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« The elusive Peter Tatchell | Main | Yes, Stephen, you were wrong »

July 19, 2004

Comments

Chris Lightfoot

"I don't recall having seen [targeting a part of the electorate on the basis of its ethnicity or faith] before, and it is a notable contribution to the Balkanisation of British politics."

What about, "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour", then? (Perhaps you mean seen with your own eyes rather than read about.)

Presumably "Labour is on your side—the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers..." is quite OK, though?

James M

"Tom Watson... robust campaigning..." "Robust"? Why the euphemism? You are, then, in favour of targetted attacks on migrants? This is from just one of Liam Byrne's election leaflets:

"Labour is on your side—the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers...

We have taken tough action against those who abuse the system as a cover for economic migration. While Labour were tough the Lib Dems were wimps—they tried to stop us taking away benefits from failed asylum seekers and they voted against plans to speed up deportations."

I understand you to think of yourself as some sort of anti-racist. I would advise that "robust" statements along these lines are calculated to pander to (and, indeed, reinforce) the worst sort of racist prejudices: as the previous comment notes, it is a contemporary version of "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour", as used to devastating effect in another West Midlands election in 1964.

You attempt a shoddy smear against Respect, an electoral organisation that opposes this sort of "robust", divisive politics, whilst then bewailing "Balkanisation" in elections; consistency, I suppose, is an underrated attribute. For my part, I am glad Watson's vile campaign on behalf of Liam Byrne failed to prevent a collosal swing against Labour - to reduce an 11,000 majority to under 500 is no mean achievement.

Ross

I'm very confused, why is it so terrible to be against illegal immigration? If asylum seekers are judged to have no basis for being here why is it wrong to highlight what your party has done to remove those who have no business being here?

Chris Lightfoot

"I'm very confused, why is it so terrible to be against illegal immigration?"

That's not the question here. The question here is whether the Liberal Democrats behaved -- by "[targeting] a part of the electorate on the basis of its ethnicity or faith" -- in a fashion unique in British politics.

Ross

Illegal immigrants and failed aylum seekers are not an ethnicity, they are defined by rules they have failed to adhere to rather than by race or religion.

Chris Lightfoot

"Illegal immigrants and failed aylum seekers are not an ethnicity" -- obviously, yes, but they are by definition not yet British and most of the prejudice against them is simply racial prejudice. Nice try.

dsquared

Attorney-General made clear that the legal justification for war could not be self-defence against the threat from WMD, since this was not proved, but rather Saddam's breach of UN resolutions about his obligations to disarm

Oliver, you seem to have sources of information about the Attorney-General's advice which the rest of us are not privy to. So perhaps you'd care to outline for me the reasoning which led the AG to believe that it was acceptable for Blair to decide to interpret the Security Council resolutions for himself rather than allowing the Security Council to interpret them, a process which would on the face of it seem to open the door for quite serious abuse?

Simon

'failed asylum seekers' in this case are asylum seekers awaiting an appeal against their initial ruling. As many pass on appeal that fail initially, we can assume that some of the people who Labour were decrying the Lib Dems for wanting to extend benefit (let's not forget that this is not loads of money...) to were fleeing their homes (and,in some cases, families)becuase of persecution and genocide. It is only when they have decided not to exercise their right to an appeal, or have 'failed' that, that we could

Sam

Chris L wrote:

"most of the prejudice against [asylum seekrs] is simply racial prejudice. Nice try."

Care to back this up with some evidence? Nice try.

Tim Newman

[P]erhaps you'd care to outline for me the reasoning which led the AG to believe that it was acceptable for Blair to decide to interpret the Security Council resolutions for himself rather than allowing the Security Council to interpret them, a process which would on the face of it seem to open the door for quite serious abuse?

You misunderstand. The Security Council declared that Saddam was in breach of the resolutions. This was the AG's justification for war. He did not need the Security Council to agree on how to handle the breach, just that they declare that a breach had been made. And they did. There was no interpretation on the part of the AG or Blair.

