Why the Immigration Debate is a Joke, and why Labour has to Conquer it

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Possibly one of the most controversial topics in Politics today (and in my opinion, by far the most interesting), the immigration debate has left mainstream parties in a degree of disarray of how best to tackle such an issue. The Lib Dems hold on to their usual notions of unabashed Liberalism by relentlessly pointing to the benefits of immigration, and playing the racist card to anyone who disagrees. The Conservatives leap on the opportunity for some votes by condemning the admittedly tarnished record of New Labour on the issue, and trump bringing migration back to “tens of thousands” so that all problems relating to it will mysteriously vanish, and London will become a flourishing 95% White British community once again. Let’s re-open the docks, hoorah!

Labour… Well. Labour are currently undergoing a policy review, but at present their motto tends to revolve around “understanding” how communities (particularly working class) feel over the issue, whilst avoiding peddling any policy ideas for fear of reprimand (except Maurice Glasman, who was unsurprisingly reprimanded after he went a little too far as to acknowledge the idea of a complete halt to immigration). And on top of all this mess, parties like the British National Party (who seem to have been temporarily replaced by the English Defence League) leech onto themes of Populism and Nationalism, courtesy of wondrous newspapers such as The Sun and The Daily Mail.

As you can see, the current state of the immigration debate is not exactly favorable. And it comes as no surprise when the debate has been dominated by an increasing polarization of views, with one side arguing that all the problems with immigration are mostly mythical, and that it has brought untold cultural and economic benefits, and the other side arguing that immigration has been a total disaster and must be drastically scaled back / halted to save our beloved British identity (and economy).

“Migrants boost the economy, provide vital services, raise academic standards and enrich our food. Let’s talk about that.”

Mehdi Hasan

So rather naively, I took an external module in Immigration last year thinking that after completing and preferably passing it I would be transformed into a policy guru with the definitive answer to the immigration debate, probably along the lines of 42 (most should understand this reference, see Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy for details). Unfortunately this plan didn’t exactly materialize, and I was left dazed and further confused by just how complicated a topic it was. With problems like the Economy I can just get lost in a world of Math and fiscal prudence courtesy of Keynes and Hayek, but unfortunately with the immigration debate it has an overriding of theme of culture and that mushy realm of “feelings”.

It’s taken a while to adjust these difficult-to-measure concerns to my mindset, but for the most part I think I have had a degree of success. And it has become very apparent to me that Labour must grab the bull by the horns and conquer the debate. The economy has for now taken precedence, so they’ve got a little time to get their heads round this intricate topic, and with their never-ending policy review that has effectively isolated them from the headlines apart from the occasional “slow down the cuts”, they should take this opportunity to have a full and open discussion on the immigration issue.

“The leader of the Luton council of mosques who is in charge of 19 mosques in our town called for Shariah Law for the Islamic community in our town. That frightens me.”

Tommy Robinson (AKA Steven Lennon)
Founder of The English Defence League

Now when I say conquer it, I don’t mean so that they can give the Tories a darn good thrashing at the next General Election (I’m not a believer in miracles). What I mean is they are the party that has to conquer the issue for the good of the country – at the risk of sounding like a politician myself. It wasn’t in the quiet leafy suburbs of Conservative safe seats that the British National Party began to rise up on the Nationalist bandwagon and tap into public discontent over immigration. And it wasn’t on the lavishly paved streets of Mayfair (Reference – Monopoly) that the English Defense League clashed rather violently with opposition movements such as Unite Against Fascism over “Extreme Islamism”. It was in working class constituencies like Barking & Dagenham, or on the streets of multicultural Luton that these voices began to make a name for themselves.

Of course the usual polarization of views ensued where they were labeled either racist thugs or the silent majority, and all notion of a sensible debate went straight out the window at the starting line.

But I digress, the point I am trying to make is that the debate has a considerably damaging effect on Labour. It is in their seats that such Nationalism tends to take hold, with concerns over housing and jobs adding fuel to the ever rising fire of anti-immigration rhetoric within such constituencies.

One only has to glance at the excellent channel 4 documentary “The Battle for Barking” to see how immigration rippled through the political landscape in certain constituencies to completely dominate the election focus. Throw in some New Labour disillusionment for good measure and all of a sudden you’ve got Nick Griffin standing for the seat. In my overly optimistic state I would like to believe that most parties would rather have Labour win a constituency than the British National Party, and thankfully Margaret Hodge came through trumps with 24,628 votes to Nick Griffins’ 6,620.

However I would not be so overly optimistic as to use this as some sort of definitive proof that the immigration debate has been settled, and that Labour had somehow won it. Quite the opposite, Margaret Hodge spent most of her time apologizing for Labour’s record on the issue, whilst trying desperately to brandish Nick Griffin as an anti-Semitic racist that does not belong in Barking & Dagenham. This approach seemed successful to a degree, but it is simply not enough that Labour rests on the notion that “people aren’t racist to the point that they would vote for the British National Party”.

 

With such political disturbances dominating traditional Labour seats, it is essential that Ed Miliband tackles the issue head on, rather than tip toeing around the issue and hoping the public simply forget about how hot a topic it was during the entire New Labour government. Discussions should not be held to ransom by extremist groups under the fear that any policy changes on immigration could be viewed as simply concessions to such opinion. Labour does not have to prove its opposition to such Populist Nationalism by blindly refusing to move on its policy.

They should instead consider the fact that perhaps immigration isn’t all clear skies and 42 carat gold linings, and that there are issues to tackle that are at present leading to the rise of dangerously anti-immigration (or even anti-immigrant) rhetoric. That doesn’t have to come in the form of a blanket ban on all immigration, but they must dig deep enough to truly open the board game and find policies that deal with the very cruxes of the issue, from crime to community spirit and back again. The decline of the British National Party in the past year and the rise of the English Defence League shows that this is more than a debate on numbers; it’s about addressing culture and the British Identity.

