Category Archives: immigration

Tony Blair, New Labour And Selective Memorization

Tony Blair has become a knight of the realm and for many of his followers, it was a long time coming; a moment of pure joy. The same people have misremembered the New Labour years and if you ask them what the party achieved under Blair in the 10 years he was in power, they can only come up with three things. The first is “he won three elections”. The second is “Sure Start Centres” and the third is “he beat the Tories”. Those of us with clear memories of the period remember Nu Labour for not only rushing into an ill-advised war in Iraq (Blairites brush this aside), but failing to respond adequately to Michael Howard’s racist dog-whistling in the 2005 General Election campaign.

Howard: I'm a one nation Tory | Conservatives | The Guardian
Blairites conveniently forget the Tories’ racist dog-whistling of the 2005 General Election campaign

If you remind Blair’s supporters of his inadequate response to Howard’s racism, watch how quickly their eyes glaze over. Yet, it was this lack of a response from him and his ministers that opened up a space for far-right discourses on identity, nationality and citizenship to thrive. Those discourses have now become mainstream and can be heard on a daily basis on talk radio stations and on the BBC. It’s also worth remembering that, two years after the 2005 General Election, Nigel Farage was elected leader of UKIP.

However, a year earlier, the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett. put forward a bill to cut benefit payments to ‘asylum seekers’ and curb their appeal rights. Far from being a left-wing government, Nu Labour actually adopted the immigration policies of the Tories, if not the far-right. The Guardian said:

The vote preceded publication today of a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research by Alice Bloch of City University, London.

She argues that the current ban on work deprives the British economy of much needed skilled labour and contributes to the perception of asylum seekers as “undeserving” benefit claimants. Lengthy periods of forced unemployment which accompany an application for asylum make it harder to find work and integrate when finally granted refugee status.

And

Dispersing asylum seekers around the country contributes to the problem, as they are frequently sent to areas of high unemployment and separated from the “informal networks that have historically been so important in terms of job seeking and employment within refugee communities”.

Meanwhile, a lottery funding body was severely criticised yesterday by the Commons public accounts committee for giving cash to an asylum group that attacked Mr Blunkett for “colluding with fascism”. The MPs said that the Community Fund handed more than £336,000 to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns without properly monitoring what the group was promoting. The group took a “political and doctrinaire stance”.

1998, Nu Labour introduced detention centres for ‘asylum seekers’ and as Rachel Shabi points out in this Guardian article, 3% of the public cited immigration as a burning issue. The 1998 Asylum Act was followed in 2002 by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act. Indeed, it is reasonable to argue that these measures were taken after a series of outlandish claims in the right-wing press. Shabi again:

By the time Labour came to power in 1997, newspapers were routinely scaremongering about the new arrivals: that year the Daily Mail ran a story about a “flood of bogus asylum-seekers swamping Dover” while the Independent warned: “Gypsies invade Dover hoping for a handout.” The actual numbers were tiny. There were 32,500 overall asylum claims in 1997, with 81% refused asylum. In the decade to 2000, the UK accepted 1.9% of asylum claims from Sri Lanka; in France that figure was 73.6%.

It wasn’t just immigration where Nu Labour aped the Tories, the language of government ministers like Blunkett, Straw and Reid contributed to an upsurge in racially motivated violence and police harassment of Black people. as well as an increase in Islamophobia.

New Labour also failed to address structural inequalities and this resulted in a growing divide between rich and poor. Under Blair, Labour failed to reverse Thatcher’s disastrous Right To Buy, which continued throughout the 13 years the party was in government.

Workfare and the cruel Work Capability Assessments had their genesis in the second Blair ministry and were fully implemented when Gordon Brown assumed the leadership.

Sure Start Centres were great, but if that’s all Blairites and Labour right-wingers can offer in his defence, then it’s thin gruel. Sure Start Centres had their funding systematically cut when the Tories took power with the help of the Lib Dems in 2010.

Blair’s supporters have nothing to crow about.

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No Compassion For Refugees Please, We’re British

“Charity begins at home” at least this is what Britain’s “no refugees here” types have been saying on comments threads on The Guardian and Independent websites. Ironically (or perhaps not), these are the very same people who would not only claim that “people are receiving to much in social security payments”, they would also tell you that the existence of foodbanks proves there is a “food shortage” in this country. Logic? It was never there in the first place.

