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.

Photo:Getty
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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.