Chris Lightfoot

"Care to back this up with some evidence?"

I'm not sure why it's worth trying to help you when you're plainly too lazy to search for any evidence yourself, but why don't you start with this MORI report (first hit in Google for "attitudes to asylum seekers") and then work outwards from there. From that report:

'Two-thirds (64%) said that the media most use the term "illegal immigrant" when referring to refugees and asylum seekers, yet refugees and asylum seekers are not in the UK illegally.... The phrase "illegal immigrant" was found in January 2002 by the Advertising Standards Authority to be racist, offensive and misleading.'

James M

I should've thought that the statement "most of the prejudice directed against [asylum seekers] is simple racial prejudice" is stating the obvious, but if you insist, have a look at http://www.cre.gov.uk/gdpract/cj_sli_2_oral.html (amongst many others). In practice, so-called "economic migrants" are most often forced into the asylum system because restrictions on immigration are so strict elsewhere. The suggestion that these people are then "failures" in some sense is calculated to promote animosity; the "failure" is successive governments' inability to develop any sort of humane immigration policy, preferring instead to pander to bigotry.

I would dearly like to know how handing benefits to failed asylum seekers "harms" people in Hodge Hill, as Labour claimed on another leaflet. At no point did Labour bother to tell us - funnily enough - how many failed asylum seekers there were in Hodge Hill; I assume it is because the figure is miniscule. Migrants are amongst the fittest and most skilled of their native populations, and far from depriving residents here of their services, make a net contribution to the Exchequer of £2bn or so annually (this the Home Office figure: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/n_story.asp?item_id=676) It is thus strange that a firm "liberal" and promoter of the free-market like Oliver Kamm seems to think that the kind of directly harmful labour market regulations applied to migrants - preventing them from working legally here, for example - are merely "robust" politics, rather than both economically and socially harmful nonsense.

DMT

<<>>

Firstly the previous comment did no such thing, but if that was the intended meaning anyway, it's wrong. There's a difference - which you've missed - between the clear racist prejudice of the 1964 local Tory campaign (I use the term 'racist' here, advisedly, to denote an utterance that (a) purports the existance of distinct races and (b) promotes inequality between them) and the tough rhetoric against weak administration of failed asylum cases. These cases have nothing to do with race, ethnicity or culture, and it's foolish to think the author of that campaign material 'calculated' that those words would reinforce racist prejudice. I would however add that, despite the intentions of the author, the connection between asylum and race is often made by the electorate, so watching ones language is a wise habit to get into.

<<>>

Astonishing! Respect: who don't in any way cynically target Muslim voters with their rubbish; whose leader in no way spouts tokenistic 'saalems' and 'inshallahs' where-ever he thinks it popular; who see no contradiction in aligning Socialist beliefs with Muslim particularism; and who have abdicated the left-wing tradition of anti-facism by their association with groups admiring fanaticism. Balkanisation, yes. Consistency, no. Smears, bring them on.

<<< James M: For my part, I am glad Watson's vile campaign on behalf of Liam Byrne failed to prevent a collosal swing against Labour - to reduce an 11,000 majority to under 500 is no mean achievement.>>>

For my part, I'm glad he won, and you didn't.

DMT

---James M: I would advise that "robust" statements along these lines are calculated to pander to (and, indeed, reinforce) the worst sort of racist prejudices: as the previous comment notes, it is a contemporary version of "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour", as used to devastating effect in another West Midlands election in 1964.---

Firstly the previous comment did no such thing, but if that was the intended meaning anyway, it's wrong. There's a difference - which you've missed - between the clear racist prejudice of the 1964 local Tory campaign (I use the term 'racist' here, advisedly, to denote an utterance that (a) purports the existance of distinct races and (b) promotes inequality between them) and the tough rhetoric against weak administration of failed asylum cases. These cases have nothing to do with race, ethnicity or culture, and it's foolish to think the author of that campaign material 'calculated' that those words would reinforce racist prejudice. I would however add that, despite the intentions of the author, the connection between asylum and race is often made by the electorate, so watching ones language is a wise habit to get into.

