A Polish in the UK looks for work. Photo: Getty
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Time to muzzle neoliberal rhetoric and find a new language to promote immigration

The left is straitjacketed by merely using economic arguments about net contribution to make the positive case for immigration.

The statistics released from UCL last week on the economic benefits of immigration seriously throw into doubt the arguments against cutting the number of migrants, especially from the EU. Any evidence that rebuts the vociferous anti-immigration language emanating from Ukip and, increasingly from Whitehall, should be seen a good thing. Sometimes, though, a victory can be a defeat.

According to Pheobe Griffith of IPPR, there are a number of aspects of immigration that get missed out when we leave the economists to make the case: “Research like this is useful in policy terms, but not in terms of actually getting the public onside. The fitting-in element is much more to do with our social reality and the fact people want to feel like they live in places that are not just economic entities”.

The problem is that in challenging arguments against immigration on the basis of economic contribution to the public purse, the pro-immigration employ the same discriminatory language as the right. As Zoe Williams wrote recently in the Guardian, “bagging up foreigners and weighing them by their economic usefulness is more racist than closing the borders”. It is fair to ask how this approach significantly differs from that used during the slave trade, when people were bought and sold based on their ability to pick more cotton. It is demeaning and dehumanising to reduce a person to their relative economic value and ignore the diversity advantage they might bring to their community.

This crude cost/benefit approach to immigration has impacted upon integration policy and divides communities. Phil Wood, co-author of The Intercultural City, argues that for some migrants the discourse “drives them even harder to become economically effective, because they believe that’s the only way they can be noticed.” Such an approach to incoming non-nationals is divisive, as it automatically pits migrants against migrants, but also pre-existing populations. “It leads to alienation and we are a very alienated society at the moment”.

It was New Labour, rather than John Major, that gave Thatcher’s neoliberal policies a human face and, in the sphere of community cohesion, this came wrapped in the guise of integration.

However, hiding behind the rhetoric of a two-way process involving host and guest is an increasingly neo-assimilatory policy towards integration that expects migrants, especially those wanting to take British nationality, to adhere to neoliberal ideals of self-sufficiency, not being a burden on the state and being an active participant in the economy (as a worker, tax-payer, and purchaser). Even policy titles use this language, such as the 2008’s Earning the Right to Stay.

To paraphrase Will Kymlicka, this is what we might call “citizenship-as-desired-activity” and obviously sits within a wider public debate, led by the coalition, on skivers vs strivers. Moreover, these values have become "British values". To be, or become, a good British citizen, you have to be a net contributor. Failure to do so risks alienation and demonization by politicians and the media.

Of course, immigration and integration policy ensures migrants are at a distinct disadvantage. "Scrounging" asylum seekers drawn by the oh-so-generous pull of £36 a week are not allowed to take on paid work and thus cannot contribute. Refugees, who are allowed to work, are caught in a Catch-22 situation: If they work over 18 hours, they lose access to free English classes. If they work less, they get access to classes, but not enough money to pay the rent or get to work. Without the vital skill of better English, they are more likely to remain in low-skilled, low-paid jobs and rely on benefits, which in turn "marks" them as in some way deficient.

While this is happening, the passport applications of foreign investors over £10m are fast-tracked from four down to two years. Money talks and those without it are silenced; denied agency in the debate on how migrants should be seen and heard.

Thus by using the language of neoliberalism to challenge anti-immigration voices, the left’s arguments on immigration, and a whole host of other policies, have become straitjacketed. Progressives have been rendered nil by mouth and this adds another nail in the coffin of multiculturalism.

Progressives need to be proactive and find another way to talk about immigration that includes the non-economic additive value that migrants bring to communities around the country. In not doing this, and merely reacting to the hegemony of neoliberal thought and policy, it denies them the respect and recognition they deserve.

Sam Bennett is a researcher in critical linguistics at Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland. He tweets @samtbennett

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Leader: Trump and an age of disorder

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions.

The US presidency has not always been held by men of distinction and honour, but Donald Trump is by some distance its least qualified occupant. The leader of the world’s sole superpower has no record of political or military service and is ignorant of foreign affairs. Throughout his campaign, he repeatedly showed himself to be a racist, a misogynist, a braggart and a narcissist.

The naive hope that Mr Trump’s victory would herald a great moderation was dispelled by his conduct during the transition. He compared his country’s intelligence services to those of Nazi Germany and repeatedly denied Russian interference in the election. He derided Nato as “obsolete” and predicted the demise of the European Union. He reaffirmed his commitment to dismantling Obamacare and to overturning Roe v Wade. He doled out jobs to white nationalists, protectionists and family members. He denounced US citizens for demonstrating against him. Asked whether he regretted any part of his vulgar campaign, he replied: “No, I won.”

Of all his predilections, Mr Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is perhaps the most troubling. When the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, warned that Russia was the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US, he was mocked by Barack Obama. Yet his remark proved prescient. Rather than regarding Mr Putin as a foe, however, Mr Trump fetes him as a friend. The Russian president aims to use the US president’s goodwill to secure the removal of American sanctions, recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and respect for the murderous reign of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has a worryingly high chance of success.

Whether or not Mr Trump has personal motives for his fealty (as a lurid security dossier alleges), he and Mr Putin share a political outlook. Both men desire a world in which “strongmen” are free to abuse their citizens’ human rights without fear of external rebuke. Mr Trump’s refusal to commit to Nato’s principle of collective defence provides Mr Putin with every incentive to pursue his expansionist desires. The historic achievement of peace and stability in eastern Europe is in danger.

As he seeks reconciliation with Russia, Mr Trump is simultaneously pursuing conflict with China. He broke with precedent by speaking on the telephone with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, and used Twitter to berate the Chinese government. Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, has threatened an American blockade of the South China Sea islands.

Mr Trump’s disregard for domestic and international norms represents an unprecedented challenge to established institutions. The US constitution, with its separation of powers, was designed to restrain autocrats such as the new president. Yet, in addition to the White House, the Republicans also control Congress and two-thirds of governorships and state houses. Mr Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment will ensure a conservative judicial majority. The decline of established print titles and the growth of “fake news” weaken another source of accountability.

In these circumstances, there is a heightened responsibility on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, Mr Trump. Angela Merkel’s warning that co-operation was conditional on his respect for liberal and democratic values was a model of the former. Michael Gove’s obsequious interview with Mr Trump was a dismal example of the latter.

Theresa May has rightly rebuked the president for his treatment of women and has toughened Britain’s stance against Russian revanchism. Yet, although the UK must maintain working relations with the US, she should not allow the prospect of a future trade deal to skew her attitude towards Mr Trump. Any agreement is years away and the president’s protectionist proclivities could yet thwart British hopes of a beneficial outcome.

The diplomatic and political conventions embodied by the “special relationship” have endured for more than seven decades. However, Mr Trump’s election may necessitate their demise. It was the belief that the UK must stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US that led Tony Blair into the ruinous Iraq War. In this new age of disorder, Western leaders must avoid being willing accomplices to Mr Trump’s agenda. Intense scepticism, rather than sycophancy, should define their response.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era