sinned. Hate crime might be a sin of bad intent, but it doesn’t have to be located in the mind of the perpetrator. It’s the mind of the victim that counts: if they suspect they were targeted because of their race, religion, sexuality or gender identity, then a hate crime has been committed.

It’s not just victims of hate crime who are now apparently blessed with mind reading powers: anyone who sees or hears about what happened, long after the incident occurred, can take offence on their behalf and declare a hate crime to have been committed. First and foremost it’s police who hear about crimes and they can apply the ‘hate’ label, and with it a greater chance of conviction, regardless of the intention of the perpetrator or the wishes of the victim. And each crime can include more than one offence; the villain may have had bad thoughts about race, religion and sexuality all going on at the same time.

In this topsy-turvy world of prosecution for impure thoughts, reporting an increase in hate crime increases hate crime. More people are made aware that such a crime exists. Hate is measured and tracked against the occurrence of major national and international events, such as the Charlie Hebdo massacres and the Paris bombings. We are now told to expect an upsurge in hate crime after any such event – and sure enough, that is what happens.

The EU referendum hadn’t even happened before it was linked to an increase in hate crime. Police were ordered to switch from compiling monthly hate crime statistics to sending in weekly reports. Heightened awareness kept everyone fully primed to expect more hatred and this greater sensitivity, in turn, triggered more reporting.

So, the increase in hate crime might not mean Britain is more hateful after all. In fact, it could easily mean the exact opposite: we’re all more sensitive now, more aware of racism and homophobia and less ready to tolerate prejudice. There’s not more hate – simply more awareness and more readiness to report suspicions.

For the past few months we’ve been panicking over racism that has supposedly been legitimised by the referendum campaign. But what is truly vile are the keyboard warriors who have taken the moral high ground to declare Leave voters ignorant, racist, antediluvian scum. The 41 per cent jump in post-referendum hate reflects nothing more than their darkest fantasies.