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Protests in Calais: valuing human complexity in crisis

Thoughts on the UK media's representation of the refugee crisis, from a day of action and protest in Calais on Saturday 19th September. In the midst of political maelstrom, migrants are fighting for their humanity along with their rights. 

7 myths about immigration

On the face of it, our many misconceptions about immigration form a very depressing picture. Yet more accurate information can shift public opinion in a more positive direction.

A green and pleasant land? The trauma of the British asylum system

The system of asylum in the UK pushes mental fortitude to its limits. 

Diagnosing the daily poison

We must see the tabloid right as a target in the battle for a better society.

Immigration and the politics of resentment

Shamser Sinha (London South Bank University): The traditional response from the centre and centre-left to immigration since Roy Jenkins was Home Minister through to New Labour is (1) to accept that migration can be a good thing but that (2) we need to limit it so that, race relations or more contemporaneously social cohesion, can be maintained. Both Sunder Katwala and Paul Kingsnorth agree with this despite their differences on language use. Today, this politics is prominent with Phil Woolas, Minister for Immigration, recently warning that 'It's been too easy to get into this country in the past and its going to get harder', whilst Trevor Phillips adds that immigration has fuelled 'resentments that are real and should not be dismissed - resentments felt by white, black and Asian'. However, the truth is that, if you're not an EU citizen, it's extremely hard to get into this country and that Phillips's 'real' resentments are caused more by a politics that turns human against human than by the realities of net immigration to the UK.

The ugly economics of immigration

Paul Kingsnorth (Oxford, author): In a recent, and very interesting, post here on OK, in which he dissects Enoch Powell’s views on ‘cultural essentialism’, Sunder Katwala of the Fabian Society first agrees with me and then takes me to task about a recent blog post in which I addressed the impact of mass immigration on population pressure in the UK.

Here’s what Sunder wrote

The impact of immigration is back in Britain's headlines. The new Minister Phil Woolas taking a good deal of flak for talking about the need to restrict immigration in a downturn. Woolas may have got the tone wrong, but a recession will surely affect immigration flows and government policy too. Picking up on this, the writer Paul Kingsnorth, a progressive critic of globalisation, challenges the idea that the correct left-liberal position is "open borders". He is right. Social democrats take a liberal position on cultural diversity, but need to manage migration so that it does not exacerbate inequalities. We need a politics of solidarity to protect standards and avoid exploitation at the bottom. However Kingsnorth's quest for a progressive Englishness could be fatally undermined by his ugly language of "shipping in millions of cheap foreigners ripe for exploitation in order to keep the markets happy". The language of swamping continues to derail a rational migration debate. 

EU threat to e-borders

Tom Griffin (London, OK): The Government is determined to press ahead with its e-borders plan to count travellers in an out of the UK, despite running into problems with the European Union, The Guardian reports this morning.

A draft European agreement would allow the collection of 'Passenger Name Records' (PNR) data, but only for the purpose of fighting terrorism and organised crime.

UK in denial over half million illegal migrants

Alasdair Murray and Jonny Medland (London, CentreForum): CentreForum this week published a pamphlet which laments the lack of debate about measures to combat illegal migration in the UK. Authors Demetrios Papademetriou and Will Somerville of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute argue that, in comparison with other developed countries, the UK appears stuck in a state of denial about the scale and intractability of the problem. They propose a carefully crafted earned amnesty programme - which in conjunction with better use of other migration policy tools including enforcement - might just offer a way out of the political impasse.  

As if to prove the authors' point, the reaction to the proposals has been depressingly dismissive.

Identifying the problem

Stuart Weir (Cambridge, Democratic Audit): There is a surreal ironist in the Home Office.

BBC News is trumpeting an investigation into rogue illegal immigrants who are apparently able to re-produce practically any official document anyone might need, from passports, driving licences down to gas and electricity bills. But what is the Home Office doing about this plague of illegality?

"That what ID cards are for" Did I hear right?

The Politics of Exile, Return, and Repentance

The Edge of Heaven, directed by Fatih Akin, is a carefully crafted, tender account of six interwoven lives. Ali is a effervescent Turkish expatriate living in Germany with his bookish son Nejat. The film begins with Ali inviting Yeter, a Turkish prostitute, to become his live-in girlfriend - much to Nejat's dismay. Yet Nejat quickly gains respect for the grim but kind hearted Yeter and after her sudden death, he returns to Turkey to search for her daughter Ayten. Ayten meanwhile, is a defiant political activist desperately refuge in Germany after an encounter with the Turkish police. Penniless and homeless, she is taken in by a German student named Lotte and her disapproving mother. When Ayten's asylum plea is rejected, Lotte follows Ayten to Istanbul to help secure her release from prison.

The Great British weekend (except in Scotland)


Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon):
"Britishness quite simply is one of the most important associations that we have," Immigration Minister Liam Byrne told a Progress meeting at the House of Commons last night.

"It is a code shaped by history that defines so much about who we are and how we look at the world. There's a historian Vron Ware who puts it like this. She said, 'I think British is easier than English. It's clearly a bit more plural, as it includes the Celtic fringe, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. It seems to accommodate the regional difference.'"

