Immigration: we can’t go on like this, so let’s not
This is a follow-up post to this one about how Labour’s narrative on immigration only changed fairly recently.
I spent a little time on that because I thought it was important to stress that both Labour’s, and the wider anti-immigration/immigrant narrative, might not be as deeply embedded and irreversible as people now fear.
This post is a follow-up to my own, but it might just as easily be a response to Anton at Enemies Of Reason:
If Labour doesn’t want to challenge these [immigration] myths, fine. If it wants to think that it lost the election because it wasn’t tough enough on immigration, fine. But they’ll have a pretty stinging smack in the face coming when they have a re-brand with added Woolas-style dogwhistles but don’t get anywhere. They had the chance to challenge the myths, but instead they’re making myths of their own. And that’s a massive mistake.
I am in the Labour party, and I try not to see it in the third person. Many of the Labour leadership contenders may not want to challenge the myths, and more’s the shame on them. But instead of wringing my hands about it, it’s my job as a Labour member to try and do something to make them change their minds.
So let’s get down to brass tacks. What am I going to do about the myths of immigration. Or, to paraphrase Sunny:
So what will my progressive narrative on immigration look like? How will I deal with people’s concerns without sounding like the English Defence League, the BNP or Andy Burnham? How will that narrative offer solutions and hope without encouraging people to be bigots or making them fearful of immigrants? What’s the narrative? What will I say on the door-step?
I’ll do five main things:
1) I’ll accept that (as Sunny points out) in the medium term at least the mainstream media is likely to continue to peddle myths about immigration and immigrants, of the type that Anton has so able described.
2) I’ll acknowledge that the only way to provide an alternative message about immigration ‘on the doorstep’ is to visit doorsteps, initially with my written material.
3) What I write about immigration will be a set as clearly and as succinctly as possible in wider political context, and not simply be focused on an anti-racism message. Below is a draft of the page I’ll devote to this in the Spring/Summer Bickerstaffe Record, my local newsletter which goes out to all households in my area and is widely read because it is both regular and locally focused (see here for most recent edition).
4) I’ll try to set some kind of example for others, and challenge people, in other active and leftist CLPs initially, to set out their own clear statements about immigration in their own written material. Clearly, the material will need to be adapted to different styles of material, but there should be a voluntarily agreed set of ‘minimum standards’ applied to what goes out so that the key issues are no longer obfuscated. At Tim’s (and Dave’s suggestion, I’ll start by asking Oxford East CLP to work alongside their MP Andrew Smith on this, and see if we can’t build up a head of steam.
5) I’ll seek to work within the blogosphere to see that initial commitments at local level to changing Labour’s immigration narrative are reported upon in blogs, and that more CLPs, unions and other like-minded organization are encouraged not just to do something similar, but also to challenge those taking part in the Labour leadership contest to respond positively to what’s going on. I’ll ask Sunny if this issue can be part of his Blognation conference on 26th June, though I suspect he’s already got it in mind.
This is, roughly speaking, the kind of article I’ll look to put in the next Bickerstaffe Record (due out mid-late June), if a few other people promise to do the same:
Readers will be aware that the contest for the leadership of the Labour party is currently taking place.
As a departure from the purely local news coverage norm, the team at the Bickerstaffe Record has agreed to work with other local Labour activists around the country to put out a common message on one particular area of concern, which we feel has not been properly addressed by several of the leadership candidates to date.
By ensuring that the matter is raised, via local newsletters like the Bickerstaffe Record, in millions of homes up and down the country, we hope that the leadership candidates will be encouraged to rise to the challenge during their campaign period.
The matter at hand is IMMIGRATION, and this is our statement:
The group of Labour party activists involved in this grassroots movement is concerned that several of the leadership candidates are playing ‘dog whistle’ politics about immigration, and not doing enough to challenge widespread media myths about it.
Rather than simply trying to outdo each other on how ‘tough’ they want to be on immigration, we believe that the Labour leadership candidates should focus their campaign on how Labour will ensure that the real problems facing many people in the country today will be tackled, both in opposition and then when Labour is back in government.
These problems include a lack of affordable housing, cuts to services needed by all, and lack of access to decent paying jobs. We believe that if these problems are tackled properly, then perceptions about the ‘evils of immigration’ will quickly fade, and that in time the rightwing press will be forced to review its own hate-filled agenda as it loses readers.
The problems also include a European Union which, because it is driven by an agenda of ‘competitiveness’, has failed to meet the basic needs of its citizens in its poorer countries, leading to the migration of many people in search of a livelihood, who would otherwise be quite content to remain in their home country. For the most part, people do not leave their friends and families in search of work elsewhere because they want to. They do so because they have to.
We believe that talk of ‘tough measures’ on immigration is a cop-out from the real challenges we have set out here, and we’re using this space – donated by the good people at the Bickerstaffe Record – to say so. We hope the prospective leaders of the Labour party take note.
For more information, visit www.labour&immigration.org [not real], the website we’ve set up as part of this campaign.