What was the border agency doing at Kensal Green station?

In light of the "racist van", I found the Home Office's spot-checks at Kensal Green station intimidating and heavy-handed, says Matt Kelcher.

I'm proud to live in Kensal Green, in the London Borough of Brent. Its biggest asset is the diversity of its people, with the strength of our community demonstrated by strong local campaigns to prevent the building of a nearby waste incinerator and to save the local library.

All of which makes what happened on 30 July even more remarkable. 

As I approached the Kensal Green tube station, where I catch the Bakerloo Line to work every morning, I could see a group of burly men blocking the entrance to the station. As I got closer, I realised they were uniformed UK Border Agency officers, complete with protective vests and walkie-talkies.

I asked them what they were doing and was told it was a random check of identity documents to find illegal immigrants.  They didn’t seem interested in me and I walked straight through, but the two Asian women who entered the station after me were stopped, taken to one side and questioned.

Even as a young man, over six feet tall, with the confidence of a free born Englishman who knows he has nothing to hide, I found this whole experience to be extremely intimidating.  The station I use twice a day had suddenly taken on the suspicious air of a border crossing.

I shared my experience on Twitter and found many people had experienced the same feelings and problems.  Another resident, Phil O’Shea, told the local paper how he found the behavior of the UKBA staff to be “heavy-handed and frightening” and how when he asked what was going on he “was threatened with arrest for obstruction and was told to ‘crack on’.”

I’ve no doubt that there is a problem of illegal immigration which needs to be tackled, but surely this is the wrong tactic in the wrong place.

Very close to the tube station is a hostel, and many of the people who were stopped will have been foreign tourists – perhaps here for the one-year anniversary of the Olympics – on their way to see the sites.  At a time when we need all the money from tourists we can get, what message are we sending back out across the world?  Britain: a place where you sometimes need a passport to board a tube.

Brent already feels under attack. We are the borough which is hit worse than any other in London by the bedroom tax and benefit cap and the last thing we need is anything with the potential to split the local community.

As a diverse borough we were also one of the areas chosen for the Home Office’s infamous "go home or face arrest" vans.  With UKBA officers arriving just a week later local people will begin to worry what is next.  Should we start carrying our passport with us to the supermarket, or cinema, or park, in case we are stopped and asked for it there?

The rules are clear. Immigration checks cannot be speculative, the UKBA must have a clear reason to suspect someone is an immigration offender before carrying out an on-the-spot check.  Kensal Green does have a very diverse community, but surely this is not enough of a reason to target the station. Local people deserve a clear answer from the Home Office as to why we were chosen. (You can see the Home Office's statement on the incident here.)

I fear this whole episode was more about posturing than a real desire to deal with the problem of illegal immigration. 

Speak to any immigration caseworker and they will tell you that once an appeal to remain is exhausted and an applicant told to leave, the follow-up is very slow, or none-existent.  Targeting resources at these people – who the UKBA have addresses for – would surely be more prudent.  As would a real desire to enforce the legal minimum wage across the capital, which removes the demand for illegal immigrant workers.

Instead we get four large guys blocking the entrance to a tube stop located on a quiet residential road.  The government may feel the need to shore up their right wing under threat from UKIP, but it’s not fair that people in Kensal Green should pay the price for that.

Kensal Green station. Photograph: Hectate1 on Flickr, CC-BY-ND
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Metro mayors can help Labour return to government

Labour champions in the new city regions can help their party at the national level too.

2017 will mark the inaugural elections of directly-elected metro mayors across England. In all cases, these mayor and cabinet combined authorities are situated in Labour heartlands, and as such Labour should look confidently at winning the whole slate.

Beyond the good press winning again will generate, these offices provide an avenue for Labour to showcase good governance, and imperatively, provide vocal opposition to the constraints of local government by Tory cuts.

The introduction of the Mayor of London in 2000 has provided a blueprint for how the media can provide a platform for media-friendly leadership. It has also demonstrated the ease that the office allows for attribution of successes to that individual and party – or misappropriated in context of Boris Bikes and to a lesser extent the London Olympics.

While without the same extent of the powers of the sui generis mayor of the capital, the prospect of additional metro-mayors provide an opportunity for replicating these successes while providing experience for Labour big-hitters to develop themselves in government. This opportunity hasn’t gone unnoticed, and after Sadiq Khan’s victory in London has shown that the role can grow beyond the limitations – perceived or otherwise - of the Corbyn shadow cabinet while strengthening team Labour’s credibility by actually being in power.

Shadow Health Secretary and former leadership candidate Andy Burnham’s announcement last week for Greater Manchester was the first big hitter to make his intention known. The rising star of Luciana Berger, another member of Labour’s health team, is known to be considering a run in the Liverpool City Region. Could we also see them joined by the juggernaut of Liam Byrne in the West Midlands, or next-generation Catherine McKinnell in the North East?

If we can get a pantheon of champions elected across these city regions, to what extent can this have an influence on national elections? These new metro areas represent around 11.5 million people, rising to over 20 million if you include Sadiq’s Greater London. While no doubt that is an impressive audience that our Labour pantheon are able to demonstrate leadership to, there are limitations. 80 of the 94 existing Westminster seats who are covered under the jurisdiction of the new metro-mayors are already Labour seats. While imperative to solidify our current base for any potential further electoral decline, in order to maximise the impact that this team can have on Labour’s resurgence there needs to be visibility beyond residents.

The impact of business is one example where such influence can be extended. Andy Burnham for example has outlined his case to make Greater Manchester the creative capital of the UK. According to the ONS about 150,000 people commute into Greater Manchester, which is two constituency’s worth of people that can be directly influenced by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.

Despite these calculations and similar ones that can be made in other city-regions, the real opportunity with selecting the right Labour candidates is the media impact these champion mayors can make on the national debate. This projects the influence from the relatively-safe Labour regions across the country. This is particularly important to press the blame of any tightening of belts in local fiscal policy on the national Tory government’s cuts. We need individuals who have characteristics of cabinet-level experience, inspiring leadership, high profile campaigning experience and tough talking opposition credentials to support the national party leadership put the Tory’s on the narrative back foot.

That is not to say there are not fine local council leaders and technocrats who’s experience and governance experience at vital to Labour producing local successes. But the media don’t really care who number two is, and these individuals are best serving the national agenda for the party if they support A-listers who can shine a bright spotlight on our successes and Tory mismanagement.

If Jeremy Corbyn and the party are able to topple the Conservatives come next election, then all the better that we have a diverse team playing their part both on the front bench and in the pantheon of metro-mayors. If despite our best efforts Jeremy’s leadership falls short, then we will have experienced leaders in waiting who have been able to afford some distance from the front-bench, untainted and able to take the party’s plan B forward.