Perhaps the most clichéd line one comes across in the intersecting worlds of politics and journalism is that immigration is “the subject no politician wants to talk about“.
It’s not just inaccurate but annoying. And it’s most annoying when, in the midst of a discussion about immigration, a participant claims, with a straight face: “”We just don’t talk about immigration.” Doh!
As I noted in a Guardian piece during the election campaign last April:
The opening question of the first leaders’ debate in British political history was on the subject of — wait for it! — immigration.
And, as I pointed out on Channel 4’s 10 O’Clock Live programme last night, the newspapers, led by the Mail and the Express, talk of little else — witness this morning’s cover story in the Express:
£250 a week for every migrant
As for politicians, here’s a short selection of some of the most egregious, hyperbolic and populist remarks made in relation to immigration and immigrants by leading Conservative and Labour figures in recent years:
Let me take you on a journey to a foreign land — to Britain after a second term of Tony Blair.
– William Hague’s speech to the Conservative Spring Forum in March 2001
Whilst they’re going through the process, the children [of asylum seekers] will be educated on the site . . . but importantly not swamping the local school.
– David Blunkett, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in April 2002
It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration
– Michael Howard’s 2005 election poster, under the headline, “Are you thinking what we are thinking?”
Our [immigration] system is not fit for purpose.
– John Reid, speaking in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, May 2006
Adopt our values or stay away, says Blair
– Telegraph headline, in response to Tony Blair’s speech in December 2006, telling immigrants that they had ”a duty” to integrate
. . . drawing on the talents of all to create British jobs for British workers.
– Gordon Brown’s first Labour conference speech as leader of the party in September 2007
I was in Plymouth recently and a 40-year-old black man . . . said, “I came here when I was six, I’ve served in the Royal Navy for 30 years . . . but I’m so ashamed that we’ve had this out-of-control system with people abusing it so badly.”
– David Cameron, speaking in the first televised leaders’ debate in April 2010
These are just a small sample, off the top of my head (and don’t even get me started on Phil Woolas). There are many more such examples of British politicians using ramped-up rhetoric about immigrants and immigration to fear-monger, distract and/or impress Paul Dacre. I stand by what I said on the telly last night: those people who claim that talk of immigration is “suppressed” and demand a “debate” on immigration tend to be people who hold rather negative, hostile and ill-informed views on the subject. I’ve yet to come across people who say: “We have to have a debate about immigration because it’s so good.”
But feel free to prove me wrong below the line. Ready, steady, go . . .