It’s always the Muslims, even when it clearly isn’t

Another story in immigration in the Daily Mail today claiming that Britain is attracting more immigrants than other European countries: ‘How Britain attracts more migrants than France AND Germany‘. In the article the Daily Mail points out that:

Germany, which no longer accepts unskilled migrants and which declined to accept Eastern European workers when Poland and other countries joined the EU, had negative net migration.

The Daily Mail knows that the vast majority of immigrants in the UK are from within the EU and that the population of Poles has leaped dramatically. They also acknowledge that Germany has negative net migration largely because it has not accepted ‘Eastern European workers’. So, naturally the illustrate the story with two women in Burkas:

Along with the caption:

Tough stance: Earlier this week, ministers promised to tighten every aspect of immigration into Britain from outside the EU as net migration figures continue to soar

A caption which fails to acknowledge that migration from outside the EU is not responsible for ‘soaring’ figures and will not be helped by further tightening of already draconian measures for those wanting to come to the UK from outside the EU. As people point out in the comments, why show a misleading picture of women in Burkas?

Not at all relevant

I also have to question what possible reason is there for those asking this question to be voted down? It’s a good example at why the right can never have a serious discussion about immigration, because they cannot resist bringing race into it, even when it is clearly completely misleading and irrelevant.

The ‘Wilful misreporting’ of Immigration

Tabloid Watch has already covered this, but I think it is worth repeating on this blog – in fact it is worth repeating on every blog until it starts to sink in: tabloid coverage of immigration is a dishonest disgrace. Panorama reporter Paul Kenyon has written an article for the latest issue of British Journalism Review, which has been cut down and published in the MediaGuardian today. Kenyon’s conclusion of his experience of tabloid coverage of immigration is clear:

the seemingly non-stop campaign against asylum- seekers, and the wilful misreporting of the issue among some tabloid newspapers, is getting worse.

‘Wilful’ is a strong allegation, but it’s a fair one.

Important distinctions, such as that between asylum-seekers and economic migrants, are often fudged or overlooked; the language is inflammatory; there seems to be a lazy hostility towards them, implying a universal acceptance that what asylum -seekers represent, what they are, is wrong.

Kelvin MacKenzie tried to argue on Question Time recently that the tabloid media was never responsible for whipping-up outrage, they merely reflected the outrage that the public already felt. I beg to differ. Likewise, when I post something on Twitter about Richard Littlejohn writing a disgraceful column full of lies and hate, I sometimes get replies saying simply: ‘who cares?’. Well I do for starters, and as I have argued before: we should all care because tabloid lies infect the lives of all of us, whether we read tabloid newspapers or not.

Most of us will have had the same leaflet from the BNP (or, indeed, the Conservatives) during the election campaign, a leaflet that just happened to neatly parrot the tabloid narrative of immigrants getting a better deal than pensioners. Something which is a complete lie, one driven forward by utterly dishonest journalists – none more so than the Richard Littlejohn that I’m supposed to ignore.

We also might happen to work in an area like Blaenau Gwent, in which 92% of residents were born in Wales (the highest proportion of any local authority in Wales) and less than 1% of people living in the local area were born outside of the UK and Ireland. The ethnic population in Blaenau Gwent is comparably small, making up less than 1% of the overall population (Wales 2%). So, this population, despite living in one of the least diverse areas in the UK, had a BNP turnout of 1,211 along with 488 voting for UKIP.

As research has shown, the BNP get significantly less votes in areas with a high immigrant population, and more votes in areas with low immigration. This research demonstrates that the tabloid narrative that it is ‘uncontrolled immigration’ feeds the BNP is false; and it instead points to the tabloid media as the real culprits for boosting BNP support in areas that have no experience with the reality of immigration (areas such as Blaenau Gwent).

When I deal with students and they repeat tabloids lies about immigration and express their hatred of immigrants it makes me even more determined to not just ‘look the other way’ as some commenters seem to suggest occasionally. There are real consequences to dishonest tabloid narratives, I see it in the people I meet and the students I teach. I don’t think I am strange or indeed alone in wanting a better tabloid media; one that doesn’t continually distort reality to create hatred and anger in groups that don’t know better and even some that really should.

