We Need To Change The Rhetoric On Immigration

While I am proud to be a Liberal Democrat, and for the most part agree with our manifesto, there was one part that really stuck in my throat.

We’ve got a ‘firm but fair’ policy on immigration.

Firm but fair.

FIRM but fair.

That sounds like a policy about crime, about tax evasion, about *bad stuff*.

Now, the actual policy is not a good one – it talks about restricting the areas where people can work, to make sure that we don’t have more and more people coming into the same areas – but it’s markedly more liberal than the other two parties, in that we have things like an amnesty for illegal immigrants.

But it’s still fundamentally accepting that immigration is a problem. And that’s just wrong.

This affects real people. See this for one example. Another example is my wife. As an immigrant, she has made a large net contribution to our country. When she’s been unable to work, she’s been unable to claim benefits, so she’s not taken from society – I had to support her. On the other hand, when she’s worked, she’s still paid taxes. She’s not entitled to vote, and we had to pay several thousand pounds just to get her permission to live here at all (and would have to pay even more were she to want citizenship).

People complain about immigrants adding to the population. You know what adds to the population? HAVING CHILDREN adds to the population, yet we don’t see tabloid newspapers talking about ‘the baby problem’. We don’t talk about being firm but fair on motherhood. And of course babies, unlike adult immigrants, have to be supported by society for between sixteen and twenty-one years before they can start being productive at all – immigrants *have* to work from day one, because they can’t claim benefits.

And the people who come over here, the immigrants, are generally the ones who do the jobs that people born here *won’t do*. I don’t know how many of you realise this, but the NHS would collapse overnight were it not for immigration. Not just doctors – though we import enough of those that it would be a problem – but nurses, nursing assistants and cleaners.

And even there, they’re doing the shitty jobs. Until two years ago, I worked on a mental health ward. During the day, the staff were predominantly British-born, but during the night they were all African immigrants. This wasn’t an isolated thing – this is true for the vast majority of mental health wards in the city where I live, and I suspect it’s true for other areas of health, too. They did that work because night shift work on a mental health ward is one of the most horrible, soul-destroying jobs you can imagine. At not much more than minimum wage, you have to put up with a constant fear of physical or sexual assault, the loss of any kind of normal social life, long periods of boredom punctuated by periods of cleaning excrement and bodily fluids off walls, or stripping the sheets off beds of HIV positive drug users who are known to hide needles in them. And coupled with that, there’s the threat to your *own* mental health, as you spend ten hours every day in the company of people with schizophrenia and become accustomed to that being the ‘normal’ way of thinking.

To put it bluntly, there are simply not enough people in a privileged, pampered country like the UK who are willing to put in that much work for that little reward. Immigrants are.

And contrary to what parties like Racist UKIP say, we do not have an ‘open door’ policy for immigrants. VERY far from it. To come over here my wife firstly had to marry me – otherwise she could never have come to live here at all. She then had to pay £750 for a two-year visa, at the end of which she then had to pay £1500 for the right to permanent residency. She also had to take a test on British life to prove she was worthy of staying here – and they were questions that NONE of the British people to whom I showed the practice test could answer. She literally had to be more British than the British to live here. And if she wanted to get citizenship and actually have the right to vote – the right to have a say in what happens to her, a right the rest of us take for granted or don’t even use, she would have to pay another thousand pounds or so. And those are the prices from a few years back – I believe they’ve more than doubled since.

We have an unconscionable, unjustifiable situation right now, where *all* the major parties are, to a greater or lesser extent, pandering to the outright *LIES* being told by racist fuckheads in the right-wing newspapers. Even my own party, who are, I repeat, better than most on the issue, are still being far too illiberal on this matter, trying to find nonsensical ‘solutions’ to a non-existent ‘problem’.

I don’t regard nursing assistants as a problem. I don’t regard *my wife* as a problem. And I am becoming increasingly disgusted at those who do.

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18 Responses to We Need To Change The Rhetoric On Immigration

  1. Oliver Townshend says:

    Yes, its a direct steal from the Immigration debate in Australia. But it doesn’t really anything more than “not everyone can come, and we’ll (somehow) decide who”. As opposed to the two alternate positions, “everyone can come” and “no-one can come (unless they are fair)”.

    And once they decide what the rules are, they’ll screw someone over. That’s bureaucratic rules for you.

    The test is token (the Australian one is as bad – but really its just an enforced English Language test). All these petty rules just so they can appear to be doing something, and pretend they have control. You know they don’t, you know it won’t work, and BNP/UKIP voters also know the same. But it fools some voters…

    But we need a better solution, one that doesn’t hide behind slogans. Wish I knew what it was.

  2. Duncan says:

    We have a solution. A region based points system is pretty sensible.

  3. BM says:

    One thing that annoys me is how people treat “where you were born” the same as “where you come from”. How many people are white British born overseas just because their parents were abroad (i.e. immigrants to somewhere else), then sent their kids back here for school? What about someone from Africa who comes with their parents when they are 2 years old and grows up here, speaking only English? White Africans? Someone born here but growing up abroad?

    How many of the “night-shift” immigrants on your mental health ward are British citizens? What about the day shift? You can’t tell where someone was born, where they’ve grown up, or where they consider home just by looking at them. Probably you can in 90% of cases but it’s still just a guess unless you actually ask them. And they might lie.

  4. Uponnothing says:

    Great post. The first two leaders’ debates have spent large amounts of time discussing the immigration ‘problem’ and each party believes the tougher they are the more support they’ll gain. It annoys me that the agenda is set by racist, fear mongering newspapers. I work in an FE college that has a lot of racist students who constantly moan about immigration, even though they live in an area where there are no immigrants. They purely get this view from ignorant parents who read tabloid newspapers.

