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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

In UK: Border hostilities: Passport to the media-policy merry-go-round

The UK's new Home Secretary, Theresa May, givi...Image via Wikipedia
Source: NCADC

You have most probably heard about the latest scandal at the Home Office. Basically it was about a pilot scheme to replace the blanket checks on passports of people visiting the UK with a more targeted approach, and whether the Home Secretary knew the extent to which this was being implemented by her Border Force directors.

There was the inevitable media outrage that so many of these visitors, who obviously include in their number untold illegal immigrants, terrorists etc, did not have to queue for hours at the start of their holidays, business trips, asylum/terror sprees.

Of course, media hostility to migrants is nothing new. Over at the Migrants Rights Network blog this week, John Perry reviews Malcolm Dean’s new book, Democracy Under Attack, which looks at the role of the media in driving social policy. Perry highlights the section on how policy on asylum and migration has been driven by the press.


In it’s manifesto of 1997, Labour hardly mentioned immigration as an issue. By 2002, as asylum seeking numbers peaked dueto conflict in places like Iraq and Somalia, the press began to refer to people seeking sanctuary as ‘this scum’ ‘asylum cheats’ and ‘illegals’. It was a “hostile…one-sided, often wildly inaccurate…press campaign of vilification”, according to the former editor of the Mirror. The Labour government, with a massive majority, could have resisted, but government policy followed the media line, legitimising further public hostility (perhjaps reaching it’s nadir when Phil Woolas was found guilty of deliberately setting out to stir up and exploit racial hatred in the last election campaign). And so it goes around, the media-policy merry-go-round.

Interestingly, the Theresa May passports affair has resulted in a remarkably sensible blog at the Telegraph, of all places, where Mary Riddle warns that dangerous misinformation and misguided policy statements are fuelling the next stage of a political ‘immigration war‘. It’s an interesting read. Riddel believes that much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric is built on lies, the policies unworkable, and that this will come back to bite both May and prime minister Cameron

It looks as if Theresa May will survive this row and keep her job for a while longer. It appears that she is winning, in this row at least, with the dual-argument of it wasn’t that big a deal, and anyway, it was someone else’s fault. Ironically, an argument she was very much against a few years ago when she demanded a ministerial resignation over a passports row. In 2007 Ms May was “sick and tired of government ministers who simply blame other people when things go wrong”. The Political Scrapbook blog has helpfully dug up the quotes, and remarks that the Minister in question, Beverley Hughes, did indeed resign, 21 days later.

Meanwhile, it’s business as usual for refugees seeking sanctuary who face a culture of disbelief with dwindling access to legal help. No investigations or resignations looming over the sometimes 50% error rate in asylum decisions, or the public money wasted on legal fees righting UKBA wrongs. More families are divided by ever-harsher knee-jerk immigration controls barring entry, and more children are ending up in lone parent families when a parent is deported. Not to mention the proposal to recreate in Britain the notorious migrant worker exploitation of the German Gastarbeiter programme.

In the political war over migration control, the real casualties are not government Ministers or civil servants on £60,000 a year pensions. It is the refugees, the families, the workers who suffer. The racism and xenophobia that is pervading mainstream politics, highlighted last week by John Grayson at IRR, affects our whole society.

An anti-immigrant war of words affects us all, and we all have a role to play in resisting it. As the saying goes: if you don’t like the news, go out and make your own…
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