Wednesday 27 April 2005

Valhalla! I am coming!

Until the election got all nasty and personal this week , the one issue that seemed to concern everyone was immigration. The "man on the street", "white van man" and all the other made up demographics appeared to be worried. I even saw an Asian businessman on the news the other day expressing his concern and suggesting that enough was enough, which seemed a touch ironic....

It is the Conservatives who have gone for this issue in the biggest way, with Michael Howard insisting that it is not racist to openly discuss and tackle the issue:

"I'm not going to let the Government sweep this under the carpet anymore. Britain has reached a turning point. We need to control and limit immigration...people [he actually said 'peeee-puuule'] have a very clear choice at this election. Vote Conservative to limit and control immigration, or vote Mr Blair or the Liberal Democrats for no limits to immigration and an increase in the population by five million over the next three decades."

According to the Conservatives, immigration has tripled under this Labour government, over 150,000 people now settle annually, while Whitehall's own predictions show that the population will grow by six million over the next thirty years.

"Five million of that will be due to immigration - that's five times the population of Birmingham. Our asylum system is being abused - and with it Britain's generosity. And there are over a quarter of a million failed asylum seekers living in Britain today," claimed Michael Howard.

it's all over their manifesto too. A Conservative government would:
  • Introduce an annual limit on immigration, set by Parliament (they do not specify the limit)
  • Introduce 24 hour security at ports to prevent illegal immigration
  • Set up a dedicated border police
  • Introduce an Australian-style points system for awarding work permits and giving priority to people with skills
  • Take in genuine refugees from the United Nations, rather than accepting those that are smuggled into the country
  • Set up health checks for all immigrants (because they are riddled with disease, right Mr. Howard?)
Hmmm. Lots of headlines and not much substance. What about the Labour Party?

"Labour believes in a fair, fast and firm asylum and immigration system together with controlled economic migration, fulfilling the needs of our economy. Britain has a valuable tradition of offering a safe haven to those genuinely fleeing persecution. We are proud of that tradition but we cannot tolerate abuse of our asylum system. To stop abuse, we have enhanced our border security and have taken action to tackle illegal working, people smuggling and trafficking".

Okay. At least they bother to make the point that some immigrants make a positive contribution - something the Conservatives don't much bother with. What else?
  • Asylum claims cut by 70% since 2002
  • Visa restrictions imposed on some countries (presumably bandit states like the USA?)
  • More Immigration officers, more lorry checks at ports, more fencing around the Channel Tunnel etc. etc.
  • Failed asylum seeker and illegal immigrant "removals" doubled since 1997 (are they 'removed' by a cleaner like Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction, do you think?)
  • Fair and firm decisions, with 84% of initial decisions on asylum cases made within 2 months, compared to an average of 20 months when Michael Howard was Home Secretary (snigger snigger)
So far, so defending their own record on this in Government. What about policies moving forwards?
  • An Identity Card scheme (ah yes! the answer to all our problems...)
  • Electronic tagging
  • A points system
  • Only skilled workers allowed to settle permanently
  • Language tests
So far, so like the Tories.

Crucially though, they add two more points. The Labour party will:
  • Continue to make the case for migration as an important contribution to the UK, while countering those who stir up hatred, intolerance and prejudice.
  • Help those who settle in Britain play a full part in being a citizen by helping them with language and knowledge of UK life, so furthering social cohesion.
It's almost an afterthought, but at least Labour have taken the trouble to nod their heads towards the long tradition of immigration that this country has had, and the contribution that many of those immigrants have made to British society.... Unlike the Tories, who have chosen to focus on slogans at the expense of any substance or solutions.

Immigration: bad
Control of Immigration: good

The Liberal Democrats, bless them, don't make much of a headline issue about immigration at all.

But where's the truth in all of this? Immigration is clearly an election issue, but is it actually an issue?

