Rivers of blood, has it really come to this?
There is a discussion or two (or three or four …) to be had about why people voted Brexit and people’s relationship/understanding of immigration is definitely one of them. There are communities that look about themselves and believe that the issue of immigration negatively impacts on their lives. As with any issue, it’s very complex and not binary. Not all people who are concerned about immigration are concerned about the same things. Yes, a proportion of people who are concerned about immigration are racists and xenophobes who have irrational hatred for foreigners but, of these people, are there many who would take to the streets to riot, as Rachel Reeves has asserted in the past couple of days, and are they of sufficient numbers to be an unmanageable threat? I suspect not. We should not allow the discussion on immigration to be determined by indulging the racist few.
Talk of immigration invariably encompasses effects on employment, housing and public services, and crime:
Cheap immigrant labour drives down wages and conditions for ‘native’ workers and reduces employment opportunities.
Immigrants jump the queue for housing and are overloading the health service with increased patient numbers and schools with increased pupil numbers.
Gangs of migrants or involved in organised crime and are attacking women.
There is also talk of how immigrants are diluting British culture and of fears of unrestricted migration of millions of people into Britain, which would exacerbate existing problems with work and public services.
As with most things we face as a country, the problems we have are caused by our poor politicians and government. On unrestricted migration, if this country actually faced being overwhelmed by migrants our government would close the doors. It is that simple and it would be action taken regardless of EU rules on freedom of movement or anything else. The British government would place the interests of this country first and if you do not believe they would do that then your problem is not with things like the EU it is with your government. Full stop. Some people voted Brexit because they do not believe our government acts in our best interests but, instead of marching on Downing Street and demanding a new government, a government that they do believe in, they voted Brexit.
Jeremy Corbyn spoke yesterday of the fact that poor wages and working conditions are not the fault of immigrants, they are the fault of exploitative employers. Again, the responsibility for creating conditions for employers to exploit, for creating conditions that people like Philip Green can exploit, is our government’s.
Our public services and housing are overloaded because our government has not only underinvested in them but they have also created the conditions in which large chunks of the public money being spent is disappearing out the back door into the offshore bank accounts of privateers. Britain gives over £9billion a year through Housing Benefit to private landlords when it could, instead, be investing that money in building social housing, the construction of which would provide jobs, the maintenance of which would provide jobs, which this nation would keep ownership of, and which would still cost less than the money being siphoned off by private landlords. 20% of MPs are private landlords, figures aren’t known for what percentage of private landlords are either current or ex MPs and their friends and families. Likewise, it is unclear what percentage of MPs have ‘interests’ in companies who have been granted contracts associated with public services and, so, are in receipt of £billions of public spending.
If we do not have enough housing or if our public services are overloaded it is not because of immigrants, it is because our politicians and governments have contrived to siphon pots of private wealth out of public spending.
Crime. Migrants do not make up a large percentage of our population and their communities do not contain a higher proclivity for committing crime. If people feel unsafe on the streets, and there is little to indicate that that is actually true, then the issue is about people’s confidence in the Police to protect them. Over the past six years the Tories have been attacking Police numbers and stretching them so thin, along with the other emergency services, that their effectiveness has been stretched to breaking point. It should not be forgotten that, just before the tragic attacks in Paris in 2015, Theresa May had been telling Chief Inspectors to prepare for another round of cuts to their numbers. Those cuts were kicked into the longer grass in the wake of the Paris attacks because of the negative publicity they would have justifiably attracted.
Politicians should not ignore people’s concerns about immigration but they must also not lump all of them together in a homogenous collective. Any conversation about immigration must acknowledge that people have concerns, so that these concerns can be addressed, but must also acknowledge that those concerns are varied and not all of those people are racist or xenophobic. It is not for politicians to pander to a minority prejudiced viewpoint and it requires politicians to be honest (something we, as the public, believe politicians generally struggle with).
For Labour, there are politicians who have concerns that Labour is portrayed in the media as offering an open door for Britain to be ‘flooded’ by waves of dirty rotten foreigners. Actually, their concern is that they lack confidence in their own capability to break that narrative and to be able to honestly combat it. They give up, preferring the politics of coasting, and choose to pander to a minority percentage instead of addressing those people with genuine concerns about immigration. Present the facts, present solutions, do not pour fuel on divisive narratives, don’t patronise those people who have real worries, stoked by a rancid media.
The solution to the concerns people have with immigration can be addressed by effective government and honesty over the true causes of the problems people are faced with. Scapegoating has been employed for too long by our failing politicians and that must end. If people are concerned about housing, school places, an overloaded NHS, or an underfunded Police force then address those issues, don’t think fobbing people of by saying you will stop migrants is any sort of solution. If you can’t offer a solution then be honest about it, stop lying to cover your incompetence.