Floods and Waves

As a change of pace I thought I’d peruse some other tabloid websites for a while to see what they were offering their readers. I haven’t been on the Sun website for quite some time, and suddenly remembered why I rarely visit the site for stories: because the site is just so terrible. I’ll give the Daily Mail credit for one thing: its website is light years ahead of other tabloid news sites. The Express website is slightly better, which makes things slightly worse because it makes it easier to find stories that make you shake your head. Stories like: ‘NEW WAVE OF MIGRANTS WIN RIGHT TO FLOOD UK‘.

The Express don’t do subtle, which is why the headline clearly suggests that somewhere a group of foreigners has battled to win the right to settle in the UK. The introduction goes even further:

BRITAIN was last night warned to expect a new wave of immigration from Eastern Europe after almost half a million Ukrainians and Serbians were given the right to live, work and claim benefits in the UK.

Of course, this isn’t really what has happened which is in fact that around 450,000 Ukrainians and Serbians can apply for Hungarian citizenship should they ‘speak the nation’s language or prove they have Hungarian ancestry’. It doesn’t mean any of them will actually want to or be allowed to become Hungarian citizens, nor does it follow that they will all then want to the UK; although with all this tabloid talk of what a ‘generous’ welfare system we have, I can’t blame them for being fooled into wanting to move here. However, as ever the Express ignores any uncertainty:

This means they will be granted full employment rights in the UK and access to British benefits.

Now it is feared that tens of thousands of the “new citizens” will flee the dire economic situation in Eastern Europe for the UK’s lucrative job market and generous welfare system.

Last night there was anger that Britain’s borders were being opened to yet more migrants from Eastern Europe.

The ‘anger’ comes from UKIP, Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatchUK and the TaxPayers’ Alliance. All of them wholly unreliable sources of anything other than a suitably angry quote on demand. In particular Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, assertion that ‘The possibility of yet more people travelling to the UK to escape the recession in their own countries is particularly worrying, and we simply cannot afford it with our finances being in such a poor state’, seems somewhat silly, given that immigrants are a net contributer to the UK and have a ‘positive and growing impact on the public finances’.

Still, the Express will not let facts stand in the way of ramping up the fear of another ‘wave’ of ‘flooding’ migrants that already has people ‘fearing’ for the public finances.

The Disinformed March Again

So, another weekend, another planned march (Newcastle) by the EDL, who are remember, not at all racist. This weekend features a live performance by Anglo-Saxon, a one-man band who was arrested for in 2007 for incitement to racial hatred for the lyrics of his song, This is England. I imagine the lyrics the Police objected to were these:

Take this as a wake up call
See the writing on the wall
Is this the land you want to leave to your children
They bleed the state and ask for more
It’s time Britannia closed the door
They crossed these shores for thirty pieces of silver
They took the passport, they took the pound
And now they’ve bombed the underground
They’ll never destroy the land of Hope & Glory
This is England…………X 4

Once again it is not surprising to see another nationalist repeating tabloid lies about immigrants – it is almost as if Anglo-Saxon have attempted to put Richard Littlejohn’s entire repertoire of made-up slurs against immigrants to music. Naturally Anglo-Saxon claims to be ‘not remotely racist‘, he just happens to be obsessed with his ancestral race and is happy to write off a whole range of diverse people as ‘those who bombed the underground’. No doubt people will be rushing to point out how I’m one of those evil thought-police who are rushing to shut down the debate about immigration because remember: you cannot talk about immigration.

However, I’ll just reiterate once again: talking about immigration is not racist. What is racist is being happy to believe media narratives about a diverse group of people and believing that all of them crossed ‘the shore for thirty pieces of silver’ and all of them are responsible for ‘bombing the underground’. That is the very definition of racism: the negative stereotyping of a whole race based on the actions of a couple of individuals who are in no way representative of anyone but themselves.

The EDL march because the tabloid media have carefully constructed a series of narratives for them. If they are poor it is because the welfare state has given more money to ‘them’, if they have no job it is because one of ‘them’ took it, if they have no council house it is because ‘they’ get priority and it is they that ‘bleed the state and ask for more’. None of these concepts grew organically inside the head of Anglo-Saxon, all of them were carefully planted by a corporate media that is creating someone to blame for the fundamental inequality of society.

