Thursday, November 29, 2018

How New Labour's tough rhetoric on immigration boosted the right

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Under Jeremy Corbyn, as I wrote at the start of the month, Labour has quite moderate policies but does its very best so sound like far-left party.

Under Tony Blair, by contrast Labour had progressive social policies but did its best to sound right wing.

I am reminded of this contrast by an article in Prospect by Steve Bloomfield, who writes about the Blair government's rhetoric on immigration:
Under Tony Blair, New Labour passed five migration-related bills between 1997 and 2007. Each one was about making it harder for refugees and immigrants to live here. Each one was accompanied by a wave of dehumanising language in the media and political sphere. 
One of the first pieces of legislation removed benefits from asylum seekers, replacing money with vouchers. These vouchers could only be spent on what the government deemed “essential” - something that didn’t include razors or toothpaste. Shops were banned from giving change, which meant parts of the already meagre allowance often went spent. 
During this period, Labour liked to split asylum seekers up into “genuine” and “bogus.” The phrase “bogus asylum seeker” became so prevalent it was even used, without quote marks, in BBC news reports.
He goes on to chronicle the growing extremism of the rhetoric used by successive Labour home secretaries in this period - David Blunkett, Charles Clarke, John Reid - until the last-named was telling us that "foreigners come to this country illegitimately and steal our benefits".

Go back to the source of this quote and you will find that Reid was condemned by Nick Clegg, God bless him.

All this went on while people from Europe were coming to work in Britain in unprecedented numbers.

Did Labour's approach do anything to calm public concern about immigration?

Bloomfield says not:
Ipsos Mori’s poll in 2008 showed that just 5 per cent of voters who thought immigration was important trusted Labour. The Conservatives were on 46 per cent ... 
"Tough" immigration policies, i.e. those that treated people fleeing terror as if they should be feared rather than helped, not only failed to improve Labour's standing, it normalised dehumanising language and policies. The debate wasn't, "should we help refugees and migrants?" Instead, it was "how best can we stop them causing damage?" And when those are the terms of the debate, the far-right will always be "tougher."
This seems right to me. I would add that liberal politicians should talk about the economic advantages that immigration brings - too often we just get sermons on multiculturalism.

And where immigration causes local problems, such as pressure for school places, those liberal politicians should be honest about this and be seen to be providing the extra resources that local authorities need.

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