A Talk About Immigration

Yesterday I tried to point out that the whole notion that immigration was something that we were not as a society allowed to discuss was beyond ludicrious. I updated that post with today’s front page of the Daily Mail to demonstrate that the right-wing press are as keen as ever to portray immigration as the great unmentionable topic during this election. Here I am going to look at it in more detail, as well as looking at just what the truth is in respect to immigration in this country.

Firstly, the Daily Mail headline is absolutely laughable: ‘Politicians’ censorship of any debate on mass immigration explodes…’ and easily swept aside by the fact that immigration has been discussed at length by all three parties in something actually called ‘a debate’. Considering that these two live debates have been managed by ITV on one occasion and Sky on the other the idea that politicians have been ‘censoring’ the debate is a complete joke. The main reason people watch the TV debates I imagine is the fact that anything can happen on live TV, that they have a rare opportunity to view politicians without the stage-managed theatrics.

Moving on to the main headline it actually manages to be worse: ‘Demonised: The granny who dared to utter the I-word’. No point in going over old ground in dismissing the stupidity of the ‘you can’t talk about immigration’ claim, but look at the word ‘Demonised’. Who has really been demonised here? Gillian Duffy for being labelled a bigot in a personal, off-the-record remark by Gordon Brown who in public politely nodded and changed the subject as Gillian started rambling gibberish about foreigners like we are all supposed to (why is it socially unacceptable to challenge such remarks?). Or is it Gordon Brown who is being crucified by the press and has felt the need to offer a grovelling apology to Gillian Duffy despite the fact that her ramblings did seem to be bigoted? I think on the balance of evidence I’m going to suggest the only demonisation taking place here is the demonisation of anybody who tries to step outside the accepted right-wing narrative about immigration – which is: immigration is evil.

Consider Quentin Lett’s bizzare defence of Gillain Duffy which is headlined: ‘She was magnificent, she was eloquent. And she spoke, I suspect, for millions’. Am I alone in thinking that he must have read a completely different transcript, if the following is ‘magnificent’ and ‘eloquent’ then I really need to pick up a dictionary and check a couple of definitions:

…There are too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can’t get claim… You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying you’re – but all these eastern Europeans coming in, where are they flocking from?

Why then, is it so important for the Daily Mail to portray Gillian Duffy as ‘magnificent’ and ‘eloquent’? I suspect it is because here is a voter that just happens to be completely on message with the media narrative on immigration: vulnerable people are being screwed over because immigrants get all the benefits, but of course you can’t say anything about immigrants even though they’re all ‘flocking’ over here. Perfect. She is therefore the ideal proponent of the tabloid view of immigration and therefore if the Daily Mail gave the impression that she actually seemed confused, fearful and ignorant, it wouldn’t say a huge amount about the kind of person who understands, believes and repeats the tabloid narrative.

I understand that it is not productive to blame Gillian Duffy for having these views, she may well be a passive victim of consistent dishonesty from a poorly regulated press rather than the sort of bigot that buys a tabloid newspaper because it reinforces their view of immigration. It also isn’t her fault that she is being made into a faux martyr by the same dishonest newspapers. The only thing I can really do with regards to Gillian Duffy is shake my head in dissapointment that she has been fooled by the press into feeling the need to tackle Gordon Brown about foreigners coming over here.

The reason I am disappointed is that these inane mutterings have consequences for us all. I sometimes get smug comments on this site along the lines of: ‘Hey, you moan about people reading the Daily Mail to be angry, yet you do exactly the same! If you don’t like it, don’t read it, simple.’ However, it isn’t that simple because whether you read a tabloid newspaper or not, you cannot avoid being exposed to the poisenous narratives that they create.

