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Countering lies of immigrant scapegoating

What do we talk about when we talk about immigration? Better yet, how should we talk about immigration with voters in the run up to the 2015 election?

At a recent Next Generation Labour event, titled ‘Challenging the Tory scapegoating of immigrants’ there seemed to be a great deal of consensus around the need to educate voters to the many benefits immigration has for the UK as well as mobilise the Labour movement to encourage a more positive discourse about immigration.

Diane Abbott, a panellist at the event who in my opinion Labour must listen to in the debates about immigration, challenged the party to stop buying into myths propagated by a reactionary press and instead show genuine leadership on the issue. Her assertion that lies become myths through repetition, and through repetition myths become untruths was a simple point that showed how distorted we have allowed our discourse on immigration to become. We desperately need real leadership on the issue because much of what people take as fact is complete fiction.

Often it is issues of immigration combined with other issues, such as housing, that stoke fear in voters. I recently asked a friend – with the caveat that they had to think seriously about it – what they thought the percentage of social housing occupied by foreign-born people. Their answer? 20%. A fair cry from the reality which is that less than 2% of social housing is occupied by foreign-born people who have arrived in the last five years.

We have a media that relentlessly focuses on the negatives of immigration. If we were to believe some elements of our press, we’d be convinced that every migrant that comes to the UK is only coming for access to social security, unaware that the reality that migrants represent about 13% of all worker but only 7% of out of work claimants.

I’m reminded of Dennis Skinner’s recent question to the Secretary of State for Health when he said that during his stay in a London hospital he counted ‘more than 40 staff from different nations’ before continuing with ‘I am proud of my United Nations heart bypass’. This is the positive aspect of immigration that Labour has to – and must – present to the electorate in the coming months and years. There are many benefits from immigration – whether economic, cultural or social – and our failure to put forward the argument for how they enrich and diversify our outlook.

Too often, Labour over-simplifies the argument and we end up with sound bites like granny tax, mummy tax and pasty tax that soon wear thin with repetition and lose all meaning. Labour has to present a unified and sophisticated programme that educates voters to the myriad benefits of immigration while dispelling myths circulated by the right.

The sophistication of these campaigns can be simple. If we present simple facts and simple statistics and start treating voters as grown ups, we can turn the tide on the right wards shift in the debate. In a Labour movement to educate and mobilise, facts must be sacred.

We should be telling people concerned about immigration facts such as that in 2008/2009 Eastern European immigrants paid 37% more in tax than they received in public goods and services.

What better way to counter UKIP lies about a deluge of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants than presenting the truth that eastern European immigrants are net contributors to the UK economy.

3 Comments

  1. ShirleyKnott says:

    “I recently asked a friend – with the caveat that they had to think seriously about it – what they thought the percentage of social housing occupied by foreign-born people. Their answer? 20%. A fair cry from the reality which is that less than 2% of social housing is occupied by foreign-born people who have arrived in the last five years.”

    So you ask one question, but then give an answer to a significantly different one. D’you think Joe Public isn’t wise to that kind of nonsense? What’s the *real* answer to the *actual* question you posed?

    You would be wise to listen to your own question, and in light of the above, ask yourself if you are meeting your own standards:

    ” If we present simple facts and simple statistics and start treating voters as grown ups”

  2. Callum Smith says:

    I don’t get your comment Shirley. If I’m honest, I don’t think you’ve read it properly.

    The only difference in the answer – in comparison to the question – is the addition of ‘in the last five years’ which is a constraint of the available data rather than some fishy attempt to skirt the question.

  3. ShirleyKnott says:

    Oh, I read the question properly. To give an honest answer, you should have included the little caveat “in the last five years” within the question. Obviously data is limited, but if you’re really after honesty, that is exactly how it should have been asked and answered. The *lack* of it could lead to anti-immigrant/racist entities mining a ‘rich’ source of obfuscation by the ‘regular’ parties in their campaigns. Surely something to be avoided.

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