The corporate tabloid media pursue a corporate agenda, they sell us the ‘American Dream’ in which any one of us might just become rich and have the kind of lifestyle we see on TV. This is the carrot that is dangled in front of us, making us docile consumers, each individual trampling on those around them in order to claw their way just one step closer to owning more and more expensive stuff. Because the corporate world knows that such social mobility is getting less likely with every passing year and as the gap between the rich and the poor widens as more and more money in concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people they must create believable narratives as to why you aren’t living the American Dream.

Currently the in-vogue tabloid narrative is that immigrants are to blame, they are the ones draining the system, stealing the jobs and taking the houses. If it wasn’t for them your life would be full of opportunities, you’d be living the American Dream, clawing your way towards more pay and more consumables. But instead, because of the immigrants your life is failing and you want to lash out at the ones to blame.

I feel sorry for EDL members who march to reclaim a country that has been firmly taken over by a global corporate elite, not by immigration. We live in a society in which corporate narratives are so successfully disseminated by the corporate-controlled media that we want public sector pay and benefits slashed, rather than private sector pay and benefits raised. We actually get outraged over certain people having the right to a decent pension, annual leave and job security; when we should be getting outraged by the fact that corporations earning billions of pounds a year for shareholders do not provide these things to the majority of their staff.

As the lyrics to ‘This is England’ testify: the nationalist EDL are a direct result of dishonest media narratives. Narratives designed to create a disinformed public who lash out at other social groups – usually the disenfranchised and weak – as being the cause of poverty, unemployment and so forth. The real causes of poverty and unemployment is this warped version of capitalism that is regulated in favour of transnational corporations – many of them creating more GDP per year than most of the countries on earth. Moving between countries and avoiding tax through inter-company charges these global corporations are gradually placing a price tag on everything on earth – including human DNA – accumulating the world’s wealth without any social responsibility, just a pathological desire to exploit, monetise and avoid taxes.

Sadly, the EDL will not be marching to the doors of Newscorp or any other global abomination, instead they’ll be singing songs about how it is all the brown person’s fault.

Immigration and ‘Social Cohesion’

One of the best things about the recent election – in my humble opinion – is that lots of people have been talking about politics and actually getting really interested in what is going on. The worst thing about the recent election – again, in my humble opinion – is that so many of these discussions are reliant almost entirely on dishonest tabloid narratives. Almost exclusively, these narratives are based around one topic: immigration. I have heard people talk about immigration increasing the deficit problem, causing a depression in wages, shrinking the available jobs for ‘British workers’ and so on. Immigration must be reduced, they proclaim, as a matter of extreme importance: immigration is in their minds intricately linked to all the social and economic problems that they care to list.

So I respond. I point out that immigrants are a net contributor to the economy and that without them the deficit would be a little bit worse. I point out that the idea that there are a fixed amount of jobs is a fallacy, and that studies have shown that increased immigration does not lower wages. Evidence suggests if anything that it actually causes a small rise in the average wage. Whether they like it or not, immigration has played a big part in economic growth, growth that has enabled Britain to carry the burden of its debt better than many expected.

With each tabloid narrative countered you face another one, and the longer this rally continues the more likely it is that you arrive at the final argument against immigration: ‘Ah’, says the tabloid debater, ‘But what about social cohesion?’. This is the trump card, this is the point where if the debater has accepted that immigrants are a financial benefit to the economy, they have to bring up a deeper problem, one that makes any economic benefit just not worth it.

Social cohesion. It sounds good, it sounds considered, it sounds intelligent and it sounds like a really important thing; for who could not want social cohesion? Yet when you sit back and consider what ‘social cohesion’ actually means it becomes a hollow phrase, one that serves only to highlight the inherent problems of modernity, not immigration. I tried to put this argument into words a while ago when discussing Richard Littlejohn’s assertion that he wasn’t against immigrants per se, he wast just against immigrants that did not ‘integrate’ into British society.

As I said at the time: ‘Integration is such a woolly, indefinable idea that of course it is an easy stick to beat immigrants with’, and I believe that the same can be said of ‘social cohesion’. We live in a society that still has strong class barriers, so should an immigrant integrate with all social classes, or identify the social class that best suits their wealth? Is social cohesion damaged by immigration, but not by the massive difference between the wealthiest people in this country and the poorest, and the rigid political and social structure that ensures the gap between the two widens with each passing year?