Think of a tabloid reader as if they were a smoker and the tabloid newspaper is a cigerette. A lit cigerrete is hard to ignore, is has a fiery tip and billows smoke, the smoker inhales the poisenous smoke and then exhales it, often in the vicinity of others. You don’t have to be a smoker to inhale this second-hand smoke, nor do you have to be a smoker to see and smell the lit ciggerette. The tabloid press acts in the same way: the headlines scream at you from newstands, whilst any tabloid reader who inhales the message exhales it – frequently – in your company. We are all passive tabloid newspaper readers. The posenous stench is unavoidable.

Everytime you hear someone fearfully talk about the population hitting ’70million’; everytime you hear that immigrants / illegal immigrants / asylum seekers are ‘showered in benefits’ whilst ‘hard working taxpayers / pensioners’ are left without; everytime people say that there aren’t enough jobs because of immigrants; everytime you hear that local schools / hospitals are ‘full / stretched / overrun’; everytime you hear people moan about ‘elf ‘n’ safety’ or the ‘PC brigade’ or ‘political correctness gone mad’; everytime you hear someone talk about ‘open borders / no border controls / unlimited immigration’.

Everytime you hear these things you are the passive victim of a tabloid newspaper.

You may have never read a tabloid newspaper yet you and the rest of the country will have to sit through a third election debate this evening where the three candidates will compete to see who can be toughest on immigration. Once again, you are the passive victim of tabloid smoke being pumped out on immigration. You may not agree with Quentin Letts or Gillian Duffy yet whenever someone claims to speak for the ‘silent majority / average man on the street/ on behalf of the hard-working taxpayer’ the tabloid press attempts to steal your right to your own individual opinion. Your right to a proper democratic debate has been hijacked by the tabloid press, whether you read it or not, whether you even acknowledge its very existence is completely irrelevant.

It is difficult to change someone’s mind about an issue. I had an argument on Twitter today about whether I was being ‘dismissive’ of the opinions of people like Gillian Duffy, and whether I was wrong to give up trying to engage with such people to change their viewpoint. Firstly, in Gillian’s case I really don’t think this is her opinion, and secondly in my experience trying to argue against tabloid narratives is extremely difficult – hence why politics, religion and I imagine immigration are topics to be avoided at any dinner party because it’ll just turn into a row.

Shifting the existing culture of tabloid narratives is going to be tough, and clearly we have to focus on education the young in media literacy (I teach some sessions on this for the FE college I work in) so that they have a greater awareness that the majority of tabloid newspaper stories are extemely dishonest and designed to further an agenda that has nothing to do with news. One thing I have noticed teaching in areas with virtually no immigration is just how much hostility young people have to immigrants, even though they live in an area in which it just isn’t an issue.

Consider the following points taken from research into various immigration issues in the UK:

The main result of the empirical analysis is that there is no strong evidence of large adverse effects of immigration on employment or wages of existing workers. In this respect our findings are consistent with empirical results from international research. There is some weak evidence of negative effects on employment but these are small and for most groups of the population it is impossible to reject the absence of any effect with the data used here. Insofar as there is evidence of any effect on wages, it suggests that immigration enhances wage growth1.

These figures report the total number of international migrants – that is, without any separation by country of birth. In accordance with the United Nations defi nition, these figures also include British nationals returning after ayear or more abroad2.

A Home Office research study found that, in 1999/2000, first generation migrants in the UK contributed £31.2 billion in taxes and consumed £28.8 billion in benefits and public services – a net fiscal contribution of £2.5 billion3.

Work by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggests that around 17 per cent of economic growth in 2004 and 2005 is attributable to immigration4

The Treasury estimates that between Q3 2001 and mid-2006 migration added 0.5 per cent per annum to the working age population and therefore supported growth in economic output. On this basis, migration contributed around £6 billion to output growth in 20065.

More recent work by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found that migration has a positive and growing impact on the public finances. By 2003-04 it was estimated that migrants contributed 10 percent of government receipts and accounted for 9.1 per cent of government expenditure10.

