Myrna Simpson, mother of Joy Gardner, at a protest in 1995. Photo: Getty
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Jimmy Mubenga: What kind of society can treat the death of an immigrant so casually?

Disrespected by the state, and demonised by the press - the most pressing "fears about migration" are those that belong to migrants.

Last month, an inquest jury of seven men and three women returned a majority verdict that Jimmy Mubenga was unlawfully killed during a deportation. Yesterday the coroner published a report into the ease with which Mubenga’s life was taken by the state and its contractors.

What kind of society can treat the death of an immigrant so casually? The same one that produced the van driven through London's black and minority ethnic communities last week, inscribed with the slogan "go home".

The van was not the latest project of the English Defence League, or a far right splinter group, but a pilot campaign by the Home Office operating under the mandate of Parliament. The government had chosen to restore a chant made infamous by the National Front. A chant that greeted my grandparents and a generation of post-war British migrants from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa. A chant that was often accompanied by violence. The Home Office put that chant at the heart of a flagship campaign.

The timing was particularly insensitive: it was near the 20th anniversary of the death of Joy Gardner, a 40 year-old Caribbean mother killed in front of her five year-old son while the police attempted to deport her. It added to the feeling that Mubenga and Gardner’s deaths were not individual accidents, but the inevitable result of attitudes towards migrant citizenship in "modern" Britain. The coroner looking into the Mubenga case found "pervasive" racist attitudes among deportation guards in the same way that the Macpherson report found "institutional racism" in the police. 

The next question is this: why would G4S guards respect a migrant's life, when the message our political class has sent out is that migrant lives have no value in Britain - unless they are generating revenue for the Treasury?

The story of how Mubenga's wife became a widow, and his five children, all British born citizens - the youngest just three years old - lost their dad should make us ask why the state was forcibly removing a father from his family.

Commentators routinely complain about the absence of black fathers - most recently Yasmin Alibhai Brown’s disastrous piece of urban tourism in the Mail - but are silent on how the right to family life of black and minority ethnic Britons is restricted.

The Conservatives present immigration only as a problem and have pledged to cut net migration by more than 50 per cent in five years. Labour, meanwhile, cannot stop apologising for "getting it wrong on immigration". But neither party appears to be talking about American financiers, western Europeans or Britain’s Australian and Canadian cousins when they talk about problem migrants.

Some tabloids, meanwhile, routinely run headlines scapegoating migration as an existential threat to core parts of our welfare state - the NHS and our housing stock. Yet the papers rarely cover the frequency of violence against migrants when restrained and detained, or the trauma to their (often British-born) children. Migrants' own humanity is systematically obscured. 

A study by Bail for Immigration Detainees (BiD) published in April 2013 found that children who had been split from their parents who were in detention experienced weight loss, nightmares, insomnia, frequent crying and isolation. Each of these symptoms indicate a crisis of mental health. Over the past months a growing number of detained asylum seekers have starved themselves.

And for black and minority ethnic Britons, the suspicion does not end with a passport and a stamp of Britishness. Suggestions that the border police were targeting non-white people at Kensal Green station have alarmed many. Concerns over stop and search are already well known. The result is that BME Britons can feel like they only have the status of "visitors", not citizens.

Anti-racism has become a dead dogma. The average Briton knows racism is wrong but cannot recognise it in practice, even when the government borrows a slogan that was once enforced on signs with "no dogs, no blacks, no Irish". A recent poll by YouGov found that 61 per cent of people did not find the "Go Home" van to be racist.

That poll result shows that, although Doreen Lawrence has been made a baroness for fighting racism, Britain understands the subject less and less. It is not that the majority of the public want to be racist - they don't - they simply just do not get it.

After the death of Jimmy Mubenga, the head of immigration enforcement at the Home Office, David Wood, "apologised" in these words: "I am willing to apologise to the extent that it was our responsibility." More absurd than the shallowness of his apology was that Wood was apologising for doing his job. Crudely speaking, the drive to create a "hostile environment for migrants" is masterminded by our government. Sections of the press have played their part too. 

For Jimmy Mubenga, Joy Gardner and the many others treated violently by the state, justice will only be served by reform. That starts with the recognition that the "fears about migration" which may be most pressing are those that belong to the migrant.

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There is no mandate for cutting immigration at the expense of living standards

Leave voters were asked if they would pay a price to cut immigration. The answer was clear. 

The Tories are in a mess on Brexit. The nation remains divided. But everyone accepts the need to prioritise reducing immigration, even at the expense of lower living standards.

These are the three key truisms of post-referendum Britain. But it turns out that only the first of those two propositions is actually true. The third, that there is a popular will to lower immigration at almost any cost, is not true at all. The latest poll from YouGov shows that even a majority of Leave voters are unwilling to accept any reduction in their living standards at all in order to curb immigration.

In the era of "fake news", it is important to begin with the facts. YouGov conducted its latest poll on Brexit on January 11 and 12. It found that the nation was indeed split and only marginally changed from the June referendum outcome.  In this poll, 44 per cent of all voters said they would to Remain and 43 per cent said they would vote Leave. This is well within the margin of error (as was the June referendum itself), and there was little recorded movement from one side of the divide to the other.

By introducing the question of immigration the YouGov pollsters made the responses much more decisive, and quite at odds with the received wisdom on the issue. YouGov asked only Leave voters what is the maximum amount of money they would be willing to lose "in order to regain control of immigration". The responses ranged from nothing at all to accepting a loss of over £200 or month per month and all points in between. The clear majority opted for nothing at all. They were willing to make no financial sacrifice at all. 

Remember, this is solely among Leave voters. It cannot be ruled out that some minority of Remain voters are willing to give up income to see immigration. But this would surely be a minority, possibly a tiny one. Therefore, the overall majority of voters, Leavers and Remainers combined are not will to let their living standards fall in order to lower immigration.

This stands in complete contrast to widespread assertions that the narrow Leave win in the referendum was "really" about curbing immigration. Theresa May herself has said that voters gave a very clear message they wanted tighter controls on immigration.  But of course immigration was not on the ballot. We know that popular sentiment is not pro-immigration. How could it be when voters have been told for years that it is the cause of all their woes?

Still, the clear evidence from the latest YouGov poll (and others) is that voters are unwilling to accept any decline in their living standards to achieve lower immigration. This makes it clear that immigration is not the paramount issue. Living standards are, as they usually are.

This has clear implications for all political parties. YouGov’s poll shows us that Labour cannot win by promising to cut immigration at the expense of living standards, which would surely follow any decision to quit the single market. Indeed, 65 per cent of the 2015 Labour voters voted to Remain. Among the minority Labour Leavers, two-thirds would not be willing to see any fall income in order to reduce immigration. The net result is that just 1 in 10 Labour voters in 2015 are willing to cut see their incomes fall to curb immigration.

Labour’s winning strategy will be to focus on its economic programme for government. Our electoral strategy will show people how Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell's economic plan can make the overwhelming majority of people better off. And keep on showing them. The reactionary Tory agenda can only make people worse off.

Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and shadow home secretary. She was previously shadow secretary for health.