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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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.