The comments from Leeds East MP Richard Burgon came as his party announced a series of events dubbed “Labour Roots”, in which senior shadow cabinet members, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, are set to visit Leeds and other cities across the UK in the coming weeks.
The Leeds event will see three large discussions with local people take place across the city, including one in Harehills on racism and combating the far right, with Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott among those taking part.
Burgon, who is also shadow Justice Secretary, said: “I think it’s really important that an anti-racist event takes place in a community that is at the sharp end of racism and the threat of the far right.
“This is why we feel it is really important to locate that event in the heart of one of Leeds’s most diverse communities.
“When I speak to people in Harehills, they feel that Leeds is a good, friendly and welcoming place. But the far right are obviously scapegoating and targeting that community.
“A lot of the rhetoric nationally is aimed at those communities – they are at the sharp end of the unwelcome political climate that is developing at the moment in relation to racism, the far right and even fascist politics.”
“We haven’t seen the far right in such a strong political position since the BNP [British National Party] about 10 years ago. It is a global and Europe-wide phenomenon.
“The nature of the event is that people at the event form the discussion – we are not just going to tell people what our views are – that is why it is located in the area that it is – so that people can tell us about their experiences, thoughts and ideas on how to tackle the threat of racism and the far right.”
Anti-racism campaigner Dr Katy Sian, who also helped set up the Leeds event, added: “We are seeing a sharp increase in hate crime which is always fed by a wider political rhetoric which is fed by trump – we have seen this in Brazil and in Euorpe, so we can’t really deny or put our heads in the clouds and act like this isn’t an issue, when it certainly is an issue.
“Instability right now sees sensationalism around issues like migrants and blaming the scapegoat which is what we see time and time again when we are in uncertain times.
“We have hopefully learned lessons from the 1970s when we saw fascists occupying the streets, and I guess we see it as a worry because we don’t want to be in that position again – we want a counter-narrative to that.”
Labour Roots will take place on June 1, where the three meetings will run simultaneously at 2pm.
In Harehills, Labour’s shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott and Mr Burgon will be speaking alongside activists about racism and how to take on the far right.
In central Leeds, Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner will talk about plans for a so-called “green industrial revolution”.
In Pudsey, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner will be talking discussing “attacks on our public services” with campaign groups and local people.
A rally, including musical acts, will take place in Leeds city centre later that evening.
Dr Sian added: “We are the ones who go out and really listen to the public.
“We know how this goes on to inform different policy areas – it’s a collaborative and grass-roots movement.”
So what else are they expecting to talk about?
Dr Sian said: “Because the national picture has been so occupied by Brexit, we are reaching out for local issues which are affecting local communities right now which may have been distracted in the wider picture.
“We will be going places where there are real issues and voices of communities.”
On Brexit, Mr Burgon added: “In all three events, I am sure the issue of our relationship with Europe will come up, and quite right too.
“We also need to look at how we avoid Brexit being used as an opportunity for hard-liners to do free trade deals with America and Trump that relate to opening up to our NHS to multinational corporations.
“We are not avoiding the discussions, I suppose the point we are making is that, while Brexit is a huge challenge facing the government and the country, it is not the only thing that has been raised on the doorstep.”