Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Analysis: Labour's leadership candidates on LGBT asylum, Balls the winner

Ed Balls in Q&A on educationEd Balls image by Downing Street via Flickr  

By Paul Canning

LGBT Labour has released the leadership candidates final answers on LGBT asylum.

Although the winner will be either Ed or David Miliband, the others are likely to either take up senior shadow cabinet positions or positions of influence. Overall, the statements reflect the sort of information they have been paying attention to during the campaign as well as during their time as politicians. It's a fair measure of their knowledge of the subject and that's also a fair measure of the importance that the gay community and gay Labour people place on the issue.

On both of those measures mostly it's not good and overall the answers reflect badly on whether Labour as a party is prepared to look out for the most marginalised LGBT in the UK. They fail to correct the idea, which undoubtedly did lose them some votes in the last election, that they don't think there was any problem either with their treatment of LGBT asylum seekers or the pandering by some Labour people (such as Woolas and Blunkett) to anti-foreigner, anti-migrant sentiment (which backgrounded the LGBT asylum issue) or that this all happened because they were prepared to put votes before principals.

Starting with the answer from the leading candidate, David Miliband.

His statement underlines his consistent deflection of the issue during the leadership campaign, on the few occasions when it has come up (and prior to that during the election campaign) most recently in his comment describing criticism on Labour's LGBT asylum record as "fashionable". His comments come across to me as annoyance at a perceived 'lack of gratitude' from LGBT to Labour on 'what we've done for them'.

He underlines this apparent attitude by failing to answer what is a straightforward question - How can we ensure a fair asylum system to help LGBT people who face persecution in their countries of origin? - except with a disdainful swat "of course someone who is being persecuted for their sexuality should be able to apply for asylum in this country" (as if this means anything whatsoever unless he thinks we should be grateful for him being signed up to the Refugee Convention and basic international humanitarian and human rights norms) and rushing on to talk irrelevantly (how relevantly?) about his sterling work for the gays "when I was Foreign Secretary", noting Iran - but notably not noting Iraq.

The other leading contender to win, Ed Miliband, by contrast, comes right out and says "I’m appalled that happened on our watch". He talks about his origins as the son of a migrant: "My family fled persecution and I will always speak out for the protection of gay and trans people fleeing abuse and against persecution around the world."

I'm glad he's appalled yet Ed also doesn't answer the question but instead he channeled JFK promising a man on the moon in a opinion piece (which presumably is meant to complement this answer) saying on how to reform the homophobic asylum system: "I don’t believe the answers are easy but we must find them even when they are difficult."

It's the other Ed, Ed Balls, who adds to Ed Miliband's ability to criticise on Labour's record with an attempt to actually answer the question: "The solution must lie in fundamentally addressing the policies and assumptions adopted by the Home Office and Immigration Courts when processing applications."

This is spot on and suggests that either he or his staff have actually either read the Stonewall report or the media coverage of it. Balls names the lead charity UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group and not only "welcome[s] the recent Supreme Court ruling" but adds "but there are still dangers– for example the difficulty in establishing you are LGBT in claiming asylum and the limitation of asylum to state persecution".
Brother Balls does claim Labour did positive stuff "but we didn't act quickly enough or go far enough" (no, it didn't, it established 'go home and be discrete' as policy and argued for it to the Supreme Court and there was no sign you'd have changed if you'd won the election), so his criticism of the record is, er, partial, but in terms of answering the question that's a four out of five.

Balls does say "I’m sure no-one thinks the current system works fairly even though some people are accepted as refugees because of their sexuality, and recent court cases have highlighted the flaws" but he'd either be wrong or slyly critiquing his opponents. David Miliband certainly both thought and said that before May 6 (as did Gordon Brown). And in his two sentence answer self-declared 'Northern' candidate Andy Burnham retreats to "proud" boilerplate: "Britain has always been seen as a safe haven for the oppressed and dispossessed". No it hasn't you ignorant fool.

Given her three decade long support for LGBT rights, Diane Abbott is perhaps the most disappointing in - again - not addressing the specific issue but in her case dumping it into the wider context of her campaign talking points, saying "I will overhaul the whole asylum system and ensure that the UK is a safe place for all LGBT asylum seekers."

She is perhaps right in saying "I understand the many problems with the immigration system better than any of my rivals" as she stood up for people like those in detention during the Labour government, and LGBT do suffer as others do from the system's overall unfairness and discrimination. Plus the "overhaul" she presumably wants would likely benefit them - for example if she ditched the 'fast-track' system which operates to get people out and boost the numbers and under which LGBT suffer disproportionally. But Abbott just does not answer the question on how specifically she will address the systematic homophobia in the Home Office and UK Border Agency and - like David Miliband - rushes on to tout international experience, in her case her Commonwealth connections, which aren't in the question but somehow she thinks are relevant - how exactly?

From these answers the best outcome from this election for LGBT asylum would be: leader Ed Miliband, Shadow Home Secretary, Ed Balls.

Edited to add:

Neglected to mention another plus point for Balls. Answering the question about "is there any area of policy or approach in which you think Labour should have done more, and if so what will you do about it?" Balls is the only candidate who mentions asylum.
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