Many people like to think of The Guardian and The Independent as liberal newspapers with socially liberal readerships. In the case of The Indy, this notion was blown out of the water by the paper’s support for the Tories at the last election and in the case of The Graun, there has been a steady rightward drift in its editorial orientation for years. Sadly, however, the change in direction for these papers has also attracted legions of right-wing racists and keyboard warriors, all of whom have been drawn to the stories of what is now being called the “Refugee Crisis” (formerly the “Migrant Crisis”), a crisis that was entirely created by the actions of the so-called West.

Yet the idea that there is a cause behind the Refugee Crisis is barely mentioned by the tabloid hacks and their pals in Parliament. Instead, in the mind of the knuckledragger, these people are coming here variously for “economic reasons” or the “presence of McDonalds and KFC”, or some such nonsense, and not because they are fleeing the conflicts and tyrannies that the West has created and sustained for decades. Causality, as far as these people are concerned, is a hospital drama on BBC1.

Readers, I have been disgusted by the lack of compassion shown by these keyboard warriors and slackwits but I have been even more disgusted by The Indy’s and The Graun’s tolerance of the vile hatred that’s being openly expressed on its comments threads. If I want to read that kind of shite, I can always go to St*rmfr*nt. Dig?

I always remember reading about this country’s hostile reaction towards the thousands of Jewish refugees who were fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s. This article by Anne Karpf from 2002 – in The Guardian – recalls that those years.

The parallels between past and present are striking. Just as the majority of Jewish refugees were admitted less for compassionate reasons than to meet the shortage of domestic servants, so today’s refugees tend to do the low-paid catering and cleaning jobs spurned by the native British. And just as in spring 1940, when German Jews were interned on the Isle of Man, British newspapers blurred the distinctions between refugee, alien and enemy, so today, according to Alasdair Mackenzie, coordinator of Asylum Aid, “There’s general confusion in many newspapers between an asylum seeker and someone from abroad – everyone gets tarred with the same brush.”

Hostility towards the refugees was stirred up by the virulently anti-immigration rag The Daily (Hate) Mail. Many people internalised its xenophobic and anti-Semitic messages and demanded the government refuse to land any refugees. Déjà Vu? Malheureusement, oui.

The comment below appeared on this Guardian article by the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas. Her name, alone, is enough the get hordes of slavering knuckledraggers thumping their chests and declaring themselves the defenders of “common sense”.

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Britons would probably be far more receptive to the idea of allowing many more refugees into Britain had the country not experience almost two decades of mass immigration in which over five million people had entered Britain.

Here, we have a comment in which the views expressed are little different to those expressed by UKIP’ Nigel Farage (or that Nuttall wanker) on a weekly basis. Although it avoids offensive language and isn’t obvious in its racism, its premise is based on the notion that there has been an “invasion”. Yet, this commenter offers no proof for the numbers they’re using; they are seemingly axiomatic.

On the other hand, this commenter doesn’t disguise his hatred. This is what passes for wit.

2930

So it turns out now that the guy who recklessly ended up drowning his wife and children had turned down asylum.

Oh.

Sickening.

The government’s response to the crisis has been characteristically Tory: blame “people smugglers” and keep repeating the word “criminals”. It’s as if the refugees themselves have become secondary to the need to punish “those responsible for the trafficking”. In April, in response to refugees drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, Michael ‘Polly’ Portillo, the son of a Spanish republican refugee who fled Franco’s dictatorship, said they should be “sent back where they came from” – and should be “dumped on a Libyan beach”. And you thought he’d been rehabilitated? No way, he’s the same as he ever was.

This nation has been governed by bullies for centuries and people have internalised the bullying to such an extent that they, themselves, have become bullies. This is evident from the lack of compassion shown to refugees. The idea that “charity begins at home” is noble one but one which is now being used dishonestly to bolster the fash’s absurd claim that this country is “full up”.

A few days ago, Cameron appeared on television to give an account of his sluggish response to the crisis. He told the reporter with a straight face that the solution is to “bring peace in Middle East”. But that’s after he’s bombed it back to the Stone Age first.

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Filed under Africa, Eritrea, immigration, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, News/Current Affairs, propaganda, racism, Society & culture, Sudan, Syria, World

Right-wing Cliches (#7) “Benefit Tourism”

The Tories love to bandy about expressions like “benefit tourism” (“health tourism” is another such phrase) to make their spurious points about immigration seem more credible. But let’s be honest: no one comes to this country to claim a measly £74 a week in Jobseeker’s Allowance. “Ah” I hear you cry “what about the other benefits, like Housing Benefit”? What about Housing Benefit? You really think immigrants come to this country to sample the delights of housing benefit and live in decrepit properties owned by our slum landlords? Think on.