That assumption was being tested yesterday by the SNP's challenge to Byrne's proposal for a British National Day on the August Bank Holiday, which is on a different day in Scotland. More surprisingly, if the usually well-informed Benedict Brogan is to be believed, the idea didn't endear the Minister to Gordon Brown either.

Nevertheless he insisted,"I myself have become convinced that that final weekend in August, what is in parts of the UK a Bank Holiday already, could become the Great British weekend."

It's a debate that Ruth Kelly and I explored last May, and since then I've asked people all over Britain what they thought about the idea of a national day. I'll be candid in some places there was a rejection of this idea, a sense of fatality, a sense that it was all too late, that celebrating Britishness was too hard, and elsewhere there was a traditional British scepticism towards anything that looked like it was sponsored by the authorities. In other places there was concern, frankly about who was going to pick up the bill, but in the groups that I listened to the majority was in a different place. I think a clear majority of people do support the idea of a national day.

Byrne noted in passing that "a defence of the union will be absolutely central in politics", but his argument was largely framed in terms of a contribution to the debate about immigration.

Immigration: the inconvenient truth

Grace Davies (London, oD): Always a hotly contested issue, immigration has been back in the headlines recently with a neat media tie-in on the 40th anniversary of Enoch Powell's infamous "rivers of blood" speech. This prompted a 3-part documentary series "Immigration: the inconvenient truth" produced by C4's Dispatches strand, the final part of which aired on Monday. Presented by Rageh Omaar, himself a native of Somalia who settled in Britain with his parents as a child, this investigation of modern immigration took as its (unhelpful) starting point the question: "Was Enoch Powell right?"

Does Boris change his tune to fit the occasion?

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Just watching the Question Time debate between the three main London mayor candidates. I came in late. Boris said Ken had comitted a "whopper" on the fares. But Ken accused Boris of changing his tune for his audience. I suspect Ken was right on one issue. Asked whether he supported a general amnesty for immigrants who are already here in contrast to his Party leader, Boris denied this. Emphasizing that his main concern was uncontrolled immigration he stated that he only supported giving legal status to the few who had worked here for years and who you couldn't send back to their country. Ken accused him of altering what he said on television compared to what he said when talking with other audiences. Boris denied this. But as you can see, when I blogged the event it certainly seemed to me that I heard Boris back the call of Strangers into Citizens to legalise all immigrants already working here, when he addressed the London Citizens event which I blogged. Both the Question Time sequence and the London Citizens one are on video so it shouldn't be too hard to compare them.

Enoch Powell's slow rehabilitation

Jon Bright (London, OK): Paul Gilroy writing in the Guardian today:

Today a chorus of racial realists, neo-patriots, clash of civilisation-ists and practitioners of joined-up thinking thrill at being able to use expurgated Enoch as a sock puppet with which to enact their own anxieties about swamping, security, failed multiculture, social cohesion and home-grown terrorism. A new-found love of Powell's works and statesmanship is even deployed to facilitate the return of New Labour's no-longer-lefty prodigals to the bosom of a conservative nation they thought they had lost. Their electoral tactics now require them to argue that honest Enoch's concern with the corrosive effects of immigration was prescient.

How our media defines the immigration issue

Jon Bright (London, OK): Another report on immigration is out today - 5 years on from the signing of the treaty of accession in Athens - ACPO are claiming that stories of a migrant 'crime wave' are a myth. In fact, they say, crime in areas with lots of new EU immigrants seems to only have risen in proportion to the general rise in population.

The mayors and the migrants - was anyone listening?

Alasdair Murray and Pia Gadkari (London, CentreForum): Most of the recent media focus on immigration has centred on the House of Lord's assault on some of the government's more contentious assertions about the benefits of immigration. But in London last week, a development of much greater significance to the migration debate took place. As Anthony Barnett reports below, all four of the main candidates in London's mayoral race have come out in favour of regularising the status of illegal immigrants in Britain. The positions adopted by the different candidates vary a little - but the underlying endorsement of an amnesty of any kind is quite remarkable.

Juliet Stevenson strikes again

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): This time she was only acting but she plays the role of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the Foreign Office legal adviser who resigned because the invasion of Iraq was not legal. It is in the first, I thought brilliant and clarifying, of eight Newsnight short films 10 Days to War. You can see it here. The discussion that followed was rubbish with Paxman at his disinterested worst. But you can't have everything and the films will last.

Brown + Willetts = get me out of here

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I've written relatively little in OK over the past week and a half. I have been depressed by a double whammy on Wednesday 20th February. I went to hear Gordon Brown talk to ippr about citizenship which turned into his speech about immigration. In the evening David Willetts gave the Oakshott lecture which was billed as a response to Brown's emphasis on values. He was going to stress the importance of institutions. So - a day when I could compare and contrast perhaps the two best read leaders on the two main front benches, exercising and applying their intellectual and strategic overviews.