---James M: You attempt a shoddy smear against Respect, an electoral organisation that opposes this sort of "robust", divisive politics, whilst then bewailing "Balkanisation" in elections; consistency, I suppose, is an underrated attribute.---

Astonishing! Respect: who don't in any way cynically target Muslim voters with their rubbish; whose leader in no way spouts tokenistic 'saalems' and 'inshallahs' where-ever he thinks it popular; who see no contradiction in aligning Socialist beliefs with Muslim particularism; and who have abdicated the left-wing tradition of anti-facism by their association with groups admiring fanaticism. Balkanisation, yes. Consistency, no. Smears, bring them on.

---James M: For my part, I am glad Watson's vile campaign on behalf of Liam Byrne failed to prevent a collosal swing against Labour - to reduce an 11,000 majority to under 500 is no mean achievement.---

For my part, I'm glad he won, and you didn't.

Ross

"Migrants are amongst the fittest and most skilled of their native populations, and far from depriving residents here of their services, make a net contribution to the Exchequer of £2bn or so annually (this the Home Office figure"

This is what Migration Watch say about that claim:

"The relevant Home Office paper was heavily qualified, describing the results as conditioned on the period in which they are calculated and the country's position in the business cycle. In fact the year chosen was one in which the public sector accounts were in surplus so everyone was contributing 5% more than they took out; to correct for this deduct £1.3bn. Furthermore, Corporation Tax from shareholders resident abroad was wrongly attributed to migrants; deduct a further £0.8bn. The study also overlooked the key point that, since the early 1990s, migrants have added to our population so it ignored the cost of new facilities required and the costs of special education etc."

David Duff

When Blair referred to himself as a "pretty straight kind of guy", I just knew, instantly and intuitively, that he was a liar! It reminded me of the old City adage that Oliver must know well, "If a man says his word is as good as his bond, take his bond!"

James M

DMT: Liam Byrne's leaflet reinforced the institutionally racist bias of the existing asylum system (check the Home Office's regulations on quotas, "safe areas" and so on) and was clearly intended to prey on an existing racist prejudice amongst voters. It's not as obnoxious as the Smethwick slogan, but certainly stands as a "contemporary version" of the same thing, replacing an overtly racist term with a covert racism in precisely forms (a) and (b) that you describe. "Asylum seeker" is not a race, but a judicial category largely determined by race/ethnicity and in the derogatory context of the leaflet was intended to play on the same prejudice.

On to MigrationWatch: the Home Office figures are designed for their own particular line (that "managed" migration is ok), but give a good counter-indicator to some of the nonsense put about my economic migrants. (Nigel Harris' "Thinking the Unthinkable" is a good, free-market inclined critique of the current system.) As it is, MigrationWatch's claims do not seem to hold water: "deduct £1.3bn" because of public sector surplus means everyone "contributing 5% more than they took out" appears meaningless without some description of tax incidence (which is not evenly distributed through time, or the population) - precisely the point of the Home Office paper, and MigratonWatch's "key point" that migrants "added to the population" is peculiar, given migrants lesser claims to public resources (given their demography) than the domestic population. (see the National Statistics webpage: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=766 - immigrants are significantly concentrated in the economically active age-range, much more so than the domestic population.)

("I am glad he won, and you didn't" - just as well I wasn't standing, I suppose...)