If people wanted to sample real benefits, then there are better countries they can go to. Germany is one country and France is another. Benefits in these countries are far more generous than the paltry benefits available in Britain, which are paid at poverty levels set, apparently, by the National Office for Statistics. If the benefit levels are set by the NOS, then they must be working to 1970s figures because no one can live on  £74 a week. Not even the braggart and habitual liar, Iain Duncan Smith, can live on that kind of money – in spite of his unsubstantiated claim that he can live on £1 a day.

So, in reality, no immigrant comes here to live on benefits. They come here to work in the sorts of jobs that are beneath those who complain the most about immigration. Immigrants also pay more in tax than the average British worker. Indeed, they pay more tax than the so-called ‘wealth-creators’ that this government is forever talking about. So when the government complains about the budget deficit, they could always raise taxes on their rich mates but, instead, they would much rather you hate the immigrants who are putting money into the Exchequer’s coffers. How’s that for logic?

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What’s Happening To Stand-up Comedy In Britain?

I’m one of the judges for the New Acts of The Year and we’re about half way through the contest. One thing that I and other judges have noticed is the general lack of political and philosophical engagement with the world among novice comedians. There are also a worrying number of acts who either have no material or have nothing interesting to say. Some have even ventured into misogyny, homophobia and casual racism in a feeble attempt to get laughs. What we also tend to find is that, rather than present a quirky view of the world, some of these novice comedians are giving us a spoken version of their CV. Is this what people are being taught to do at the many stand-up comedy courses that have proliferated since the early 1990s? I think it is. Whatever the case, British stand-up comedy is on its sick bed.

For the last few days, many comedians have been talking about Andrew Lawrence’s alleged support for UKIP and his attack on immigrants. Even UKIP leader Nigel Farage has given Lawrence his support.   A potential kiss of death? Possibly. Only time will tell. What has the world come to when today’s comedians are embracing anti-immigration rhetoric and railing against diversity? Are we really heading back in time to the immediate post-colonial period when comedians used trot out a stream of racist and sexist gags and used “it’s only a joke” as a defence? Sometimes it seems that way.  In Lawrence’s case, it’s easy to suggest that he’s doing this to attract attention. On the other hand, perhaps he, like so many others, is suffering from cognitive dissonance or maybe he’s just a right-wing reactionary arsehole. At any rate, there is an absence of critical thinking to his rant and I would argue that this is indicative of a malaise that is currently affecting the entire country, especially in England, where this negative attitude towards difference seems rife. This malaise is particularly manifest in those people who believe UKIP is ‘anti-establishment’ or ‘anti-politics’.  ‘Anti-politics’? Really? There is no such thing as ‘anti-politics’. Everything is political. UKIP is an anti-intellectual party that appeals to anti-intellectuals, who believe the country’s myriad problems can be solved by simply ‘pulling up the drawbridge’.

On Lawrence’s Facebook page, he attempts to “clarify” his earlier post but is actually reiterating what he said previously. In effect, he ends up digging himself an even bigger hole of gargantuan proportions:

A comedian from a minority background who uses their own ethnicity as a foundation for the whole of their act, rather than looking at wider aspects of society and exploring outside of their own personal experience.

And then says:

Quotas have been introduced, whereby every panel show must book a certain number of female and ethnic comedians, regardless of ability or merit.

Objectively then, there are comedians on panel shows who are there first and foremost because of their gender or ethnicity.

But it gets worse:

Because there is currently not a sufficiently large enough pool of female comedians with the requisite experience and ability to fill the quota, there are females who’ve been booked for these shows who are either poor comedians, not comedians at all, or aspiring female comedians that are still learning their craft, but have not yet reached a decent professional standard.

These females I have described as ‘women-posing-as-comedians’.

The upshot of all that is that there are still many women coming across incredibly badly on panel shows, which is helping to perpetuate the myth that women aren’t funny.

The hope is that women currently on panel shows, will further legitimise stand-up comedy as a career for women and encourage other women to take up comedy. Which is an admirable aim.

Unfortunately for every female who gets on a panel show, there are very many male comedians with more ability and experience who are not and will never get the opportunity to be on one. I think that’s a great shame for TV audiences.

And for his finale:

Oh, and I don’t have a problem with properly regulated immigration and I don’t have a problem with immigrants.

I do have a great deal of concern about the lack of border controls in this country and subsequent gross overpopulation as a result of EU legislation, which I believe adversely affects all our quality of life.

