Labour shows its true anti-immigration colours
This week, former Labour home secretaries David Blunkett and Jack Straw went on a twin offensive, criticising the policies that make it easy for Eastern Europeans to live and work in the UK. Blunkett, in an interview on BBC Radio Sheffield, said that the influx of Roma from places like Slovakia is causing tensions which may result in race riots. Straw’s ire was directed at the hundreds of thousands of Polish and Hungarian immigrants who have arrived in the UK since 2004.
Blunkett said that certain habits and aspects of Roma culture needed changing. He advocated using ‘tough policing… to persuade the Roma not to spend all their time on the street’. He stated that people congregating in groups on the street was a ‘very real problem’ and made the strange claim that this left them at ‘risk of exploitation’. He also said it would be a challenge to convince them ‘not to throw their rubbish in the street’. He justified his comments by claiming to be concerned for the education of Roma children, but the underlying message was barely concealed: the Roma are dirty, lazy spongers and they’re not wanted here.
As for the idea that there is sufficient animosity towards the Roma to lead to race riots, this seems to exist entirely in Blunkett’s imagination. Even if we accept for a moment that Blunkett’s racist hordes do exist, the implication that they should be allowed to dictate government policy is absurd.
In his column in the Lancashire Telegraph, Jack Straw wrote that he regretted allowing unregulated Polish and Hungarian immigration to the UK after Hungary’s and Poland’s accession to the European Union in 2004. Although, this week, research from University College London debunked the myth that immigrants are here to sponge benefits and are in fact significantly less likely to claim benefits than UK nationals, this only made Straw ‘feel a little better about this well-intentioned policy we messed up’. Unlike Blunkett, who at least tried to support his anti-immigrant views by backing them up with racial stereotypes and imaginary race riots, it is unclear why Straw regrets his policies towards immigrants. Apart from vaguely referring to the ‘social dislocation that can occur when large numbers of people from abroad settle in a particular area’, he gives no other reason for his self-deprecation.
What Straw’s and Blunkett’s comments do show, however, is that Labour is not – and never was – the pro-immigrant force it sometimes claims to be. While Labour continues to pose as the softer alternative to the more explicit anti-immigration voices on the right, be they UKIP or Tory, deep down it seems that Labour’s heart beats with just as much illiberalism and suspicion of foreigners.
As it stands, those from the 22 EU member states within Europe’s Schengen Area are the only non-nationals who can live and work in the UK without being subjected to a long and confusing application process that often ends in rejection. For Straw and Blunkett and other Labourites, this residual liberalism in the UK’s draconian immigration laws is seemingly a problem. Yet, far from curtailing immigration from Europe, we should extend the policy of open borders to the rest of the world.
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