I've written about this before, but although Britain is at the top of the table in terms of asylum applications, but we are hardly talking about hundreds of thousands of people:

1. Britain -> 61,100 (mainly from Somalia, Iraq, China, Zimbabwe, Iran & Turkey)
2. USA -> 60,700 (China, Colombia, Mexico, Haiti, Indonesia)
3. France -> 59,800 (Turkey, China, DR Congo, Russian Federation, Algeria)
4. Germany -> 50,600 (Turkey, Serbia & Montenegro, Iraq, Russian Federation, China)
5. Austria -> 32,400 (Russian Federation, Turkey, India, Serbia & Montenegro, Afghanistan)
6. Canada -> 31,900 (Pakistan, Mexico, Colombia, China, Costa Rica)

Source: UNHCR 2003

The Home Office tells us that in 2003, the UK allowed 139, 675 people the right to stay. 66,000 of those were joining their families, 29,000 were allowed to stay after working in the country, and 21,000 were asylum cases. So from the 61,100 cases, we allowed 21,000 to stay.

My aren't we generous? (and not exactly the floods of people the Tories are talking about either)

In a report published in March 2005, the UNHCR claimed that the number of asylum seekers coming into the industrialised world fell by 20% in 2004 to its lowest level in the last 16 years.

"In most industrialised countries, it should simply not be possible to claim that there is a huge asylum crisis any more", said Raymond Hall, the head of the UN refugee agency's Europe bureau. Arrivals in the UK in 2004 fell by 33% compared with an EU average drop of 19%.

If you cut the data in a slightly different way, and look at the number of arrivals as a proportion of the number of inhabitants, the country with the biggest problem is.... Cyprus... with 12.4 asylum seekers per 1000 residents. By this measure the UK is languishing down in 15th place, with 0.7 per 1000 residents, fractionally above the EU average. What's more, in 2004 France became the largest receiving nation.

Crisis? What crisis? Asylum seekers aren't even rolling across France in the bed to get to the UK any more, for heaven's sake! Britain may be second only to the USA in terms of asylum applications, but in terms of the numbers of people admitted, we are no more welcoming than anybody else.

So what's the story? Why is this such a big issue for people?

Isn't it obvious? It's because we are an inherently racist nation and the politicans are playing on this to try and win votes. Is there another explanation?

What about the vile racists at the British National Party? What do they have to say on this issue?

"On current demographic trends, we, the native British people, will be an ethnic minority in our own country within sixty years. To ensure that this does not happen, and that the British people retain their homeland and identity, we call for an immediate halt to all further immigration, the immediate deportation of criminal and illegal immigrants, and the introduction of a system of voluntary resettlement whereby those immigrants who are legally here will be afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin assisted by a generous financial incentives both for individuals and for the countries in question. We will abolish the 'positive discrimination' schemes that have made white Britons second-class citizens. We will also clamp down on the flood of 'asylum seekers', all of whom are either bogus or can find refuge much nearer their home countries."

They certainly go further than any of the mainstream political parties, but are they not simply taking these policies to a logical extreme? Why stop at limiting the number of people who come in? Why not take the immigrants who are already here and send them back too? Frankly, as policies go, it's not different enough to some of the things the mainstream parties are saying, is it?

It's here that those two little extra points that the Labour party make in their manifesto become crucial, and what lifts them away from the Tories on this issue:

The Labour party will:
  • Continue to make the case for migration as an important contribution to the UK, while countering those who stir up hatred, intolerance and prejudice.
  • Help those who settle in Britain play a full part in being a citizen by helping them with language and knowledge of UK life, so furthering social cohesion.
It's not much, but it is something. Labour are making big headline statements about how they are controlling immigration, but I think that at heart, a lot of this is simply a response to the Tories (immigration is the only issue, the ONLY issue, where the Conservatives are polling ahead of the Labour party, so it's hardly surprising that it's all they talk about).

Make no mistake about it, the Conservative Party are targeting the same basic instinct in people as the BNP.... they should be ashamed of themselves, and we should all be scandalised.

Immigration is a serious issue, not a cheap political football.

Cry shame and vote for someone else next week.


And don't be thinking this is an endorsement of the Labour party either --- it turns out that the Attorney General told Tony Blair that he thought that a war on Iraq without a second UN resolution would be illegal.... This opinion was never shared by Blair with the Cabinet, and 10 days later the Attorney General had mysteriously changed his mind, and his views were being used by the Government to prove that the war was legal, and was presented to Parliament by Jack Straw as "unequivocal" advice.

Tony Blair may have agonised about the decision, and he clearly believes that the removal of Saddam was a good thing, that the ends justified the means.... but it's also clear that the war on Iraq illegal, that we had no justification to be there, and that we have no exit strategy as more people - civilian and military - are dying.

Cry shame and vote for someone else next week.

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