There is no theoretical reason why immigration need either depress native wages or increase native unemployment. Given that there is a strong long-run correlation between the size of the labour force and employment, there is no “lump of labour”; it is not true to say that there are only a fixed number of jobs to go round6.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has performed an extensive and thorough statistical analysis of claimant count data, the Annual Labour Force Survey and the Workers Registration Scheme (WRS). This analysis found no discernible statistical evidence that A8 migration has resulted in an increase in the claimant count rate since May 20047.

we have found no discernible statistical evidence to suggest that A8 migration has been a contributor to the rise in claimant unemployment in the UK9.

Vacancies, including those in sectors where migrants are concentrated have been and remain historically high. The magnitude of vacancies in the UK in a given month is far greater than the inflow of A8 migrants8.

Most new migrants have no entitlement to social housing… Foreign-born populations who have arrived in the UK during the last five years are overwhelmingly housed in the private rental sector, and not in social housing. New migrants to the UK over the last five years make up less than two per cent of the total of those in social housing; some 90 per cent of those who live in social housing are UK born12.

Our findings suggest that areas that have higher levels of recent immigration than others are not more likely to vote for the BNP. In fact, the more immigration an area has experienced, the lower its support for the far right. Rather, the evidence points to political and socio-economic exclusion as drivers of BNP support11.

Think back to these points when each party leader talks about the importance of ‘reducing’ or ‘controlling’ or ‘capping’ immigration and consider whether these pledges are being in the best interest of the country. Or, whether they are being made to mollify a huge electoral swathe of people addicted to tabloid smoke. Not to mention whether the politicians are keen to appease the creators of this smoke: the right-wing tabloid press whose dishonest, hateful and shameful reporting has led to this ‘issue’ taking center stage in the first place.

We all know that any politician or political party brave enough to have a real debate about immigration would be absolutely crucifed by the right-wing press. Yet, we must also realise that whether we inhale it first-hand, or passively inhale it from others, we are all being subjected to the same poisenous message and if we don’t want to be poisened we all have to fight for change. A passive smoker no longer enters a pub for a few drinks and comes out stinking of smoke. Imagine a world in which we could enter a pub and not inhale the stench of tabloid lies either. As I said on Twitter earlier: we cannot have a real debate on immigration as long as the tabloid press exists in its current form. It is that simple.


For more on this topic also see the excellent Tabloid Watch.

References

1, Dustmann, C. Fabbri, F. Preston, I. and Wadsworth, J. (2003) The local labour market effects of immigration in the UK. Home Office Online Report 06/03 [pdf]. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://eprints.ucl.ac.uk/14331/1/14331.pdf

2, A Cross-Departmental Submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs (2007) The Economic and Fiscal Impact of Immigration. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm72/7237/7237.pdf

3, IBID

4, IBID

5, IBID

6, Blanchflower, D. Saleheen, J. and Shadforth, C. (2007) The Impact of the Recent Migration from Eastern Europe on the UK Economy. Bank of England. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/speeches/2007/speech297.pdf

7, A Cross-Departmental Submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs (2007) The Economic and Fiscal Impact of Immigration. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm72/7237/7237.pdf

8, IBID

9, Gilpin, N. Henty M. Lemos, S. Portes, J. and Bullen, C. (2006) The impact of free movement of workers from Central and Eastern Europe on the UK labour market. Department for Work and Pensions, Working Paper No. 29. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/wp29.pdf

10, Reed, H. and Latorre, M. (2009) The Economic Impacts of Migration on the UK Labour Market. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.ippr.org.uk/publicationsandreports/publication.asp?id=649

11, IPPR (2010) Exploring the Roots of BNP Support. Accessed 29 April 2010: http://www.ippr.org.uk/publicationsandreports/publication.asp?id=743

12, Rutter, J. and Latorre, M. (2009) Social housing allocation and immigrant communities. Accessed 29 April 2009: http://www.ippr.org.uk/publicationsandreports/publication.asp?id=689

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