Here Lawrence uncritically accepts UKIP’s position on immigration and seeks to rationalize this position by summoning up the Malthusian claim of “overpopulation” to lend some kind of intellectual gravitas to his narrativization. This is exactly what Malthusian think-tank Migration Watch UK (and Bill Oddie) does all the time.  But this claim that there is a “lack of proper border controls” is not only ludicrously melodramatic, it’s a complete myth. He claims that he isn’t a UKIP supporter but that claim is pretty meaningless, given the fact that he’s regurgitated the same myths as Kippers and the rest of the English Right. Lawrence, if anything, is a reactionary, though it’s not something that he would readily admit. Instead, he complains that comedians are making jokes about UKIP. Diddums.

Let’s return to Lawrence’s comment about “minority comedians”, who he claims use their ethnicity as the basis of their act. Here, he doesn’t even try to understand why this is the case. He’s a white male stand-up and looks more or less like every other white male stand-up. If you’re black or a woman (or both), you have certain visual signifiers that differentiate you from the rest of the pack and may make jokes about those things. That’s what happens. If you have red hair or you’re fat, you will also make jokes about those things. That’s what happens. Yet, for Lawrence, it’s as if over 200 years of colonialism and racism never happened and that things are all right now because this is the year 2014 and people have stopped being racist. Sure they have. Yet for all the white male faces on television, the numbers of black faces on panel shows is so small as to be non-existent. Can you think why that is? I can. It’s called institutionalized racism and it’s a product of the dominant class’s early socialization. The vast majority of producers and commissioning editors come from public school and Oxbridge backgrounds. In their schools, some of which are all boy schools, they never see any females apart from those who are employed to teach or make beds. Black pupils are just as much of a rarity, thus commissioning editors tend to employ those people who are most like them: white and male.

With regards to women comedians, Lawrence has painted himself into a corner by claiming on the one hand that there aren’t a large number of women comics and on the other,  this small number of women comics is responsible for inferior female talent because male numbers are superior. Confused? Don’t be. It’s the anti-intellectual tripe of a knee-jerk reactionary. Like so many white [right-wing] males, Lawrence is playing the victim and it’s as if to say “It’s all the fault of those horrible wimmin with their feminism. They’re oppressing me”.  Lawrence is offering nothing new and is merely repeating the worn-out fallacy that women aren’t funny. Let me tell you something, Andrew, a lot of women are funnier than men, they just don’t get the same opportunities as white males who constantly refer to their genitalia and their apparent sexual inadequacies/perversions. Boring, huh?

The current malaise in British stand-up comedy is an indication of an overall malaise that hangs over this country like miasma. We have now entered a time when the very idea of tolerance is being pissed on, not only by right-wing politicians, but also by selfish misogynistic comics for cheap laughs, who believe they’re ‘pushing the boundaries’. The dominant discourses in this country have been orientated to the right for the last 35 years. People walk around talking in market-speak without realizing it. Other people repeat phrases like “Benefit claimants are addicted to the state” and “We need to have cuts” without thinking about them. Some, like Toby Young, believe that free speech means you can say anything you like without being criticized or being called an ‘idiot’ for it. However, if you’re tolerant and see immigration as a benefit to the nation, you’re shouted down, while those who oppose immigration complain that their voices “aren’t heard” even though the newspapers are full of articles complaining about immigration, and which rely on the usual myths, tropes and hyperbolic flights of fancy like “the country is crowded” to make their spurious points.

If comedy acts as a barometer for the political and social health of a nation, then Britain or, at least, England is a very sick patient indeed. It is obsessed with nostalgia and ready to blame its condition on everything but the system that produces inequalities and untold miseries. Instead, women, ethnic minorities and immigrants are scapegoated for a system that has comprehensively failed to deliver. Those in power in Westminster are happy to allow this continue and comedians like Andrew Lawrence are more than happy to act on their behalf. Sometimes I think the battles that we fought in the 1980s were for nothing.

 

 

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Filed under Comedy, comedy, Ideologies, immigration, National Identity, Popular culture, racism, sexism, social class, Society & culture

The Immigration ‘Debate’

Do something now or we'll end up with someone like this as Prime Minister

We need to do something now or we’ll end up with someone like Geert Wilders as Prime Minister

Every time I hear the words, “Let’s have a debate on immigration”, I wonder if that’s what the speaker actually wants. What I’ve found, more often than not, is a desire on the part of the speaker or speakers to control the discourse on immigration. All too often, there is an ugly discourse lying behind the façade of this apparent ‘need’ to want to ‘debate’ the subject of immigration.