To pretend that ‘social cohesion’ is anything other than a ethereal ideal says a lot about the core dishonesty that defines so much of the dialogue about immigration. Social cohesion has never existed in the UK, a society that more than most always defines itself in terms of class and wealth. Does the fact that we have the traditionally working class Labour Party winning the majority of seats and hearts in Northern England, Scotland and Wales, whilst the elitist Conservative Party win seats and votes almost exclusively in the wealthier Southern parts of England suggest that social cohesion has more pressing enemies than immigration?

As a recent study suggested, the BNP are not buoyed by the votes of people living in areas of high immigration, rather they consistently win the votes of the poorest, least-educated citizens in the UK. People can feel disenfranchised by society and vote BNP without having any social or economic interaction with immigrants. They are told by the tabloid press that the reason they have no job, no money, poor social housing and worst of all no hope, is that immigration is ‘unchecked’ and ‘uncontrolled’; whilst those ‘flocking / flooding / swamping’ here are ‘showered / hosed / gifted’ with masses of benefits at their expense. They are explicitly told that the immigrants are responsible for their woes, by a tabloid press that has a huge amount invested in maintaining the wealthy elite who really cause the majority of social problems.

The irony is that one of the key issues tearing apart social cohesion is not immigration, but rather the tabloid narrative that has been so carefully constructed to frame the immigration debate. The narrative has created a huge number of citizens that feel like they have lost out because of immigration, that somehow their suffering – real or imagined – is a direct result of immigration. The narrative hasn’t just altered the perception of the working classes, it has infiltrated every aspect of society. During the election quiet middle-England villages found their greens stabbed by UKIP signs, villages that to all intents and purposes remained physically untouched by immigration were nevertheless keen to support a party that was ‘tough’ on immigration and almost exclusively xenophobic in its outlook.

People up and down the country – irrespective of local realities – all had the same discussions, based on the same tabloid narratives and the same tabloid lies. When participating in these discussions I’m always reminded that everyone is ‘entitled to their own opinions’. I could not agree more. I just wish, sometimes, the people I argued with actually had their own opinions.

An Unfair System: Interesting Consequences?

So, on the face of it things went pretty badly for the Liberal Democrats, who look set to end up with less sets than they had in 2005. However, you then start to look at how many people actually voted for the Liberal Democrats and you start to get pretty angry with the current system. The Conservatives gained 10,615,958 votes and currently have 302 seats. The Liberal Democrats received 6,781,005 votes (over 60% of the Conservative total) and currently have just 57 seats. That means the Conservatives have fewer than twice as many votes, but six times as many seats.

The results for Labour are equally unfair. Labour received 8,535,952 votes, fewer than two million more than the Liberal Democrats, but currently have exactly 200 more seats – nearly four times as many as the Liberal democrats, even though the Liberal Democrats had over 75% as many votes as Labour. The Liberal Democrats made electoral reform one of the central features of their campaign and, fittingly, the election results have more than proven their point that reform is needed.

I made these points on Twitter and someone responded with a ‘problem’: ‘ah’, they said, ‘but if you brought in Proportional Representation then UKIP and the BNP would win seats, and that is a bad thing’. I’d disagree in principle: it isn’t necessarily a ‘bad thing’, it is merely democracy in action. We need to realise the reasons why the BNP are gaining support (up 1.2% in this election) and it isn’t – as newspapers would argue – that immigration is ‘uncontrolled’ or that British people are being treated as ‘second-class citizens’.

If we want to stop the BNP gaining seats in an election we shouldn’t block electoral reform, we should actually tackle the reasons why people vote BNP. The reasons are simple: a lack of education, a lack of personal experience of immigrants – meaning that they always remain an abstract concept (the ‘other’, ‘them’, ‘they’), rather than a human being – and most importantly the constant dishonest stories run by the press that are regularly quoted on the BNP website and by BNP voters when they explain why they vote BNP. If we want to stop the BNP gaining voter share we need to tackle an unregulated, racist press that has an agenda of creating hatred towards immigrants.

As I pointed out recently, immigration is an issue that cannot be discussed whilst the current dishonest tabloid narratives remain unchallenged. Research has been conducted that has shown that BNP voter share is less in areas with a high immigrant population, precisely for the ‘access to reality’ reason I have mentioned above. When newspapers blame New Labour’s immigration policy for the rise of the BNP they are lying to cover their own complicity in the rise of the far right in this country.

