After Santorum

The unlikely ex-contender leaves a permanent mark on the GOP.

And then there was... one, and a couple others. As Rick Santorum yesterday ended his White House bid, the Republican party groaned, and sighed, in about equal measure. After a dirty, drawn out and, at times, beyond-petty primary season that began in Iowa on 3 January, Mitt Romney has now effectively sealed the nomination to take on Obama for the Presidency. With seven months until the November election we're forced to ask: are the Republicans any more united now they've "found" their man?

Santorum, out but not down

Little known before his February surge following Gingrich's falter, Rick Santorum has built a national presence beyond sharing the name of an egregious sex act. His bow-out spares Romney the embarrassment of losing any further states this late in the season, and also frees up the presumptive nominee a little cash and breathing space for the next two months while the final delegate votes trickle in.

But as wildly improbable as President Santorum ever was, the former Senator of Pennsylvania has left a number of marks on the political landscape. Not least of these has been the re-shaping of his opponent; as Jonathan Bernstein puts it, the candidate acted "as a mechanism for forcing Romney to hew to Republican orthodoxy". In his campaign suspension speech (below), Santorum notes he won more US counties than all the other Republican contenders combined. His appeal has demonstrated just how fractured - and in some quarters, extreme - conservative America is. To a significant proportion of the electorate - too large for either Romney or Obama to ignore - strong rhetoric on social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage, union of church and state) and immigration is a draw. Santorum will most likely run for statewide or national office again (see 2016?) so long as Tea Partiers and evangelicals share with him these beliefs. Before then, we should expect to hear from Santorum across commentary outlets (he's a former Fox News contributor) and as a fundraiser/advocate of conservative House and Senate candidates. This isn't the last of Rick.

The Grand Old Party in a fix

Speaking of the US media, various writers have been plotting Mitt Romney's political trajectory against that of Meg Whitman, the Republican gubernatorial candidate for California who swung to the right, dropped $150m of her own cash and burned out of the race. Eschewing his own opinions in courting the conservative Conservatives could very likely cost Romney the vote of mainstream America. Young, college educated women (a demographic that votes) are unimpressed, as Ruth Marcus writes; as are Hispanic Americans and, broadly, the middle class. Even on his own terms, though, Romney is not making gains: attacks on Obama's jobs record will neither stick voters with nor swing them round to Mitt. With his likeability stats in the doldrums, Romney will have to reinvent himself - again - between now and November.

Surrounded by his family, Rick Santorum suspends his White House bid. Photo: Getty Images

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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From war and slavery to prison – life inside an immigration detention centre

David spent five years locked in a house in Britain. Then he spent two years in immigration detention centres. 

Visitors at the immigration detention centre are met by Sid the Sloth, balancing an acorn just as he does in the family film Ice Age. The picture is one of the brightly coloured murals adorning the otherwise bare walls of the visitor's entrance. The lurid paintwork sits in stark juxtaposition to the barbed wire outside, and the metal detector and eight sets of doors which visitors must pass through.

It is a thin veneer which fails to mask a system containing institutionalised abuse from top to bottom. It isn't surprising, then, that one of the conditions of my visit was not to identify the centre - the volunteers I joined fear having visiting rights withdrawn by the company in charge.

Once inside I met Sivan, a 32-year-old Kurdish asylum seeker who came to Britain clinging to the underside of a lorry. He had been tortured by the Turkish authorities. For Sivan the children’s cartoons in the visitor’s entrance held a particularly cruel irony. Detainees at the centre are not allowed smartphones, and with no access to email Sivan’s wife, also a Kurdish asylum seeker, is unable to send her husband pictures of their first child. The couple have not seen each other in the two months since Sivan was detained. That day, in the visitor’s lounge, Sivan saw his son for the first time. Holding photographs of the little boy in his hands, Sivan’s face momentarily lit up as it split with joy and then sorrow.

Sivan does not know when he will be able to see his young family - or if they will ever be able to be together.

Across Britain more than 3,000 people, many fleeing war and torture, are locked up indefinitely in immigration centres. They arrive in Britain seeking refuge. But are shut away in privately-run prisons before being forcibly removed. Often with little or no English, detainees rely on volunteers to help them navigate Britain’s complex immigration system.

At the volunteer hub, which helps 80 of the 500 men in the centre each week, I met former detainees who all had one thing in common: the mental torture that indefinite detention inflicts. Like David, a quiet Ghanaian who has never really been free. He was kept as a slave on a plantation until traffickers brought him to Britain aged 13. Here he spent five years locked in a house, when not being forced to work 14-hour days in a warehouse. He finally escaped only to spend 11 years waiting for his asylum application to be processed - still ongoing despite clear medical evidence of his torture during imprisonment. He has spent two years in immigration detention centres. And as he waits he now has to register his presence with the authorities every Tuesday. He is terrified that when he does he won’t return to his four-year-old daughter, but instead be returned to captivity by the Home Office, without explanation.

Another former detainee Daniel, a tailor from Iran who fled five years ago, spent five months in detention when he first arrived in Britain. He describes being locked up with no time limit as "one of the worst times of my life", and still needs anti-depressants. “It really damaged my mind,” Daniel told me. “You don’t know when the process will be finished and you’re just waiting, waiting. You don’t know what’s going on.”

I heard from detainees who have had medical appointments they have waited months for cancelled because the centre wouldn’t pay for transport. Some kept three in a room with a toilet between the beds. Others woken in the middle of the night to see their friend dragged from their bed and assaulted by guards before being taken for deportation. Detainees employed to clean the centre for an exploitative £3 a day, just to afford necessities like toiletries. Or they stay trapped by fear in their rooms because they are afraid of the ex-prisoners, many who have committed serious crimes, locked up around them. I heard too of solitary confinement used routinely as a punishment for those considered not to be compliant. More than one detainee said immigration centres are worse than prisons. And they are right.

Britain is the only place in Europe which still locks people up with no time limit. Despite the government’s promise to reduce both the numbers - and the time spent there - progress is still far too slow. Last year 27,819 people entered detention. Some have been there more than five years.

Barely a week passes without a new report of violence or suicide or rape or abuse, inflicted on those who came to our country for help. The government should hang its head in shame. The Home Office must stop turning a blind eye to what it must know what is happening to those in its care. It’s clear that this is a broken and barbaric system. After seeing it for myself, I’m more convinced than ever that the use of indefinite detention has to end.

Names have been changed to protect the identities of those interviewed for this article.

Jon Bartley is the co-leader of the Green Party.