The LGBT activist Ira Putilova, who has just been released from the Yarl's Wood detention centre.
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Laurie Penny on immigration policy: The coalition’s “tougher stance” on immigration is causing cold-blooded tragedy

While the Home Office launches a special “fast-track” service for foreign business leaders wanting to come to the UK, asylum seekers and persecuted activists are treated with contempt.

Ira Putilova is free, for now. After days of relentless public pressure, the LGBT activist, who will face persecution if she returns to Russia, was released from Yarl’s Wood detention centre. Her friends posted a picture of her, smiling and tired on the train, to the Facebook group that had been set up in her defence. At the time of writing, it is not yet known whether she will be arrested and deported again. Ira was luckier than most: her worthy case got national attention, support from celebrities and demonstrations that drew hundreds. That, in all likelihood, is what forced a little charity out of an administration that seems determined to prove it has the appropriate contempt for foreigners, no matter the human cost.

The coalition’s tabloid-facing "tougher stance" on immigration is causing tragedy upon cold-blooded tragedy. On 28 November, despite national outcry, Nigerian asylum seeker Ifa Muazu was deported "home" - where he says he will be murdered by members of Boko Haram - on a private jet. This very public decision was taken despite the fact that Muazu was on hunger strike, starved to the point of death in protest at the inhuman treatment he received in Britain. Muazu would be facing death in Nigeria right now if the country hadn’t refused his plane permission to land.

Muazu, like many others - like my grandparents, and maybe yours too - came to Britain for "a better life". He was met with the kind of orchestrated cruelty that shrugged at his certain violent death. It was a dark day indeed for this country when the word "asylum seeker" started to mean "a person who is a drain on the state", rather than "a person in need of help". But however much money those fleeing persecution and poverty elsewhere are supposedly costing us, there is somehow always the cash available to make sadistic gestures. The private jet that was hired to deport the now fatally ill Muazu "home" almost certainly cost the public purse many times what it would to allowed him leave to remain. That’s without factoring in the bill for holding him in detention for months - today, Muazu remains desperately ill in the medical wing of the Harmondsworth immigration centre in west London.

The fast-tracking of asylum cases is a statement of intent: please do not send us your tired, your poor, or your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. If you do, we’ll send them back in a private jet. This government wants us to admire its big, tough, "muscular" stance on immigration. That’s why, earlier in the year, it paid for billboards advising foreign nationals to "GO HOME" to be driven around some of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in the country - appropriating the language of far-right thugs in service of a darkening national mood of racial intolerance.

Thanks to Chris Grayling's recent changes to legal aid services, foreign nationals who have been in the country for less than a year - including victims of rape, torture and political persecution - will no longer be able to access legal help to fight for their right to remain. But the Tories don’t want every single immigrant to go home. In fact, just weeks before she signed off on the deportation of a dying man in the dead of night, Theresa May launched a special "fast-track" service for "foreign business leaders". Borders have always meant a great deal less to the global super-rich, but Britain has just made that policy official. Our borders are more open than ever to people who have or make money - but asylum seekers and persecuted activists are shipped home to suffer and die at public expense.

 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.