What’s worse are the numbers of self-described ‘left-liberals’ who are prepared to countenance some pretty appalling views for the sake of ‘free speech’. These people are willing to listen and even respond – albeit feebly – to the discourses offered by the anti-immigrationists, whose speech has not changed one iota since the 1970s. Yet, the left-liberals seem to sincerely believe they can have a rational and sensible dialogue with people whose views on minorities, women and the disabled are frankly obscene. To adapt Fanon: if they’re talking about immigrants (or Muslims), then they’re also talking about you. While our ‘left-liberal’ friends are politely debating Nazis and other hardcore right-wingers, attacks against minority groups including the disabled are on the rise in Britain.

And now we hear the old hate speech again, the talk of ‘floods’, ‘invasions’ and being ‘swamped’ are  joined by  familiar words associated with hygiene like ‘contamination’. Other emotive  phrases like ‘mass immigration’ are deployed to appeal to people’s emotions. More recently, I’ve seen words like ‘genocide’ and ‘treason’ being used on public internet fora. Take this example of a comment left on Douglas Carswell’s nit-picking diatribe against the recent UCL study into immigration on Telegraph blogs:

JohannKierk

“Genocide”. Yes, this is the kind of language used by those who want a ‘debate’ on immigration.  The definintion of the word ‘genocide’ is:

noun

[mass noun]

  • the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group:

Hysteria, hyperbole, histrionics, paranoia and playing the victim are all part of the right’s strategy to control the discourse on immigration and the liberals fall for it every time.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or read, ‘Our voices aren’t being heard’. Utter rubbish. Nigel Farage has appeared on Question Time 25 times since 2009 and the views that are expressed by these vile simpletons grace the comments threads of the Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express every day of the week.  Articles with sensationalistic titles, such as the one cited by our racist friend here, help to reproduce the poisonous discourse of nationalism and its fixation on a pure, but nonetheless, constructed ‘British’ identity.

Even the supposedly ‘left-wing’ Labour Party has taken the bait and pandering to the Tory-supporting press, UKIP and the notional but bloodthirsty man-on-the-street, it too wants a ‘debate’; its spokespeople admitting that Labour ‘got it wrong’ when it was in power. What seems to have escaped the Fabian Party’s attention is that these anti-immigrant discourses have only become more vocal since the Crash of 2008.  If there’s a problem with the economy, then in the minds of the racists and the gullible it’s the fault of the immigrants. It was like that in the 1930s and 1970s and its come back with a vengeance.  It’s as though the events of history have been wiped from the collective memory of these postmodern politicians as they pursue the grand prize of everlasting political power. What do they care beyond paying lip service?

Any mention of racism to these people is greeted with ‘anti-racism is a code for anti-white’. How on earth can you reason with people like this? You can’t. If gullible liberals believe they can have a polite discussion with these extreme nationalists, then they are deluding themselves. This is no time for cordiality.

If you want to see what could happen in Britain in 10 years time, look across the North Sea to the Netherlands, where Geert Wilders racist PVV party is currently ahead in the polls.  On Wednesday, Wilders is due to meet Marine Le Pen of France’s racist Front National. Two years ago, UKIP’s then leader, Malcolm (Lord) Pearson, welcomed Wilders to the House of Lords to show his film, Fitna. Be in no doubt, these parties enjoy the warmest of relations in the European Parliament and for all their talk of freedom, they want to enslave those of us who are different.

Britain, it’s time to wake up. We need to respond to the attacks on our communities and we need to hit the anti-immigrationists hard.  These people cannot be reasoned with. If you turn your back to them, they will plunge a knife into it. You have been warned.

UPDATE 13/11/13 @ 0941

David ‘Shoot the Bastards’ Blunkett channels Enoch Powell in this article on the BBC website.

Tensions between local people and Roma migrants could escalate into rioting unless action is taken to improve integration, David Blunkett has warned.

The former home secretary fears a repeat of race riots that hit northern cities in 2001.

His concerns centre on the Page Hall area of Sheffield, where Roma migrants from Slovakia have set up home.

But he also accused the government of “burying their head in the sand” over the scale of Roma settlement in the UK.

In an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield, he said the Roma community had to make more of an effort to fit in with British culture.

“We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming community, the Roma community, because there’s going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that.”

It’s hard to believe that Blunkett was once the leader of one of the most left-wing councils in Britain. Now he earns praise from Falange.

Mr Blunkett’s intervention was praised by UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who campaigns against the ending of border controls for migrants from Romania and Bulgaria, both countries with significant Roma populations.

“The fact that he is talking of the significant difficulties with the Roma population already in his constituency should be taken seriously by the likes of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.

“My question is if they won’t listen to the dangers of opening the door to Romania and Bulgaria next year when UKIP speak out on it, will they listen to David Blunkett? I certainly hope so.”

Look at Blunkett now, doing the dirty work of the right.  Shame? He doesn’t know the meaning of the word.

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