    Even decent politicians are scared to challenge the idea that immigration is a ‘problem’, and that is depressing.

  5. Dr*T says:

    I would add to the debate the fact that the phrase “illegal immigrants” and the word “immigrants” have been conflated in the media to mean the same thing. Same as “bogus asylum seeker” and “asylum seeker”. Makes for muddy discussions that favour more rascist arguments.


  6. Andrew,

    Great article and I agree with every word.


    “We have a solution. A region based points system is pretty sensible.”

    No, it isn’t: it’s immoral, unpleasant and it won’t work.

    Leaving aside the disgusting idea that a human being—who has earned the right to stay in this country—should be shunted around like so much non-sentient meat, if planned economies actually worked, Russia would be the most prosperous country in the world.


    • Kieran says:

      It is though, and it is because of the unprecedented economic growth the USSR underwent during the five year plans. Of course it’s not the richest country in the world because of the decades of stagnation that followed under a different form of central planning…but certainly there is no sensible metric by which to claim that planned economies “don’t work” in an axiomatic sense.

      And in both cases it’s completely irrelevent, just as the USSR was bad because it killed billions of people, so China’s internal immigration restrictions are bad because they enforce class divisions, and the same would apply if they were introduced in england, there’s no need to pretend they aren’t economically sound.

  7. I’m on a vacation in the UK, and I noticed when entering that the border patrol (in Paris. I came via Eurostar) was rather hostile.

    In a strong contrast to Germany (where I entered), my brother and I were grilled rather harshly about our plans, where we’d be located while we were here (difficult to say, for my part, since I’ll be here three weeks in total), and what seemed to be most important: that we had jobs back in the US.

    No less than three times did the lady ask us if we had a job to go back home to. EU Citizens, I presume, don’t have this problem, and other members of the Commonwealth might not, either (I suppose I could send my Canadian roommate to check), but it’s rather offputting for any other tourist to face that. It felt a bit odd since we’re American, which I’m assuming doesn’t see a significant number of people trying to move to the UK for jobs.

    While I can somewhat understand the issue about job loss to immigrants, it did strike me that anyone in a non-traditional job could have a harder time getting into the country. My brother wrote down “Musician” as his job, and had to explain that he also manages a restaurant.

    My ultimate take-away from it is that while I love the UK, I hate coming into it.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Totally agreed. We have a *horrible* customs/immigration ‘service’. Worse than that of any country I know of except the US (not a dig at your country, just a fact). It’s unfriendly and spoils people’s holidays for no good reason.

      • Oh, no argument about how bad the US is. My aforementioned roommate had a terrible time getting permanent residency. And that’s without even thinking about that horrific law that’s just gone down in Arizona.

        Thankfully, though, the rest of my vacation’s been great, giving me a strong preference for coming back sooner rather than later. (I was last in the UK in ’92, before I moved back to the States.)

        The weather’s been mostly good, too, which is a treat.

  8. pillock says:

    I have no idea what a “region-based points system” is. What is it?

    In Canada the equation’s mindbogglingly simple to make: “person who talks about immigration this way = fucking racist” Possibly, in the very best-case scenario, “person who talks about immigration this way = person who believes a bunch of fucking racists make up the majority of their supporters”. It’s so painfully obvious that it isn’t an “issue” that has anything to do with reality, that I have real trouble believing that it’s ever anything other than that basic equation at work no matter how you shrink the country or increase its population.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      That’s the equation in Britain too. Unfortunately, most of our popular newspapers are *so* racist that the actual majority of the population thinks immigration is ‘a problem’.

      The ‘region based points system’ is basically the Lib Dems saying that they’ll give some people visas which say they can only work in certain areas (presumably those with low unemployment or whatever). It’s stupid and unworkable, but not actually outright evil like the policies of the other two main parties and the smaller Nazi parties like Racist UKIP.

      To their (our) credit, the Lib Dems are the only party offering an amnesty to illegal immigrants.

      The problem is that the rhetoric over here has been so *COMPLETELY* poisoned by racism that the Lib Dems sound moderate and reasonable by comparison… it’s a horrible situation to be in. Immigration is just automatically and always seen as a Bad Thing…

      • pillock says:

        Good Lord, WHAT?! It bloody well IS evil, don’t let the big mild Nazis off the hook just because the little intense Nazis are awfuller…! Sheesh, how terrifying. This shit ought to be publicly ridiculed, what cancerous nonsense. My God, can the Lib Dems not win with plain straight talk? Must they compromise in this fabulously ugly way?

        It’s no good, Andrew. I mean: vote for them, support them,absolutely: but holy fuck. Need to CHANGE them as well. In your country a little fish can make a big wave, better make it. WWTBS: What Would Tony Benn Say? That’s some shocking business. That can’t be standed. Gotta fight it.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Absolutely agreed. Luckily, it’s possible to change party policy relatively easily…

      • pillock says:

        So bloody stupid! Counterproductive!

  9. Kieran says:

    Great article, and it’s something that needs to be said loud and often, it was appalling to watch, after the QT debates with Griffen, people smugly congratulating each other on how that tiny ogre had been squashed, while completely ignoring how everyone there had practically fallen over themselves to agree with him. It was like something out of animal farm.

    It’s so depressing to watch american liberals fighting against the racist, dehumanizing term “illegal immigrants” and realise we’ve given up that fight and are now trying to stop people using asylum seeker as a slur.

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  11. Niklas Smith says:

    An excellent post (I came here from your post on why you’re not planning to help Elwyn Watkins).

    I’m reading a very interesting book about the pressures for migration and the ideas in rich countries that stand in its way (it focuses on labour migration, rather than asylum or family reunion). I think you’d find it interesting and I highly recommend it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Let-Their-People-Come-Breaking/dp/1933286105/

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