By Natasha Holder
Last week the government spent thousands on advertising to have vans circulating that read ‘Go home, or face arrest’. The question on everyone’s lips was ‘what is the purpose of this’? If the aim was really to reduce the number of illegal immigrants then there were cheaper and far more effective alternatives such as engaging with local communities. Someone wanting to return home voluntarily is far more likely to open dialogue with a community leader or local advisor than respond to an intimidating billboard telling them to ‘go home’. A Lib Dem party spokesman said: “These poster vans were not cleared or agreed by Liberal Democrats in government. We are totally committed to tackling illegal immigration but this is a disproportionate, distasteful and ineffective way to do it.” This has been the widely held view, and the campaign has subsequently been condemned as naked anti-immigration propaganda.
Despite this, the Conservative government have hailed their campaign a success; it’s been such a success that they’ve decided not to release any proof of this. I’m guessing it’s made as much of a difference as a van would circulating the city of London with a sign that read ‘playing roulette with people’s money is immoral’, or circulating Google’s offices with the message ‘pay tax or we’ll be angry’.
The billboards also showed residents how many illegal migrants had recently been arrested in their local area. The poster in Brent had the figure of 106 arrests; although the Home Office has not yet defined the remit of ‘your area’. Despite this, Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North, in a letter to Theresa May pointed out:
“At the rate of 106 arrests a week and assuming each arrest results in a deportation I calculate that it will take your van 90 years to scare people out of the UK – always assuming no further illegal immigrants enter the UK in the meantime.”
So what is the true purpose of this charade?
The Conservative government are determined to win back votes from UKIP, which some pundits suggest has led to an ‘arms-race on anti-immigration rhetoric’. Earlier this year Cameron’s speech on immigration left France’s far-right Front National party praising him, but the party’s latest billboard campaign has been branded ‘nasty’ even by Nigel Farage. Some suggest that this campaign against illegal immigrants is not only ineffective but vicious and a stress on social cohesion.
Sarah Teather, the former Lib Dem minister and MP for Brent Central, said constituents told her the billboards were reminiscent of some of the most offensive graffiti and signs seen at the height of anti-immigrant racism in the 70s, she said:
“It reminds them of the things they used to see on walls in the 70s such as ‘Paki go home’. The tone of the words on this van is similar to those signs in guesthouses that once told potential tenants: ‘no Irish, no blacks, no dogs’.”
Many will proclaim that this is not directed at any particular racial group or even legal immigrants. Yet the racially charged words, ‘go home’, were being displayed in the most ethnically diverse region in the whole of Europe – Brent; a region with a long established diverse community. Barking and Dagenham, areas “with historically fraught race relations and a high prevalence of BNP support” were also targeted. Linkage of immigration to race was a feature of political culture in Britain throughout the post-1945 period. Since the early 1960s, British Labour and Conservative governments actively regulated and racialised immigration. And now 50 years later, this billboard campaign has come at a time when the Conservative government has proposed visitors from countries – including Nigeria, Ghana, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – produce a £3,000 bond to be allowed in to Britain.
You would have thought the backlash the government received following the Home Office’s controversial move to tweet pictures of illegal immigrants being dragged away into vans would have sent a clear signal that they are out of touch with ordinary people. The public are concerned about the effect of immigration on their own living standards; they’re afraid they’re wages will be undercut, or that they’re children won’t be able to obtain school places. They do not take pleasure in seeing pictures of immigrants in distress, being ripped from their families, put into a back of a van, to be sent back to their country of origin. Do the government have a duty to pursue people who have over stayed – yes. Do the government need to humiliate and dehumanise them by tweeting pictures of their ordeal – I should think not. Statistics used to suffice in showing the effectiveness of government policies. It’s also hard to see how this would lead to increases in deportations, so again, why the very public display? I can only assume that it’s another attempt to attract a certain type of voter.
This campaign is the latest in a concerted effort to use immigrants as a scapegoat for all Britain’s problems whilst showing the public how tough on immigration they can be. It’s easier to tell the public they have no jobs because an immigrant stole it than to tell them they aren’t in employment because the economy grew by only 0.6% during the second quarter of 2013. Likewise, it’s simpler to advocate that immigration is pushing down wages and to circulate vans around the country targeting illegal immigrants, than to target the root cause of the slow and meagre rise in wages for the bottom 10% of earners, coupled with the unprecedented wealth redistribution from the poor to the rich in recent decades.
If the billboard campaigns, Home Office tweets and some of the demonising rhetoric were carried out by the EDL or BNP, no politician or mainstream media would dare defend it. Many worry that the accumulated effect of this has and/or will discourage empathy with immigrants by treating them as objects, rather than as the subjects of life stories, create hostility or contempt for a largely voiceless group, and encourage suspicion of ethnic minorities. It is the Conservative-led governments democratic right to decide that the level of immigration needs to be reduced. However, many people are concerned that the government’s recent actions were never intended to reduce illegal immigration in an effective and sensible manner, but simply to win votes using morally questionable tactics.
Natasha Holder writes as a Guest Writer/Blogger for Great British Community
The opinions expressed by the guest writer/blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Link Up (UK) or any employee thereof. Link Up (UK) is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Guest writer/bloggers. This work is the opinion of the blogger. It is not the intention of Link Up (UK) to “malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.”