It may be the silly season but there’s only one topic dominating the news while parliament is on recess: immigration. I suspect that this is how the coalition, in particular the Tories, want it because it’s clear that initiatives such as the Racist Van*, spot checks on public transport and the Home Office #immigrationoffenders twitter campaign have less to do with efficacy than public relations. While there’s a news vacuum (at least for UK news), it makes sense to focus on the issue that they plan to exploit at the next election.
This week, Labour joined the fray. As usual, their intervention took the form of a dense speech, with parts leaked in advance to the press. I read the full draft of Shadow Immigration minister Chris Bryant’s speech, which was much more nuanced than the spin that Labour put on it, which centered around Bryant scolding Tesco and Next for hiring foreigners over British people. He later had to back-pedal on that claim and for a while that became the story, before everyone cut him some slack for “admitting that Labour let in too many people.”
Although Chris Bryant slammed the press for focusing on “process” rather than the content of his speech, this mess was entirely of Labour’s making and signifies everything that’s wrong with every political intervention on this issue.
Primarily: Spin over facts. It’s telling that Labour’s spin doctors chose to highlight unproven anecdotes about discrimination against British workers above all else. When a politician speaks, especially a minister or his shadow, they have a bully pulpit. Too often, they use this bullhorn to reinforce (often unfounded) fears, repeat (unproven) anecdotes and dog whistle.
To echo Keith Vaz MP, who has called for a better debate:
“We desperately need a consensus on immigration. Let’s stop this dangerous war of words, initiate a ceasefire and put forward some proposals that can command the respect of the British people. It’s time to end the immigration arms race.”
* The legal challenge against the “Go Home” vans has been dropped after the Home Office agreed not to run similar adverts again without community consultation. The statement by the law firm representing the claimants states that:
Our clients’ legal challenge was based on the Government’s failure to comply with the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010. This duty requires the Government to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment based on race and religion, as well as to foster good relations between people from different racial and religious groups. Due to the inflammatory nature of the campaign, as voiced by several prominent public figures including Vince Cable MP and the leaders of Brent and Redbridge Councils, the due regard duty was high, and a consultation should have been carried out before the pilot began so that the Government could have properly considered the effect of the campaign before deciding whether to go ahead.