Frank Field is wrong on the BNP

Curbing immigration won't defeat the far right

The argument that mainstream parties should counter the BNP by adopting a hardline position on immigration was discredited long ago. But the bizarre tag team of Nicholas Soames and Frank Field can't resist making it again in today's Telegraph.

To call for harsher curbs on migrants is to perpetuate the myth that it is immigration, rather than a failed neoliberal system, that is to blame for political and social alienation. It is to divide immigrants and natives into "winners" and "losers", rather than recognise that they are all too frequently victims of the same system.

Labour does have a case to answer on immigration. The party's Faustian pact with the City entailed the cynical use of migrant labour to undercut domestic wages. But instead of fostering further division, it should adopt a non-sectarian approach that benefits all through a higher minimum wage and more social housing.

It was not, as Field and Soames suggest, Labour's "cowardice" on immigration that opened the door for the BNP, but its acceptance of an economic system that condemned much of the working class to casual labour.

The declaration that immigration has left Britain without any sense of "cohesion and identity" is particularly egregious. It is not migrants who destroy cohesion, but demagogues like Griffin and the City plutocrats.

Field and Soames do not even pause to offer token praise for migrants' economic contribution. Yet new figures show that in 2008-2009, immigrants paid 37 per cent more in taxes than they cost in welfare payments and public services.

By painting a wholly negative picture of immigration, Field and Soames do not challenge the BNP's agenda, they pander to it.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The public like radical policies, but they aren't so keen on radical politicians

Around the world, support for genuinely revolutionary ideas is strong, but in the UK at least, there's less enthusiasm for the people promising them.

You’re probably a getting a little bored of the litany of talking head statistics: trust in elected officials, parliament, the justice system and even democracy itself has been falling steadily for years and is at record lows. Maybe you’ve seen that graph that shows how people born after 1980 are significantly less likely than those born in 1960 to think that living in a democracy is ‘essential’. You’ve possibly heard of the ‘Pasokification’ of the centre-left, so-named the collapse of the once dominant Greek social democratic party Pasok, a technique being aggressively pursued by other centre-left parties in Europe to great effect.    

And so, goes the logic, there is a great appetite for something different, something new. It’s true! The space into which Trump et al barged leaves plenty of room for others: Beppe Grillo in Italy, Spanish Podemos, Bernie Sanders, Jean Luc Melanchon, and many more to come.

In my new book Radicals I followed movements and ideas that in many cases make someone like Jeremy Corbyn seem positively pedestrian: people who want to dismantle the nation state entirely, use technology to live forever, go off grid. All these ideas are finding fertile ground with the frustrated, disillusioned, and idealistic. The challenges of coming down the line – forces of climate change, technological change, fiscal crunch, mass movements of people – will demand new types of political ideas. Radical, outsider thinking is back, and this does, in theory at least, offer a chink of light for Corbyn’s Labour.

Polling last week found pretty surprising levels of support for many of his ideas. A big tax on high earners, nationalising the railways, banning zero hours contracts and upping the minimum wage are all popular. Support for renewable energy is at an all-time high. According to a recent YouGov poll, Brits actually prefer socialism to capitalism, a sentiment most strongly held among younger people.

There are others ideas too, which Corbyn is probably less likely to go for. Stopping benefits entirely for people who refuse to accept an offer of employment is hugely popular, and in one recent poll over half of respondents would be happy with a total ban on all immigration for the next two years. Around half the public now consistently want marijuana legalised, a number that will surely swell as US states with licenced pot vendors start showing off their dazzling tax returns.

The BNP effect used to refer to the problem the far-right had with selling their ideas. Some of their policies were extremely popular with the public, until associated with the BNP. It seems as though the same problem is now afflicting the Labour brand. It’s not the radical ideas – there is now a genuine appetite for those who think differently – that’s the problem, it’s the person who’s tasked with delivering them, and not enough people think Corbyn can or should. The ideal politician for the UK today is quite possibly someone who is bold enough to have genuinely radical proposals and ideas, and yet appears extremely moderate, sensible and centrist in character and temperament. Perhaps some blend of Blair and Corbyn. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? But this is politics, 2017. Anything is possible.

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos.

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