Dancing to the tune of the far right

Prime Minister David Cameron has chosen the pages of the Sun newspaper to launch a crackdown on immigrants. In what the tabloid calls his “manifesto”, he claims that “frankly this country became a soft touch”.

Whilst saying that immigration has benefited Britain, his words are a clear bid to win back those voters who have been migrating to the anti-immigration, anti-Europe UK Independence party.

The manifesto is Cameron’s attempt to outflank UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who recently met with the Sun’s owner, Rupert Murdoch for the first time. The PM’s attack on welfare for immigrants mimics proposals put forward by UKIP.

Cameron announced that immigrants would no longer receive benefits if they did not find a job after six months. They would only qualify to be on the waiting list (let alone be given) council homes when they have lived in the UK for up to five years. He said they would not be able to receive free treatment in the NHS.

The entire basis for his attack was that immigrants are an overall drain on the UK economy in general and on housing benefits and the health service.

But on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), put the record straight. He said that the Institute’s research for the Migration Advisory Committee of the UK Border Agency has shown that migrants “make a substantial net contribution to UK finance”.

This is because migrants are mostly young people who come to the UK to work and who pay taxes, he explained. They are far less of a burden on the welfare state than the average British citizen. The overwhelming part of UK benefits go to older people who need long-term health care. While there obviously were some cases of abuse, “the figures tell us that the people from outside the UK are a miniscule cost to the NHS”.

The NIESR is not the only organisation challenging the increasingly shrill anti-immigration rhetoric. On Saturday, the Bishop of Dudley, David Walker, said the tone of the debate was “wholly disproportionate”. Walker, who has served on the board of the National Housing Federation pricked the “fear” bubble.

“Public fears around immigration are like fears around crime,” he said.  “They bear little relationship to the actual reality. The true threats to our national wellbeing lie not with those who come to visit or make their lives here but with the increasing gap between the rich and poor among us.”

It’s clear that Cameron is dancing to the tune of UKIP and the far right, is using the pages of the right wing press to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment based on a fictional scenario.

His stance, however, still fails to match up to that of Labour. Not long ago, Blairite Dan Hodges noted that Labour leader Ed Miliband “laid out some of the hardest policy lines ever drawn on the issue by a Labour leader”. And Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper’s agenda involved “arrest, incarceration and deportation. Not One Nation, but a one-way ticket out of Britain”. She called for greater powers to be given to the UK Borders Agency.

But that very same agency is guilty of repeatedly breaking the law in its attempts to deport those legally seeking leave to remain in the UK.

UKBA’s monstrous behaviour has led to the deaths of a number of asylum seekers whilst in custody (some whilst in the “care” of global security giant G4S), the separation of children from parents, wives from husbands and many other human rights infringements.

The continuing shift to ever more anti-immigration policies is a bankrupt racist attempt by all the main political parties to make immigrants into scapegoats as the economic crisis deepens. Former immigration lawyer Francis Webber’s call for “a braver alternative vision” in her new book Borderline Justice is spot on. It can help to inspire the development of a new constitution for the 21st century.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win Secretary
25 March 2013