“We are trying to find alternatives”

The immigration minister defends detention for children

Caring for children within our detention estate is a hugely emotive issue, and this is a crucial debate that I am glad the New Statesman has prompted. It's a debate that has been well led for some years by children's charities.

They convinced me that the UK Border Agency's (UKBA) treatment of children needed to become much more sensitive. That's why we've transformed our children's policy over the past two years, even legislating to impose a duty on UKBA to keep children safe from harm.

Nobody wants to detain children. So, why does it happen? As a parent myself of three small children, I have a simple motive. I insist that we keep families together and not split them up.

The sad fact is that children end up within our detention estate because their parents refuse to go home - even when an independent judge reviewing the case at first hand, or on appeal, says they have no right to stay.

Since I became immigration minister, we have tried new ways of solving this problem. For example, asking families to report to airports without detention involved. The result? Disappointing. Virtually none turned up.

Worse, some parents physically disrupt their trip to the airport by behaving violently or even harming UKBA and airport staff in front of their children. We could never reward this behaviour by simply letting people stay. It would ma ke a mockery of the courts and, indeed, of justice. Eighty per cent of families that do obey the law are out of the detention system and on their way home in less than seven days.

I would much prefer it if families returned home voluntarily and saved the taxpayer the £11,000 it costs for an enforced removal. So we bend over backwards to help families go home of their own volition. But sometimes families refuse to take this option and it's then that they find themselves within our detention estate.

I know our contract staff in removal centres provide care with the utmost sensitivity and compassion in really difficult circumstances, because I have studied the situation at first hand. When I've spent time with immigration officers involved in removing families - often young public servants with families of their own - I have seen how physically draining the job can be. That is why it is a task conducted with such sensitivity and thought.

It's why medical care at a removal centre is as good as it is on the NHS. At Yarl's Wood - where most families are housed - there is 24-hour nursing care with 14 nurses, two doctors on call day and night, as well as social workers and dentists.

It's why families have rooms that afford privacy. It's why Yarl's Wood has a nursery recently awarded three good and one outstanding rating by Ofsted inspectors, why children have access to multilingual carers, registered teachers, youth workers, internet facilities, a library and sports equipment.

I don't think we can ever stop reform to ensure UKBA does a better job. It's why I have asked for a host of pilots to test alternatives to detention (inspired, I might say, by children's charities). If they work, I hope it will become the norm.

Liam Byrne is Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, cofounder of the UK-China Young Leaders Roundtable and author of Turning to Face the East: How Britain Prospers in the Asian Century.

This article first appeared in the 15 September 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Inside Iran

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times