We Need to Talk About Immigration... Again

23/06/2016 10:58

The topic of immigration has dominated this referendum campaign. Yet real progressive debate over the issue has been diminished due to the popularisation of people's fears of immigration incited by right wing media outlets and euro sceptic parties such as UKIP.

There are plenty of genuine arguments to make on the leave side, but as we have seen with the remain campaign due to the disengagement with Westminster, people are sceptical about believing politicians on the economy, the NHS, jobs etc. therefore, making it difficult to engage and mobilise the electorate. Brexit have capitalised on this by inciting people's paranoia, people can see the problems that British society faces and certain outlets of the British media and the 'anti establishment' party UKIP are not so subtlety guiding people blindly towards the cause which best suits their own political needs. Immigration. It is easy therefore, to see why, when you ask many British people why they are choosing to vote leave they cite immigration as a key issue, after all, history shows us it is far easier to mobilise people and public opinion through fear and the exploitation of people's rational anxieties, rather than on open, honest debate.

The effects of immigration (both positive and negative) can be seen by most on a daily basis, whether it's through the changing demographic of our towns and cities or the number of languages spoken in our schools and the workplace. The fact is, immigration is visible and therefore, it is far easier to blame it for the problems the country faces, than it is to blame those in Westminster who seem so far disconnected from people's everyday life.
When people are continually being fed this line that our country is being 'overrun', that our health service is under pressure due to too many patients, that the only solution is take back control of our boarders, to hold back the 'swarms' of migrants, it becomes difficult to subdue this fear.

This paranoia and fear also makes it difficult (as many on the left have found) to endorse a counter argument which welcomes immigration, which counters, convincingly the right wing rhetoric. Over the course of the referendum campaign many on the left have found themselves having to time and time again defend the impact of immigration, consequently creating an environment where you cannot discuss immigration without talking about it in terms of it being a problem.

The mention of the word has been poisoned by those wishing to incite the worst in people. Driving people to the ballot box through the fear they need to take back control of their borders.

But take back control from who?

And give control to who?

A government who will continue to cause the problems we are told to blame immigrants for?

Whilst the Conservative branch of the leave campaign are desperate to ensure immigration doesn't become the centre of their brexit argument, they certainly won't stand in the way of Farage's horrific popularisation of people's fears of immigration. Over the course of this debate, and more widely over the past few years, people like Farage have been able to normalise the angst and to a very real extent hate of immigration. So much so a mainstream, governing political party can pick up the rhetoric of UKIP and it is not seen an outrage.

Yet whilst this closed minded poisoned view of immigration has been driven by the right - the left is also at fault.

Political debate and media coverage makes it dangerously easy to be pushed towards this way of thinking without really being aware of it. But the demonistation of these people by some on the left, labelling people who have been swept away by popular media proclamations as 'racists' further intensifies the situation. What the left need is a genuine, consistent stance on immigration which exemplifies the positives but provides a solution for the genuine fears that people have.

Because, yes, without being labelled a racist or anti Europe I can say that Britain needs to take action on immigration. The level of EU net migration peaked in 2015 with 333,000 compared with 177,000 in 2012. Whilst at the same time as this annual increase in immigration both Labour and Conservative governments have failed in building enough housing to manage the population increase. In 2008 the number of houses being built fell to its lowest since 1924. Boris Johnson, the man trying to convince people to vote leave is the same man who as mayor of London sold of acres of land to rich property developers whilst social housing waiting lists continued to grow. The impact of increasing immigration has been made a problem because of government policy, yet anger has been directed (to the governments pleasure) away from them and onto immigrants.

The leave campaign has poisoned and stagnated the debate around immigration. Taking control of our borders will not solve this countries problems. Our NHS relies heavily on European doctors and nurses, our cities were built on and thrive off cultural diversity. Whatever your views on the wider European debate, do not allow parties like UKIP define British nationalism, to control the debate around immigration or to tell you what you should fear and who you should blame.

Take back control by voting to remain, by rejecting the idea that the elite can force us to blame immigration for the shortfalls of those in power. Don't allow control to be given to those who encourage us to live in fear and hatred of our neighbours.

It is right we shouldn't be afraid of raising concerns about immigration, but we should look to a progressive solution, and no progressive solution can be reached by cutting ourselves off from the rest of Europe.