This does raise an interesting dilemma for the tabloid press. Currently they can offer implied support to the BNP by printing a consistent stream of lies for BNP voters and leaders to feed on without having to overly worry about such lies having an electoral consequence. As we saw last night, most BNP candidates polled quite poorly (although in several areas – such as the almost exclusively white, immigrant-free Blaenau Gwent – they got well over 1,000 votes) and not even party leader Nick Griffin could win a seat. However, if PR was brought in then the tabloid press would be well aware that the current BNP vote could win the party seats. Then when the inevitable recrimination starts after such a result the press wouldn’t be able to avoid their own complicity in creating the very lies that drives people to vote BNP.

Essentially, PR would demonstrate just what a evil influence the tabloid press has over poorly educated or poorly integrated voters. Currently a lot of people understand that the tabloid press is the biggest recruiter for the BNP, but because of our electoral system we can all be content with just a quiet boo when the low polling results are announced for each BNP candidate. I cannot help but think that if BNP votes turned into BNP seats we’d all have to be a lot more vociferous about just who is to blame.

The BNP: Another Consequence of the Tabloid Press

I received a BNP leaflet through the door the other day from Kay Thomas, my local BNP candidate and meant to post on it straight away, but got distracted by Gillian Duffy and the whole ‘You can’t talk about immigration‘ issue. However, picking apart a BNP leaflet is too easy a task to ignore, and because the BNP are almost entirely created by a dishonest and ill-regulated press, then they are also an issue too important to ignore.

bnp_leaflet_front bnp_leaflet_back

It is easy to get distracted from the real poison of BNP ‘literature’ on account of just how laughably terrible it is. What you have to remember is that nobody with a shred of intelligence or creativity could possibly be a BNP member, so when you get Nick Griffen’s chubby confused face overlapping the black and white face of Winston Churchill you have to remember that this is meant to create the notion that somehow they’re a bit similar. It isn’t supposed to just make Nick Griffen look very stupid. Likewise the phrases used are supposed to get you worked up and voting for the BNP, rather than just making you laugh out loud: ‘We’re NOT Second Class Citizens!’ screams the front of the leaflet. Then why do you keep saying we are? But the leaflet deserves more serious criticism as do the press which have created the mythical narratives that allows the BNP to create an entire manifesto on getting ‘even’ with immigrants and asylum seekers.

For example, take the two main pledges on the front page: ‘Put a stop to Immigration’ and ‘Raise the Weekly Pension to £150’; along with the claim of a BNP ‘voter’ on the back:

I’m voting BNP because I’m sick of seeing asylum seekers coming here and being given a better deal than our own pensioners! Charity begins at home and it’s time we looked after our elderly.

So, do asylum seekers ‘get a better deal’ than pensioners? And would ending immigration be a good thing? Interestingly, the two points are intimately linked, and not in the way that the BNP would like to imagine.

The current Basic State Retirement Pension for a single person is £95.25 per week and £152.30 for a couple. This is the full basic pension, requiring you to have worked and contributed full National Insurance payments for 30 years – an improvement under New Labour as previously you had to clock up 49 years for a man and 44 woman (a total that assumes work starts at 16 which is no longer the case for the majority of people). The basic pension is lower than the income support threshold, meaning that if a pensioner has no other income then they can top-up their pension with income support. This is a means-tested Pension Credit that brings up the weekly amount to £130 for a single person and £198.45 for a couple.

These sums are not massive, but a range of other benefits are available to pensioners. The main problem is a large percentage of pensioners do not claim all of the benefits that they are entitled to; one estimate suggests unclaimed benefits for pensioners can amount to as much as £5 billion annually.

Pensioners are an age group that a lot of political parties are keen to offer extra support to, and a group that are seen as being badly let down by the current government. They are also a group that tends to vote, so they are a key election demographic. However, they are also a problematic group because providing a basic state pension has become more and more expensive – irrespective of whether the weekly payments have increased or not. In 1949 there were approximately 4 million pensioners in the UK. There are now 10.5 million and this number is expected to rise to £14 million by 2050. This is largely because people are living longer than ever before, meaning that pensions are paid for longer periods to more people, making the basic state pension an increasingly expensive proposition.

