‘You can’t talk about immigration’. I seem to be hearing this phrase all the damn time lately.
Isn’t the world a strange place sometimes. I could have sworn that a huge amount of time this election has been spent talking about immigration. I was absolutely certain that both TV debates featured all three leaders arguing about who had the toughest approach to immigration. I was even pretty sure one of the debates was supposed to be about international affairs, not domestic affairs like immigration. I was pretty certain that the BNP and UKIP centre their entire political ideology around immigration, whilst the Conservative Party are planning to introduce a cap on immigrants, Labour are creating a Australian-style points-based system and the Liberal Democrats are creating an amnesty for illegal immigrants whilst peppering new arrivals to emptier parts of the country.
I was pretty certain that the Daily Mail runs huge amounts of stories about immigration, as does the Express, the Sun and other tabloid newspapers. These tabloids and some of the broadsheets also point out that if we reach a population of 70million because of immigration bad things will happen and life in Britain may well end. Immigration, immigration, immigration. One of the key issues of this election. Everyone is talking about it. When prospective and current PMs go on Radio 1 it is the main issue that young voters want to bring up. As far as I can perceive: everyone wants to know what is going to be done about immigration, and they are not shy to talk about it.
Yet it turns out I am badly mistaken, because of course ‘You can’t talk about immigration.’ As Gillian Duffy so eloquently put it:
You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying that you’re … but all these eastern European what are coming in, where are they flocking from?
It is easy to simply mock Gillian Duffy for answering her own question, but if you look at it more carefully the more bigoted the question comes. For she isn’t using ‘Eastern European’ to refer specifically to people from that part of Europe, rather she is using it as a catch-all term for foreigners of no distinct country, hence why she asks ‘where are they flocking from?’.
Think of the way that ‘Paki’ and ‘Pakistani’ became used as a derogatory term to describe anyone Asian. I think ‘Eastern European’ is being used in the same way here, with the same argument to defend it: it isn’t racist to refer to national groups. I get the feeling that ‘fucking Eastern Europeans’ is fast becoming the new ‘fucking Pakis’. Both phrases are borne out of ignorance: ‘I do not care where you came from, I only care and am upset by the fact that you are here, please kindly fuck off’.
The ineloquence of Gillian Duffy seems to stem from what tabloid newspapers have tried so hard to create; a kind of unthinking acceptance that the country is overrun with immigrants. What happens is that people like Gillian pick up the general narrative but can’t quite remember the details, largely – I like to think – because their brain subconciously rejects them as bollocks. Look at the way she talks about claiming benefits for example:
But there’s too many people now who aren’t vulnerable but they can claim and people who are vulnerable can’t get claim, can’t get it.
You can see she is trying to regurgitate the narrative that she has been fed, but it doesn’t come out quite right. You can see she is trying to say that immigrants get all the benefits whilst people in need get nothing, yet something prevented her. Maybe when people write about what a genius Littlejohn is, and how he can put into words what the rest of us cannot, perhaps there is some truth in this. Perhaps if Littlejohn had been responding to this statement he would have been able to quickly draw agreement from Gillian: ‘You mean that we’re showering immigrants with benefits whilst British taxpayers, pensioners and vulnerable people suffer?’ Littlejohn might reply. ‘Yes, that is exactly it’ Gillian would presumably exclaim, marvelling at Littlejohn’s mastery of basic narratives.
This seems to be supported by her next point that ‘you can’t say anything about the immigrants…’ is just classic tabloid rubbish, as above: we don’t seem to be talking about any other ‘issue’ in this election and the topic is front page material almost every week for most tabloids. The rise of the BNP is blamed on the fact that we ‘don’t have proper debates about immigration’ or that immigration is a ‘taboo subject’. Yet it isn’t, it is a subject that can be discussed by people like Gillian Duffy on national TV, using the exact language above and Gordon Brown is the one being dragged over hot coals for having the decency and honesty to call her a bigot.
If anything shows how skewered this issue has become is that newspapers are now running with the ‘Political Correctness gone mad’ angle: ‘look, you can’t even make barely literate slurs against foreigners anymore, It’s PC gone mad’. Newspapers use it as evidence that any attempt at open debate is crushed by the PC brigade, rather than Gordon Brown being compassionate and walking away before Gillian went on to say something really offensive.
It is not racist to discuss immigration, however, when someone knows nothing about the subject and resorts to attempting to repeat shit they have read in a newspaper, then I’m going out on a limb and saying: they are a bigot. They might not be an overt racist voting BNP and secretly admiring Hitler, they might simply be what I think Gillian is: just not that smart, another simple person being sold a big steaming tabloid narrative that immigrants get it all whilst those really in need – British people – are bumped to the back of the queue.
But irrespective of how bigoted Gillian Duffy is or isn’t can we all just agree on one thing: not only can you talk freely about immigration in the UK, you can also freely talk absolute shite about it. In fact I would go even further than that: in the UK you can sell thousands of newspapers and earn thousands of pounds as a writer simply by constantly talking shit about immigration.
The Daily Mail has predictably and depressingly completely proved my point with their headline today:
You see, even when you mention the ‘I-word’ on the front page of a national newspaper with a criculation of over 2 million people, you still cannot talk about immigration.
Head, meet desk.