More gain than brain drain

Alasdair Murray (London, CentreForum): Are the educated deserting Britain? New OECD figures show the UK has the highest number of its graduates living abroad of anywhere in the developed world. There are now over 3 million British-born people living abroad, of whom more than 1 million are university graduates. Doomsayers argue this movement reflects growing dissatisfaction with Brown's Britain: high taxes, too much red tape and unsustainable immigration.

"Managed migration" v People Flow

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I have long thought that migration should be treated as a serious, positive force. I'm proud that five years ago openDemocracy joined forces with Demos to publish People Flow, in which among other things Theo Veenkamp of the Dutch Ministry of Justice argued for linking migration and welfare. We ran a huge debate edited by Rosemary Bechler in which even Blunkett participated. No notice whatever was taken. Then in the run-up to the 2005 election there was a classic Blairite panic. It laid the basis of last week's Green Paper (opens as pdf). Here is what Tom Bentley, then Director of Demos, wrote at the time i.e., in 2005 :

Banal, idiotic and slightly repressed - the traditional British welcome

Jon Bright (London, OK): The BBC reports today that Hazel Blears is proposing councils issue "welcome packs" to migrants, which will contain advice on British "customs" to help newcomers integrate into Britain. The packs will contain advice on our much lauded commitment to shared values (yes, this post does effectively write itself). The Beeb claims this jarring shopping list of bland, ridiculous pointers will be made required reading:

Does Britain need a population policy? by Alasdair Murray, CentreForum

Jon Bright reviews: Does Britain need a population policy? by Alasdair Murray of CentreForum.

Alasdair Murray dissects and demystifies the immigration debate, and shows why we need a policy of decentralisation to fix the problems of immigration.

BIA sends 'hundreds' to their deaths each year

Jon Bright (London, OK): This story comes in via the Independent and this is plymouth:

In order to marry in the UK, you need...

Jon Bright (London, OK): Hat-tip to Zohra Moosa for alerting me to this EDM which attempts to correct an absurd injustice in the UK's marriage laws. Currently, if you want to get married in the UK, you need:

The shambles, England's or Britain's?

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The Daily Mail's editorial today contained two interesting aspects, one original and one, well, not unusual. It says that in the verbiage of most new year accounts "Britain's three greatest problems have been all but ignored". These are: "the effects on Britain of mass immigration; the demolition of our constitution; and the absence of any serious energy policy to secure the nation's future prosperity. It is no exaggeration to say that the implications of these three problems are awesome". And it is true that none of the serious papers except perhaps the Independent, feel able to identify the crash of the UK constitution with the force and authority of the Mail. In this section of the editorial argues,

What would Garnett make of our immigration policy?

Jon Bright (London, OK): You might recall (but I'd forgive you if you didn't) Liam Byrne's speech given at Demos a few weeks back: Britain, he claimed, was "not a nation of Alf Garnetts" - a statement which you might hope was uncontroversial.

However, for a such a tolerant and welcoming bunch, we still have a rather skittish and uncontrollable attitude towards people coming over here - if they're not stealing our jobs then they are freeloading off the benefit system or giving birth uncontrollably. And, if we do decide to send them home, they carry off yet more of our hard earned cash.

The new British slavery

Jon Bright (London, OK): openDemocracy has recently launched blog coverage of the annual "16 Days against Gender Violence" movement, which marks a period of activism between the tongue-twisting International Day Against Violence Against Women on the 25th of November, and International Human Rights Day. There's a particularly interesting article by Rahila Gupta, who argues that, on the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, the number of people forced into work in this country is higher than ever.

Why can't we be positive about migration?

Jon Bright (London, OK): The Office of National Statistics released its figures on migration yesterday, to a predictable and depressing furore. The Telegraph especially provides an object lesson in how all statistics can be transformed into headlines. This:

Clegg grasps third rail

Jon Bright (London, OK): You've probably seen Nick Clegg's recent announcement on a revised immigration policy for the Lib Dem party. Most eye-catching is their announcement of a policy of "earned legalisation" for the estimated 600,000 people living in the UK illegally.

Creating a republican culture

Tony Curzon Price (London, oD): France Culture talked with Benjamin Stora, Professeur d'histoire du Maghreb à l'Inalco, in a fascinating radio show about the history of immigration policy in France since the 1880's, when Italian immigrants were slaughtered in anti-outsider protests in the South of France. In the course of some gripping anecdotes, Stora mentions how important political parties and trade unions were in "creating a republican culture". An otherwise naturally anti-immigrant labor movement was kept pro-foreigner in the 1930s because of the number of Spaniards, Italians and Poles in the trade unions, the Communist Party and the Socialist Federation. Following on from Vron Ware's post, this made we wonder what institutions we have left, today, that have a hope of sustaining the shared political culture that all party leaders are agreed we want and need. Not the parties themselves - now marketing machines rather than membership organisations - or the post-Thatcher trade unions. Isn't this a real opportunity for a constitutional movement and the direct initiatives that are gaining in popularity? Make these truly open and accessible networks, and they become the type of organisation and enterprise that have a chance of fostering the political and social values that can define us.

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