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24 November 2014

Immigration: do you want the truth or something beautiful?

This immigration debate is based on prejudice and emotion.

By Ibrahim Taguri

The anger and vitriol that runs through the politics of the immigration debate can at times feel utterly soul-destroying. Especially for someone like me. The eldest child of working-class immigrant parents who worked themselves to back-breaking extremes in order to provide a safe haven and prosperous life for their family – this is the true story of immigration in this country. 

This country has been built on the blood, sweat and backs of immigrants. This is the story of immigration in this country. It’s about time the political establishment recognised this. Not make us feel like foreigners in our own country.

The disenfranchised working classes are being whipped up over the issue and after being long abandoned by Labour are turning to Ukip.

Our country is being betrayed by politicians who are too weak and too self-serving to make the positive case for immigration. Instead it’s a testosterone fuelled race as to who can be hard, harder and hardest on immigrants.

Ukip set the tone with their refined right-wing rebranding of BNP rhetoric. A populist offering, far more sophisticated than the Tories, who have ditched the dog-whistle and have gone all Mississippi Burning with their Go Home Vans and vile grandstanding on Mediterranean search and rescue.

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We have long come to expect this from the hard right establishment. So I reserve my ire for the so-called progressives.

The Parliamentary Labour Party continues to prove it stands for nothing but its own electoral survival in pandering to populist prejudices. Having lost control of Thurrock council this year, Ed Miliband visited and blamed west Africans for “changing communities fast”.

While I went on TV to condemn these comments, my Labour opponent in Brent, an Afro-Caribbean, was silent. If that were Nick Clegg, I would have plenty to say to him.

Yvette Cooper, last week’s culprit, with a narrative intertwining benefits and migrants. Two weeks before that David Blunkett claimed we were being swamped when net-migration figures just released had shown a drop.

The collective amnesia at the heart of the Labour Party is something to behold. Like one massive cult their 13 years in power and failures on immigration have been brainwashed out of their consciousness.

Liberal Democrats should plant a great big Union Jack on this political territory and proudly argue for a progressive form of patriotism, leaving Labour, Ukip and Tories to be the nasty nationalists.

If this debate were based on facts we wouldn’t be talking about it every week. Every single independent bit of research points to the overwhelming economic benefit that immigrants bring. But this evidence is being airbrushed out.

This debate is based on prejudice and emotion.

It appears very few in British politics are prepared to make the positive case for immigration and immigrants vehemently, loudly and passionately.

Where immigration is concerned we are becoming increasingly backward and inward looking, economically, socially and culturally.

The politicians have failed us. They claim to listen, to understand the concerns around immigration. I don’t want them to listen, I want them to lead. I want them to be honest and frank and to argue for it with every fibre of their being.

Ukip have built themselves on a politics of division and blame. They seek to restore imaginary, golden and bygone days that don’t fit into modern 21st century Britain. It’s got the Labour and Tory politicians spooked and they want some of that demographic voting for them. In some hellish concertina they sing a song of blame; let’s blame migrants not the gang masters who under cut wages; let’s blame foreigners for taking jobs we won’t do any way; let’s blame Europeans that we can’t see a doctor or our schools are full or we can’t get a house – not the politicians who’ve ducked the long term problems we have needed solving for three decades.

We can only beat that prejudice by showing leadership. Our focus should not be on punishing those who come to this country to contribute to our great nation’s success. Our focus should not be on turning away skilled workers, doctors, teachers and entrepreneurs for the sake of arbitrary political quotas to make us feel better.

As far as immigration is concerned, the truth is something beautiful.

Ibrahim Taguri is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Brent Central. He tweets @ibrahimtaguri

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