And so, once again, I find myself writing about navel-gazing internal Lib Dem stuff because, rather than listen to the concerns of the members and do something sensible, the Lib Dem leadership have decided to go to war with the party membership. I promise that after conference this week I’ll be dialing down on the Lib Demmery on here a lot. But as I’m not going to go to conference due to health, I thought I’d set out my thoughts now that amendments are available.
Yes, it’s that immigration motion again.
I’ve said before that I have a simple position on this motion — that it shouldn’t be accepted without all the amendments that Lib Dem Immigrants, Lib Dems for Seekers of Sanctuary, and LGBT+ Lib Dems had put forward being adopted.
Having looked at the amendments that have been accepted I can already tell that that’s not going to happen, because not all of them have been accepted to be voted on — though the fact that there are five amendments up for vote at all (the highest number I can recall is two, though I’m sure someone will pull out a record of a conference from 1993 which had thirty-two amendments for a motion or something now I’ve said that) shows just how bad this motion actually is. So no matter how the amendments go, this should be referenced back — and ideally to people who have a clue about either liberalism, immigration, or both.
But it’s possible that conference will not vote for a reference back, and the amendments are worth considering for whether they make the motion better or worse.
First the drafting amendment — most of this is uncontroversial. There is one bit worth noting though — that’s “In line 2, after ‘rules and’ insert‘, for a time-limited period of not more than two years and subject to individual assessment,’”
This *slightly* fixes one of the many, many, many, many, major problems with this motion, in that it changes the five-year limit (kept from the 2012 rules) on no recourse to public funds to the two-year limit from before then — making this small bit of the motion only as illiberal as David Blunkett, rather than Theresa May. It even allows for the possibility that this time period could even be shorter — meaning we might have a single sentence in this policy that is *more* liberal than David Blunkett, though not as liberal as Jack Straw (we wouldn’t want to be crazy now!).
But then they stick in that kicker “and subject to individual assessment”.
Now, the no recourse to public funds rule is horribly wrong and I see no reason to discuss why any further. If you don’t understand why, see this article. But this “subject to individual assessment”… that has problems of its own.
Because it’ll be the same as the replacement of a de jure income limit with a de facto one that the paper also does — there’s no £18,000 limit any more if we go by this paper, but you still have to prove you can support your spouse. And I can *guarantee* that with no hard and fast income limit, the people who are more privileged on other axes will have to do less to prove that ability to support than educated cis het white abled English speakers will.
And it’ll be the same with this “subject to individual assessment”. Anyone who has had to prove their financial situation or level of disability to the benefits agency, or anyone who has had to deal with the immigration authorities at all, knows that “individual assessment” means less trust for disabled people, for BAME people, for trans people, for neurodivergent, mentally ill, or working class people.
Now I can see that this is done with good intentions — it’s an attempt to make exceptions for people in genuine need (though of course everyone who claims benefits is in genuine need). What it would actually do in the real world though is create more hoops to jump through — hoops which are easier for those with more social capital than for the poorest, the disabled, and oppressed people generally. It’s a loophole which will lead to a few borderline cases getting help earlier, while those who need it most will have to wait longer.
I’ve dealt with government bureaucracies enough in my time to know that that’s how it goes. I’m one of the lucky ones — I’m white, cis, straight, English-speaking, and can pass for a middle-class neurotypical in small doses. But I have *seen* myself, time and again, get special treatment not given to other people in the same circumstances — people who needed more help than I did, and got less.
So I have *deep* reservations about this drafting amendment, even as it does make that one sentence of the motion slightly better and almost as liberal as Blunkett. Sigh…
On to the amendments that get voted on separately as they’ve *not* been accepted by the paper’s authors:
Amendment 1 is a long one from Lib Dems for Seekers of Sanctuary, though it’s much shorter than their original proposed amendment. It’s all focused on asylum seekers and as far as I can tell it’s all good. I don’t know enough about that area of immigration law to say if it’s good *enough* and would improve the current system *enough*, but everything in it certainly seems worthwhile. I’d vote for it to be included.
Amendment 2 is one I have very strong feelings about, and would feel strongly about even were it not being summated by my wife. It takes out the single most despicable and unnecessary part of the motion, the bit that says we can’t challenge racist ideas in case it hurts racists’ feelings, and replaces it with a sensible alternative bit about fixing the problems people wrongly blame on immigrants.
Amendment 3 would fix a *lot* of the problems with the family law section of the motion and paper. It would change the motion to say “For spouse and legal partner settlements, end the crude and arbitrary practice of the state splitting up families on grounds of income and permit families to stay together without any form of means testing or prohibition on seeking support from the state.”
That wouldn’t fix everything, but it would make a lot of people’s lives a lot easier — something this paper otherwise doesn’t seem to want to do.
Amendment four would get the costs of naturalisation for the applicant back down to the cost to the Government — a return to the policy when Michael Howard was Home Secretary. If amendments three and four passed, we’d have a family immigration policy that was actually more liberal than David Blunkett, only slightly less liberal than Jack Straw, and in some places even as liberal as Michael Howard!
That would obviously be a *massive* improvement on the policy paper, and so that amendment should definitely pass.
And amendment five, from LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, contains some good, sorely needed, policy on treatment of LGBT+ asylum seekers. It should pass.
All these amendments are good, strong, liberal positions that fix glaring problems with the motion. Sadly, there are far more problems than there are amendments (even given the number and length of amendments chosen for debate). There’s nothing in here for example to amend the motion giving extra funding to Border Force (the UK equivalent of ICE).
The motion and accompanying policy paper, as I’ve said before, are a shit sandwich. These amendments all do their best to scrape as much of the shit filling out as they can, but at the end of that you’re still left with two slices of shit-covered bread. Even if the bread is quite nice, it’s still better to throw it away and start again than to eat it.
So if I were going to conference, I’d vote to reference back, I’d vote for all the amendments, and whether or not the motion was amended, if the reference back wasn’t successful I’d vote against the motion as a whole. I strongly hope that anyone who can make it to conference this year will do the same. And I’d like to thank LD4SOS, LGBT+ Lib Dems, and the individual proposers of the other amendments for putting far more thought and liberalism into their amendments than the drafters of the motion did into their motion.
Because it isn’t a motion for liberals, it’s a bowel movement for moderates. Demand better.
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