Standing Up To Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Is A Quintessential British Value

26 Oct 2016
This week the demolition of the camp in Calais has dominated the headlines. Along with Jeremy Corbyn, I visited the camp earlier this year. Anyone who saw the conditions that people were living in, children in tents, and at this time of year in sub-zero temperatures at night, the mud, the raw sewage, the fear of sexual and physical assault - anyone who saw these things would be ashamed.

They would be ashamed because this is not a refugee crisis, it is a crisis of Western governments failing to recognise their moral and legal responsibilities.

These governments do this in our name. This situation is a test of our humanity and our principles and we are failing. One example is the reaction around Lily Allen and Gary Lineker visiting Calais. It was extraordinary that the press turned against them just for showing common humanity in relation to refugees. But this is no surprise. This Tory government has overseen the longest fall in living standards ever recorded and right-wing governments throughout history have always stood by, or directed blame at ‘the other’ for their failing policies. This has been the reality of austerity in Britain. 

Not only is this government responsible for these catastrophic economic outcomes and the plight of millions, but it also happens to be one of the most racist governments that I have experienced as a Member of Parliament in nearly 30 years. I sat in a chamber in the House of Common listening to a Home Office Minister justify the fact that the government was going to spend less money saving people from drowning in the Mediterranean. His justification was if you saved fewer people from drowning, fewer would attempt to cross the Mediterranean. Death as a disincentive to global migration. That was Tory thinking.

What commentators have to understand is that nobody would leave their home, cross the Sahara or the Mediterranean, risking their lives, if they were not desperate. And I have to say that I am ashamed of being a British person when you have British Members of Parliament suggesting you should treat refugees like cattle, and test their teeth. What has this country come to? Great Britain has a proud history of being a sanctuary for those who have fled persecution. These people have gone on to contribute immensely to British society.

Since the Brexit vote there are now over a thousand hate crimes recorded each week. Although I know some progressive people campaigned for Brexit, the reactionary element chose to run a crudely anti-immigrant campaign. Who can forget Nigel Farage standing in front of a poster of black and brown migrants implying that these people posed a threat to this country?

But again this is no surprise as Britain is being led by those that brought you the “go home” van. Everything we are seeing and hearing reflects Theresa May’s thinking and actions on immigration whilst Home Secretary. At the Tory party conference we had Jeremy Hunt saying we were going to train all these British doctors and essentially make the NHS a foreigner free zone. Then Amber Rudd briefing that British companies would be made to produce a list of foreign workers. Even Tories were horrified. It suggests a government that is so wedded to its anti-immigrant rhetoric that it does not care how much damage it does to British society, British public services and British business. And that is a frightening thought.

The way in which we challenge this rhetoric will define us as a nation. We will have to speak loudly and confidently in the face of a government that works hand in glove with an intolerant and divisive press.

* From The Huffington Post.

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