To throw my hat in the ring, I’d consider drastically ramping up the role of community leaders seeing as everyone’s having a field day with new Localism agendas at the moment. The political gaze also needs to place a greater focus on run down communities in cities across the country that have become spikes of unemployment, with a housing situation that has become fairly dire.

Along with new local based ideas Labour also needs to go international with policy, and test the political waters across Europe for measures to try and reduce the possibilities of any spikes in immigration akin to 2004, along with measures to reduce overall flows such as fair wage pacts. Not only this but dare I say we should question the suitability of the Schengen agreement, which currently places no limit on flows between two set countries in Europe? I might even voice some support for the immigration cap whilst I’m at it, just to stir things up.

It’s a rather rag tag set of ideas, but I’m not the one who needs to develop these concepts. It is in the recesses of Labour’s various policy reviews that such ideas must be spread, so that they can learn from their mistakes and win back those who have been captured by the trumpets of anti-immigration Nationalism that resides up and down the country. I am of the opinion that a large number of such people are not in fact racist, but have been leapt upon by misleading rhetoric that has played to the issues they witness in their day to day lives. And for Labour to conquer the immigration debate, they have to address these problems, fusing all cultural, social and economic concerns into one neat policy agenda that restores faith in their ability.

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Discussion7 Comments

  1. avatar

    I’m aware this isn’t really the point of your article (which was a good read), but people need to watch the video below.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APAPqT3QdFU

    Mehdi Hasan is a moron. If a white person had said the equivalent of what he says in that video they’d be deemed a bigot, and rightly so.

    Ben Fowler
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    Whilst I appreciate some of the arguments Mehdi Hasan makes, he is typical of one of the two extreme opinions that characterises the immigration debate. This Observer article sums it up: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/16/david-cameron-immigration-economy

    Luke SF Goodger
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    The number of times i have watched Mehdi spurt out his views (which tend to differ each time) on all sorts of mainstream media and on all topics is tiring. The fact that we (and the Muslim community) accept him as a representative of his religion does nobody any service- he should be ignored as a hater if ever there was one.

  2. avatar

    so basically your article says

    “Immigration is a hot topic” in about 5 different ways and then you dribble a tiny policy suggestion on Schengen. Which the UK DOES NOT sign up to?

    How did you pass your immigration module?

    Ben Fowler
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    Pretty unnecessary way to make a criticism mate, but I’ll give it a response nonetheless.

    Im not saying its a hot topic, im saying its a completely polarised topic that has made things worse. Its a basic point, and yet I am amazed day by day by how many people fundamentally fail to grasp this point. So I thought i’d make this point.

    Dont really see how what I said about its relevance to Labour is simply saying its a “hot topic”. I think Labour have a very important role to play in shaping the debate, because of where parties like the BNP tend to spring up electorally. Labour have had a habit of dodging the issue, and I am voicing my support for them to “get tougher” as some would put it (even though again that misunderstands the immigration debate). The topic has moved to the sidelines a little while the economy has taken over, so im concerned the party will simply push a few new minor ideas but otherwise ignore the issue.

    Pretty sure thats also not the only suggestion I made, but as I stated rather clearly the point of this article was not to self-indulge on a wish list of immigration policy reforms. Because I dont have all the answers. But what I do believe, is how important a topic it is for Labour out of all the policy areas. In relation to the Schengen agreement I apologize I am referring to the free movement of people in and out of the UK, although I assume you would have realised that. The issue raised is still largely the same.

    Feel free to reply again, assuming you know how to speak to someone without just trying to offend them as much as you possibly can in the shortest amount of words. (I got a 2:1 in the immigration module for the record)

    Stranger
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    I think you said the word point three times in the first paragraph, I think you made your point about making a point.

    People’s fear of immigration are rooted in economic uncertainty and the public spending cuts, not race. So I doubt the discussion has moved to the sidelines, just look at the Theresa May debacle today.

    However the main thrust of my original post was to highlight that you have written a verbose article. The point of which is to say… “Hey labour say something” but fails to offer any critique as to why they may choose not too.

    Congrats on your 2:1

    Ben Fowler
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    Thank you for the response (genuinly, an article is incredibly dull without comments that agree / disagree, half my time spent reading articles is also spent reading comment sections :P).

    I’d have to say I disagree about people’s fears of immigration simply being rooted in economic uncertainty and public spending cuts. Whilst it does play a part, I’d say culture has a very important role too, and when the ethnic make up of a community changes rapidly, or new ethnic pockets develop quickly then this can become stir up racial tensions within such communities (particularly between different races, and im not just talking white vs black). These tensions may arise from other problems (like you say, economic uncertainty, but also crime, housing etc) but nethertheless race is thrown into the mix up. And i’d say that in the news for the most part the spending cuts are far more focused on the deficit, and I rarely hear immigration being mixed up with it. Apart from the Theresa May debacle today, I’d say its still for the most part been away from the headlines.

    I’d say for a politics article on the Wessex Scene, its perfectly legitimate to say “Hey Labour say something”, although its more “Labour, do something”. And you mean in terms of why they may choose not to change their policy? Assuming i’ve interpreted that correctly, im concerned that for reasons highlighted about immigration just not leading the political debates like it did before, they may not choose to change their policies because they may not feel they need to. And the importance of why they must, is because quite frankly many of the concerns stemming from immigration are perfectly legitimate, and if Labour are to stand up for particularly the working class then in my opinion they should be doing something. That in itself is my critique of Labour choosing to do nothing, because with threats from the EDL etc its essential they do something about it. Although I feel I may have misinterpreted what you were saying tbh so im not sure if that addresses your point.

    Ben

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