The "go home" vans haven't been banned

Provided that it corrects the misleading claim "106 arrests last week in your area", the government is free to continue to use the "go home" slogan.

No policy attracted greater condemnation at the Labour and Lib Dem conferences than the Home Office's "go home" vans, so today's ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority is likely to be studied closely in Westminster. 

Most of the media is reporting that the vans, which told illegal immigrants to "go home or face arrest" (a slogan that Yvette Cooper rightly warned was "reminiscent of the 1970s National Front"), have been banned by the ASA, but this seemingly favourable outcome isn't supported by the facts. 

The watchdog ruled that the line "106 arrests last week in your area" was "misleading" since the data on which it was based related to north London, rather than the areas in which the poster was displayed (Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Barnet, Brent, Ealing and Hounslow), but, significantly, it cleared the government of using "offensive" and "irresponsible" material that was likely to "incite or exacerbate racial hatred and tensions in multicultural communities". 

While acknowledging that the phrase "go home" was "reminiscent of slogans used in the past to attack immigrants to the UK", the ASA said that the vans were "unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or distress." In addition, while "noting that many of those areas had multicultural, ethnically diverse populations", it argued that the poster was "clearly addressed to illegal immigrants rather than to non-naturalised immigrants who were in the UK legally or to UK citizens, and it would be understood by those who saw it as communicating a message in relation to their immigration status, not their race or ethnicity." As a result, it concluded that the vans were "unlikely to incite or exacerbate racial hatred and tensions in multicultural communities, and that it was not irresponsible and did not contain anything which was likely to condone or encourage violence or anti-social behaviour."

So, while the ASA ended by warning that the ad "must not appear again in its current home", this order applies only to the "106 arrests" line, not the "go home" slogan. There is nothing to prevent Home Office using the vans again and it has notably refused to rule out doing so. A spokesman said: "We are pleased the ASA has concluded that our pilot was neither offensive nor irresponsible.

"We have always been clear that this campaign was about encouraging illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily and was not targeted at particular racial or ethnic groups.

"In respect of the ASA's other findings, we can confirm that the poster will not be used again in its current format."

Provided the government corrects its misleading data (not the first time it's been ordered to do so), it is free to use the slogan "go home" again. Last Sunday, Theresa May said that she would decide whether to use the vans again after she had seen the results of an "evaluation". She said: "once I’ve seen the results of that evaluation, we can make a decision about the impact of those vans. I think from the public’s point of view, I think what they want to see is a government that is clearly doing everything it can to remove people from this country who have no right to be here, who are here illegally and that’s what we are doing."

Given the political outrage the vans have caused, the government may well decide to retire them, but nothing the ASA has said today forces it to do so. 

A van carrying the Home Office's message to illegal immigrants: 'Go home or face arrest.'

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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