This increase is compounded by the fact that population growth is slowing, meaning that there are fewer younger people entering employment. Currently there are 4.5 working people to contribute taxes towards each pensioner, by 2025 there will only be 3.5. One of the economic arguments being made for increased immigration is that we need to increase our working population in order to support our retired population. Immigrants offer a quick boost to the economy because they are not immediately entitled to benefits, they have not required state education in the UK and are therefore a ‘free’ source of tax revenue – because they do come here to work. However, the BNP is pledging to end immigration and increase the basic state pension, seems like they just haven’t thought this through and just want to keep foreigners out – almost as if they were just a racist party and nothing else. You will not see this point mentioned often – if at all – in the mainstream right-wing press either, but if you sit down and look at it then the positive economic contribution that immigrants make  (£2.5 billion) is helping to fund the current state pension.

The reality is that if we want a more secure retirement we need a much larger working population and as this is not expected to be achieved through population growth then increased immigration is the only solution.

The real point that needs to repeatedly reiterated is that Asylum seekers are only a small group, and that they do not receive anywhere near the basic benefits of a pensioner. The reality is that asylum seekers receive a weekly living allowance set at just 70% of income support – the weekly payment for an asylum seeker over 25 is just £35.13, £95 (or 70%) less every week than a pensioner claiming income support; and just over half of what the government says a person needs to live on. Furthermore the vast majority of asylum seekers are not entitled to claim any of the following:

  • Income Support
  • Income-based Job Seekers Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Council Tax Benefit
  • Social Fund
  • Disability Living Allowance
  • Attendance Allowance
  • Invalid Care Allowance
  • Severe Disablement Allowance
  • Non-contributory incapacity benefit
  • Working Families’ Tax Credit
  • Disabled Person’s Tax Credit
  • Child Benefit

The UK asylum system is strictly controlled and this is reflected in the numbers of people seeking asylum in the UK. There were only 25,670 asylum applications to the UK in 2008. Applications have fallen by almost half over the last five years. The home office detains roughly 2,000 asylum-seeking children with their families each year. The treatment of asylum seekers is a national disgrace.

You will not read about any of the above in the vast majority of tabloid newspapers. Those newspapers instead prefer headlines like: ‘Asylum seekers are lured to the UK by its ‘enormous’ benefits, says Calais mayor in blistering attack on Britain‘ (The Daily Mail), ‘Former asylum seekers on benefits live in £1.8 million home‘ (The Daily Telegraph) and ‘Asylum seekers wrongly paid £10m in benefits‘ (London Evening Standard). These headlines are on the first 2 pages of Google results for ‘asylum seekers benefits’.

In a recent article on immigration I argued that tabloid newspapers are as poisonous as cigarettes in that you don’t have to directly read a tabloid newspaper to suffer, you are poisoned merely by existing in the same atmosphere as one. Just as the passive smoker inhales the carcinogens of the cigarette, so the passive tabloid reader inhales the toxic messages of the tabloid press. You cannot ignore tabloid newspapers anymore than you can dodge inhaling the smoke of a lit cigarette in your proximity. When a BNP leaflet lands on your doorstep urging you to vote BNP in order to stop putting asylum seekers above pensioners you are inhaling the toxins of a un-regulated tabloid press. When hatred and bigotry is typed onto glossy paper and posted through your door as a supposedly creditable political option then you should look not just towards the ignorant racists that put the message onto the leaflet, but also towards the tabloid newspapers who carefully created the message for them in the first place.

The next time you hear someone complaining about asylum seekers ‘getting it all’ or playing any part in the current economic crisis ask them how many people seek asylum in the UK each year. I doubt they would have a clue. Then ask them just how much an asylum seeker is entitled to each week, and what benefits they can claim. Again, I doubt that they have a clue. Yet they are happy to blame around 25,000 people living on just over half the amount that the government says a person needs to live on – 70% less than pensioners claiming income support – for ‘broken Britain’. Whenever someone exhales a tabloid lie about immigration or asylum seekers in your face, be as offended as you would be if a smoker exhaled cigarette smoke in your face. Say something, challenge them, let them know that parroting tabloid lies is not big and not clever. If you can make just one person see the reality the tabloids try so hard to obscure, then you’ve done something amazingly positive for humanity.

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

‘You Can’t Talk About Immigration’

‘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.


UPDATE:

The Daily Mail has predictably and depressingly completely proved my point with their headline today:

gillian duffy

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.