Let's talk about immigration

Because we never do, do we?

Perhaps the most clichéd line one comes across in the intersecting worlds of politics and journalism is that immigration is "the subject no politician wants to talk about".

It's not just inaccurate but annoying. And it's most annoying when, in the midst of a discussion about immigration, a participant claims, with a straight face: ""We just don't talk about immigration." Doh!

As I noted in a Guardian piece during the election campaign last April:

The opening question of the first leaders' debate in British political history was on the subject of -- wait for it! -- immigration.

And, as I pointed out on Channel 4's 10 O'Clock Live programme last night, the newspapers, led by the Mail and the Express, talk of little else -- witness this morning's cover story in the Express:

£250 a week for every migrant

As for politicians, here's a short selection of some of the most egregious, hyperbolic and populist remarks made in relation to immigration and immigrants by leading Conservative and Labour figures in recent years:

Let me take you on a journey to a foreign land -- to Britain after a second term of Tony Blair.

- William Hague's speech to the Conservative Spring Forum in March 2001

Whilst they're going through the process, the children [of asylum seekers] will be educated on the site . . . but importantly not swamping the local school.

- David Blunkett, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme in April 2002

It's not racist to impose limits on immigration

- Michael Howard's 2005 election poster, under the headline, "Are you thinking what we are thinking?"

Our [immigration] system is not fit for purpose.

- John Reid, speaking in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, May 2006

Adopt our values or stay away, says Blair

- Telegraph headline, in response to Tony Blair's speech in December 2006, telling immigrants that they had ''a duty" to integrate

. . . drawing on the talents of all to create British jobs for British workers.

- Gordon Brown's first Labour conference speech as leader of the party in September 2007

I was in Plymouth recently and a 40-year-old black man . . . said, "I came here when I was six, I've served in the Royal Navy for 30 years . . . but I'm so ashamed that we've had this out-of-control system with people abusing it so badly."

- David Cameron, speaking in the first televised leaders' debate in April 2010

 

These are just a small sample, off the top of my head (and don't even get me started on Phil Woolas). There are many more such examples of British politicians using ramped-up rhetoric about immigrants and immigration to fear-monger, distract and/or impress Paul Dacre. I stand by what I said on the telly last night: those people who claim that talk of immigration is "suppressed" and demand a "debate" on immigration tend to be people who hold rather negative, hostile and ill-informed views on the subject. I've yet to come across people who say: "We have to have a debate about immigration because it's so good."

But feel free to prove me wrong below the line. Ready, steady, go . . .

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Brexit Big Brother is watching: how media moguls control the news

I know the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph well, and I don’t care to see them like this.

It would take a heart of stone now not to laugh at an illustration of Theresa May staring defiantly out at Europe from the British coast, next to the headline “Steel of the new Iron Lady”.

Those are, however, the words that adorned the front page of the Daily Mail just five months ago, without even a hint of sarcasm. There has been so much written about the Prime Minister and the strength of her character – not least during the election campaign – and yet that front page now seems toe-curlingly embarrassing.

Reality has a nasty habit of making its presence felt when news is remorselessly selected, day in and day out, to fit preconceived points of view. May and her whole “hard Brexit” agenda – which the public has now demonstrated it feels, at best, only half-heartedly enthusiastic about – has been an obsession of several British newspapers, not least the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

I know these papers well, having spent the best part of a quarter-century working for them, and I don’t care to see them like this. When I worked there, a degree of independent thought was permitted on both titles. I joined the Telegraph in 2002; at the time, my colleagues spoke with pride of the paper’s tolerance to opposing views. And when I was at the Mail, it happily employed the former Labour MP Roy Hattersley.

Would I be able to run positive stories about, say, my mate Gina Miller – who successfully campaigned for parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit process – in the Telegraph if I were there today? Or at the Daily Mail? Dream on: it’s two minutes of hate for that “enemy of the people”.

Morale in these newsrooms must be low. I am finding that I have to allow an extra half-hour (and sometimes an extra bottle) for lunches with former colleagues these days, because they always feel the need to explain that they’re not Brexiteers themselves.

Among the Telegraph characters I kept in touch with was Sir David Barclay, who co-owns the paper with his brother, Sir Frederick. Alas, the invitations to tea at the Ritz (and the WhatsApp messages) came to an abrupt halt because of you-know-what.

I don’t think Sir David was a bad man, but he got a Brexit bee in his bonnet. I was conscious that he was close to Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail, and both had cordial relations with Rupert Murdoch. It became clear that they had all persuaded themselves (and perhaps each other) that Brexit suited their best interests – and they are all stubborn.

It seems to me unutterably sad that they didn’t sound out more of their factory-floor staff on this issue. We journalists have never been the most popular people but, by and large, we all started out wanting to make the world a better place. We certainly didn’t plan to make it worse.

People used to tell me that papers such as the Daily Mail and the Telegraph changed because the country had but, even in the darkest days, I didn’t agree with that premise. We are in the mess we’re in now because of personalities – in newspapers every bit as much as in politics. The wrong people in the wrong jobs, at the wrong time.

Would the Daily Mail have backed Brexit under Dacre’s predecessor David English? It is hard to imagine. He was a committed and outward-looking Europhile who, in the 1970s, campaigned for the country to join the EU.

I can think of many Telegraph editors who would have baulked at urging their readers to vote Leave, not least Bill Deedes. Although he had his Eurosceptic moments, a man as well travelled, compassionate and loyal to successive Conservative prime ministers would never have come out in favour of Brexit.

It says a great deal about the times in which we live that the Daily Mirror is just about the only paper that will print my stuff these days. I had a lot of fun writing an election diary for it called “The Heckler”. Morale is high there precisely because the paper’s journalists are allowed to do what is right by their readers and, just as importantly, to be themselves.

Funnily enough, it reminded me of the Telegraph, back in the good old days. 

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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