DMT

--- James M: Liam Byrne's leaflet reinforced the institutionally racist bias of the existing asylum system ---

Er, right. Institutional racism, where it can be defined at all, refers to practices which in themselves are not racist, but in combination with other practices and process, result in racial inequalities. So first you compare the Birmingham campaign slogan to the outright racism of the 1964 'nigger for your neighbour' slur, and now you change your mind, and its part of the imperceptible racism of the Home Office. Let me clarify it for you: it's neither, not outright racism (because it doesn't discriminate on the basis of race, but rather administrative status), nor institutionally racist. Yes that's right, shock, horror, there were no institutionally racist leaflets knocking about letterboxes.

--- James M: It's not as obnoxious as the Smethwick slogan, but certainly stands as a "contemporary version" of the same thing, replacing an overtly racist term with a covert racism in precisely forms (a) and (b) that you describe. "Asylum seeker" is not a race, but a judicial category largely determined by race/ethnicity and in the derogatory context of the leaflet was intended to play on the same prejudice.---

What's this? Changed your mind again? So we're back with plain old racism. You're right, 'asylum seeker' isn't a race, so your assertion is incorrect. It's an administrative category, determined not by race and ethnicity as you suggest, but by the home and economic status of the applicant.

Your guess about the intent of the leaflet is wrong again. It's not trying to stoke up racism (rather daft in a ward like Hodge Hill), but is answering the economic concerns of the local populace. They want to know they're getting a fair deal, and that asylum is dealt with properly.

--- James M: ("I am glad he won, and you didn't" - just as well I wasn't standing, I suppose...) ---

Amusingly, if your lot hadn't lumbered into the contest, Labour would have lost the seat, and Respect supporters could have chanted 'David Kelly' and 'Murderers' even louder at the Labour candidate. Wasn't that fun?

James M

DMT: All these would be excellent points in response to my earlier posts, if - in fact - they were in response to my earlier posts. Unfortunately, you seem to have rather read your own peculiar interpretation of my comments.

I did, of course, claim that the Hodge Hill leaflet was a "contemporary version" of the Smethwick slogan: not an exact parallel - it isn't as bad - but something similar. Hence "version" not "copy". Hence, also, "covert" rather than "overt". And thanks for making the point about "institutional racism" for me; the leaflet formed precisely a subordinate part of an institutionally racist practice, maintained in the first instance by the Home Office, and reinforced through the discourse of "asylum seekers".

At no point did I claim the Hodge Hill leaflet was *intending* to "stoke up" racism, merely that it played up to racism, and would most likely "reinforce existing prejudices". You say that deliberately "stoking up" racism may be rather pointless in Hodge Hill; I guess we're both working on the assumption that there are very few asylum seekers (failed or otherwise) in that constituency, in which case your claims about voters' "rational" concerns are somewhat off. That would not, however, prevent a cynical campaign playing on those irrational concerns. Labour ran just such a damaging, obnoxious campaign and not one any "anti-racist" can reasonably support.

(Personally, I'm rather pleased we also prevented shameless Lib Dem opportunists from winning...)

DMT

James,

I'll leave you to check back your words, but just to tell you, I'm nothing to do with the Lib Dems.

As for opportunists, I refer you to those members of the SWP who sought out Muslim particularists, and thus betrayed their deepest principles, seeminly for the sake of electoral gain (ha!)

Chris Lightfoot

(Well, that spat was all very enlightening, but it hasn't got us any closer to knowing what Oliver thinks of the question....)

K

The war on Iraq was caused by Saddam Hussein's failure to disarm (i.e. hand over the weapons he didn't have, said he didn't have, let people have a look to see he didn't have, and who agreed he didn't have).

This analysis is about as facile as the causes of WWI being the empire building of the evil Hun (or, indeed, the shooting of the ostrich by Archie Duke because he was hungry).

I find it staggering in the Age of the Internet, when we can trivially read the past words of Blair and Bush (no Winston Smith pasting up back-copies of The Times for Big Brother here), to see how many intellectuals are able to believe the ever-changing line of excuses (and to forget all the old ones). Mind you, there's precedent for that: the intellectual Left of the 1930s believing any old excuse from Stalin.

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