The scenes in the film Children Of Men, where Britain in 2027 has public adverts on buses encouraging people to report illegal immigrants, doesn’t seem too far fetched after yesterday’s Home Office announcement.
Vans with giant billboards featuring the slogan ‘Go home or face arrest’ will be driven around London this week in an attempt to scare illegal immigrants into leaving the country. The Home Office pilot scheme will also see the message also displayed in leaflets, posters and messages in local newspapers.
Vans will be driven around Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge and will show residents how many illegal migrants have recently been arrested in their area.
The proposal which appears to be the work of Cameron-adviser Lynton Crosby’s dog-whistle, specifically blaming vulnerable immigrant communities and increasing the risk of racist scapegoating as a distraction from Tory austerity as it hits hard.
It is of concern that the Labour Home Affairs team has yet to respond. Others have written before about Maurice Glasman’s message that under the Labour government immigration numbers were too high. There is real concern that this approach still holds sway in the party leadership.
A number of Labour representatives have spoken out however, which is welcome.
Mohammed Butt, Labour leader of Brent Council where two of the vans are due to visit, led the attack and said on twitter last night, ‘Placing these posters in the most diverse borough in the UK is inflammatory and divisive. I have people in my surgeries every week who have been wrongly processed by the home office or who have come from places they simply can’t return to and are now going to feel publicly threatened as a result of these posters. It’s disgraceful and frankly unwelcome in our diverse and united borough.’
Today he appeared on BBC London News who said, ‘we still haven’t learned the lessons of the 50s and the 60s when the signs said, No Blacks, No Asians, No Dogs’.
Following that, I contacted a number of Labour representatives and asked for their response to which Diane Abbott, David Lammy and Claude Moraes MEP have responded.
Diane Abbott said the vans were, ‘an appalling idea. It will achieve nothing practical, but will stoke fears and resentments. The government should concentrate on sorting out the ramshackle immigration system rather than resorting to unpleasant gimmicks like this.’
David Lammy wrote, ‘These billboards aren’t an innocent public information campaign but a pathetic attempt to ratchet up the rhetoric on immigration. The sight of these vans driving around London will only succeed in creating division in a city famed for its diversity’.
And Claude Moraes MEP, London Member of the European Parliament, said, ‘Government can pursue immigration enforcement in many ways – the unprecedented use of mobile billboards in some of the most ethnically diverse London boroughs to target illegal immigrants will not secure results, but will potentially create suspicion, and intimidation, and are more about spending tax payers’ money on ‘get tough’ messages directed not at ‘illegal immigrants’ but at voters as key elections approach in 2014 and 2015.
He added, ‘What resources for example are being targeted at the now historically high immigration backlog which leave thousands in uncertainty? This campaign is not serious immigration enforcement – they are divisive, cheap, dog whistle election tactics .’
It is vital that this escalation of anti-immigrant rhetoric is challenged. Threatening messages on vans circulating around residential areas will not only frighten immigrants often living in vulnerable communities, but is a green light to those who would demonise and scapegoat them further.
Throughout Europe, racism against immigrants is on the rise as the political right seek to scapegoat in order to excuse the failings of their austerity policies. Labour must keep the focus firmly on opposing the scapegoating of vulnerable communities and of challenging austerity.
Further comments received from Emily Thornberry MP, Andrew Dismore AM and Mike Hedges, Chair of Unite’s London and Eastern Region Political Committee.
Emily Thornberry said, ‘There have to have laws that work but this isn’t the way to do it. These vans aren’t about making the system work but intimidating people and sending a message before next year’s elections.’
Mike Hedges said, ‘This is completely unwelcome, intimidating and divisive, intended to stoke up mistrust in our communities just so the Tories can look tough on immigration’.
Andrew Dismore said, ‘This is the worst kind of dog whistle politics and is a sign of desperation by the Conservatives who realise their policies are failing. After the terrible arson fire that destroyed the Bravanese Community Centre a few weeks ago, the last thing Barnet needs is this whipping up of divisive anti immigrant hostility, which will be felt most by perfectly legal migrants, as the racists who will be influenced by this shabby gimmick do not draw any fine distinctions. It is clearly not aimed at its purported target audience anyway: just how many illegal immigrants read English well enough to follow a message on a fast moving sign on the side of a van?’
On Thursday morning, people woke to the images of a bloodied man and his victim being broadcast all over the world. Watching these events unfold in Woolwich on Wednesday afternoon, I was shocked and horrified. Social media was used to send out the rallying cry for fascists and racists, calling for violence and whipping up hatred for the Muslim community. All of this was because this was ‘time to take our country back’.
‘Back from where?’ was my first thought when I saw that line on the internet. As a proud British Asian, the UK is my home, I was born here and I identify with it as much as the next person. I believe we are stronger when we are united, which is why the reaction to the events in Woolwich worry me. Seeing the pictures of the 100 or so EDL activists out on the streets throwing bottles is a clear and conscious attempt to divide our community and whip up hated for the Muslim community. The day after the attack, Nick Griffin called for a BNP demo in Woolwich further seeking to play on the tensions that are already running high in the area.
The EDL and the BNP don’t speak for me and they are no more representative of the wider British society than one man shouting, and killing in the name of Islam is of the Muslim community. Over the coming days and months, the far right will continue to ensure they capitalise on this moment and evidence from America shows that in the first week after incidents such as the Woolwich attack, crimes against minority communities increases. It’s vital therefore, that we stand united against all forms of racism and fascism. I know that the London I love is capable of doing this just as we stood united in the aftermath of the July 2005 attack.
There will come a time to explore how and why the horrific events of yesterday were able to happen but now isn’t that time. Until then, my thoughts are with Drummer Lee Rigby’s family and friends.