Parliamentary hopefuls for Hackney North and Stoke Newington have condemned “Nazi” heckles directed at the Brexit Party candidate at a hustings last week.
An audience member at the event, hosted by Extinction Rebellion at Stoke Newington’s Mildmay Club, shouted ‘You’re still a Nazi’ at Richard Ings during his closing remarks.
Ings had frequently bucked the trend during the hustings, taking opposing stances to all other candidates by saying he was against the use of the term climate emergency and in favour of a third runway at Heathrow.
He said of the remark: “I suspect it was someone’s idea of a joke, not necessarily meant seriously, and while I do take these easily-made insults with the thick skin you need to have in politics, it does express an alarming trend in modern politics to use the easy, inaccurate, but powerful put-down to try to silence a political opponent rather than engage with the ideas.”
He added: “This simplistic shortcut is a way of delegitimising a point of view and making it unnecessary for the opponent to try and take the argument on.”
Ings, who as a student in the late 1980s and early 1990s volunteered with East London-founded Workers Against Racism, joked in his opening remarks at the hustings: “My job tonight is to prove I’m not a Nazi.”
He said the use of such terms against Brexit Party candidates on the campaign trail had become a “national phenomenon”, adding: “It’s unusual if it doesn’t happen.
“Most of the people just laugh and shrug it off because they know that they’re not, and there’s abundant evidence from the sort of people that take part, the large number of BAME people who are involved in the organisation, that it’s a fairly ludicrous slur.”
Other candidates who took part in the hustings also criticised the heckler’s use of the word ‘Nazi’.
Conservative Ben Obese-Jecty said: “The use of such extreme and derogatory remarks in a public forum, particularly in light of the recent requests to use more moderate language in the discussion of different political opinions, is indicative of the type of abuse that increasing numbers of people feel empowered to use and has no place in our politics irrespective of your party affiliation.
“Though an isolated incident during the event, unfortunately the young man in question was following the example set earlier this year by David Lammy.”
In April this year Lammy, the incumbent MP for Tottenham, doubled down on his comparison of the members of the eurosceptic Conservative European Research Group (ERG) to Nazis and proponents of apartheid, saying making such comparisons “wasn’t strong enough”.
Green Party candidate Alex Armitage said: “We must think carefully about the language we use in public discourse. More than one in 10 people in our constituency are of Jewish heritage.
“The Holocaust happened within living memory and we shouldn’t use terms like Nazi without considering people’s experience.”
Ings added: “I think it’s historically illiterate to start throwing around words like Nazi or fascist when they have a particular historical use and context. Being a member of the National Socialist Party in Germany in the 1930s with their various policies and outlook is very specific to that time.”
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who is not standing as an MP at the general election, has been criticised in the past for attending events organised by the right-wing German party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which wants to see teaching on the Third Reich stripped back in German schools.
Ings said: “Specifically with Nigel Farage, personally I’ve absolutely no doubt that he is not a racist, certainly not a Nazi or a fascist or any of those sorts of terms.
“Obviously he has campaigned to limit immigration, which is not necessarily a racist point of view, I don’t think, and it’s often shared by other mainstream parties – Labour has had a very similar position in the past.
“Personally I’m quite for open borders as it goes, that’s my personal position, but the trouble is that that has to be democratically decided.”
He added: “I really think that it is quite juvenile in some respects to try and impose things that have happened in the past on the present and assume that explains what’s going on and that takes away any kind of specificity about what is going on now.
“It’s ludicrous – I’m sure you know what the Nazis’ policies were. I would challenge anyone to find one that is exactly the same as anything the Brexit Party has said.”