Tonight the Leicester Civil Rights Movement (LCRM), in conjunction with The Race Equality Centre (TREC), organized a useful meeting titled at ‘Asylum and migration in the pre-election debate.’ The speaker, professor Heaven Crawley, who has previously worked within the belly of the New Labour policy-making beast, spoke passionately about the need for serious social change, not just mere myth-busting.
She pointed out that the problems of media-fuelled misunderstanding of the immigration issue has deep roots, drawing “clear parallels with the reporting regarding the passing of 1905 immigration act.” Professor Crawley noted how New Labour’s assumption of power in 1997, coincided with “significantly worse” reporting on immigration, not just because they oversaw an increase in immigration, but because they failed to challenge the lies propagated in the media.
Unfortunately we are now in the terrible position where it seems that the “most common descriptor of immigrants is illegal.” This has led to a worrying situation where simple facts are not known. Thus national polls demonstrate that when asked about immigrants, most people still think that around 62% of immigrants are refugees and asylum seekers, when in actual fact research published by Migration Observatory in 2011 showed that they make up the smallest proportion of people arriving on our shore (just 4%).
Of course with endless austerity for the 99% of us there are lots of real reasons why people should be concerned with diminishing service provision across the board, be it housing, public transport, schools, or health services. And so Professor Crawley is right when she said that it is big problem that “Every issue people might be anxious about is being deflected onto immigration.”
Mainstream politicians, she added, “have played a big role in legitimating peoples fears and anxieties about immigration, and for promoting the false narrative of immigration about individuals either being good or bad migrants.” Here she drew special attention to her former Labour Party colleagues who did nothing to stop the spread of such toxic lies. Thus while working for David Blunkett in the Home Office, she recalled:
“Everyday we would sit in our office and get a series of [tabloid anti-immigrant] headlines put in front of us, and then Mr Blunkett and his friends would get on phone to us and tell us that this ‘was really bad,’ and that we need to ‘do some research on this or that’.”
This then led to what Professor Crawley referred to as circular policy-making within the New Labour Government. New Labour would fail to counter the lies in the media and instead would just organize a study group of the public, who were than asked to elaborate upon about fears about immigration. New Labour would then respond to these answers by passing a new immigration Bill, which would lead to more scaremongering articles in the media, and yet another study group, and more Bills, and so on, and so on.
Professor Crawley did agree that the “Scale and pace of immigration changes has accelerated rapidly over the last 20 years” but she pointed out that many of the problems facing communities across the country pre-dated changes in the levels of immigration. This is why she said we “need political leadership at the local and national level which addresses negative attitudes to asylum and migration head-on rather than legitimating concerns that are often not evidence-based.”
Such leadership is certainly something that the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is committed to providing, as I made clear in my own contribution at the meeting. Indeed, one of TUSC’s core policies is to: “Defend the right to asylum, repeal the 2014 Immigration Act and all racist immigration controls.” I also mentioned the fact that TUSC opposes all the ongoing attacks on public services; seemingly never-ending attacks which do much to fuel peoples concerns with immigrants.
On a related point I said that I would fight to collect the £120 billion that the super-rich fail to pay in tax every year. Here, it is interesting to note, that having internalised the lies told in the media – that is that the rich only avoid paying £30 billion of tax a year — Professor Crawley was somewhat surprised (and happy) saying, “call me naïve but but it seems that many of societies problems could be quite easily solved if we started collecting that tax.” Quite correct.
Thankfully, there are campaigns that attempt to shed light on the systematic way in which politicians of all the political hues (bar Green) continuously exploit immigration as a way of deflecting attention from the underlying factors that are impoverishing millions of people. Therefore I was more than happy when Professor Crawley ended her talk by drawing attention to the new campaign that was launched nationwide tonight with the support of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) called “I am an Immigrant.”