Politicians have failed us on immigration concerns. Photo: Getty
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Immigration: do you want the truth or something beautiful?

This immigration debate is based on prejudice and emotion.

The anger and vitriol that runs through the politics of the immigration debate can at times feel utterly soul-destroying. Especially for someone like me. The eldest child of working-class immigrant parents who worked themselves to back-breaking extremes in order to provide a safe haven and prosperous life for their family – this is the true story of immigration in this country. 

This country has been built on the blood, sweat and backs of immigrants. This is the story of immigration in this country. It’s about time the political establishment recognised this. Not make us feel like foreigners in our own country.

The disenfranchised working classes are being whipped up over the issue and after being long abandoned by Labour are turning to Ukip.

Our country is being betrayed by politicians who are too weak and too self-serving to make the positive case for immigration. Instead it’s a testosterone fuelled race as to who can be hard, harder and hardest on immigrants.

Ukip set the tone with their refined right-wing rebranding of BNP rhetoric. A populist offering, far more sophisticated than the Tories, who have ditched the dog-whistle and have gone all Mississippi Burning with their Go Home Vans and vile grandstanding on Mediterranean search and rescue.

We have long come to expect this from the hard right establishment. So I reserve my ire for the so-called progressives.

The Parliamentary Labour Party continues to prove it stands for nothing but its own electoral survival in pandering to populist prejudices. Having lost control of Thurrock council this year, Ed Miliband visited and blamed west Africans for “changing communities fast”.

While I went on TV to condemn these comments, my Labour opponent in Brent, an Afro-Caribbean, was silent. If that were Nick Clegg, I would have plenty to say to him.

Yvette Cooper, last week's culprit, with a narrative intertwining benefits and migrants. Two weeks before that David Blunkett claimed we were being swamped when net-migration figures just released had shown a drop.

The collective amnesia at the heart of the Labour Party is something to behold. Like one massive cult their 13 years in power and failures on immigration have been brainwashed out of their consciousness.

Liberal Democrats should plant a great big Union Jack on this political territory and proudly argue for a progressive form of patriotism, leaving Labour, Ukip and Tories to be the nasty nationalists.

If this debate were based on facts we wouldn’t be talking about it every week. Every single independent bit of research points to the overwhelming economic benefit that immigrants bring. But this evidence is being airbrushed out.

This debate is based on prejudice and emotion.

It appears very few in British politics are prepared to make the positive case for immigration and immigrants vehemently, loudly and passionately.

Where immigration is concerned we are becoming increasingly backward and inward looking, economically, socially and culturally.

The politicians have failed us. They claim to listen, to understand the concerns around immigration. I don’t want them to listen, I want them to lead. I want them to be honest and frank and to argue for it with every fibre of their being.

Ukip have built themselves on a politics of division and blame. They seek to restore imaginary, golden and bygone days that don’t fit into modern 21st century Britain. It's got the Labour and Tory politicians spooked and they want some of that demographic voting for them. In some hellish concertina they sing a song of blame; let’s blame migrants not the gang masters who under cut wages; let’s blame foreigners for taking jobs we won’t do any way; let’s blame Europeans that we can’t see a doctor or our schools are full or we can’t get a house – not the politicians who’ve ducked the long term problems we have needed solving for three decades.

We can only beat that prejudice by showing leadership. Our focus should not be on punishing those who come to this country to contribute to our great nation’s success. Our focus should not be on turning away skilled workers, doctors, teachers and entrepreneurs for the sake of arbitrary political quotas to make us feel better.

As far as immigration is concerned, the truth is something beautiful.

Ibrahim Taguri is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Brent Central. He tweets @ibrahimtaguri

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories