Tax the rich, don't scapegoat refugees

Submitted by Anon on 22 January, 2004 - 5:11

In a recent Mori poll four out of 10 white people said they wanted to live in area with people of the same ethnic background. More older white people than younger felt this way. Any way you look at it, and even taking into account the smallness of the sample - just 1000 - the figure is shocking.
It must reflect hardening attitudes to immigration, or specifically, towards asylum seekers, particularly among working class people. The same poll showed that the issue of immigration had risen up the list of people's concerns. It was the third most important political issue, after health and education. It ranked ahead of crime and the economy, 29% rated it top. Ten years ago the equivalent figure was 10%. What's changed in ten years?

A Labour government has come to power which has failed to deliver any positive social changes for working class people. Income inequalities have increased under New Labour. Despite some extra cash, it is widely perceived that the basic public services - health and education - are in decline. Some services - social services, transport - are in acute decline.

That has created a mood of apathy and sore disappointment. The political establishment is perceived to be ineffectual, distant, uncaring. And that is a political climate in which scapegoating takes the place of political arguement. Convenient lies about the causes of the problems in society will find some legitimacy.

According to the Mori poll, many people explicitly blame asylum seekers for the decline of the welfare state. Of the 45% who believe the welfare state treats them as second class citizens, 39% blame asylum seekers and immigrants.

Of course it is not logical. We know that attacks on the rights and treatment of asylum seekers have gone alongside attacks on the welfare state. But it's hard to see that when the press you read and the government in power are in a competition over the toughest line to take on the issue.

Scapegoating is the ideological weapon of the political moron. But it is not a tatic confined to the far-right. While Robert Kilroy Silk was (rightly) lambasted for his views on Arabs, hardly anyone in the "liberal" press managed to draw attention to the real target of his filthy remarks - asylum seekers.

As he put it, people from "Iran , Iraq, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries [Iran?] living happily in this country on social security."

Kilroy Silk has continually used his column inches to churn out hate towards people of all nationalities, as dirty, lying, cheating aylum seekers. Why have his remarks escaped the attention of the BBC until now?

Attacks on asylum seekeers, denigrating them for taking state benefits (even if they can't get those benefits) have become the norm, a cosy shared political assumption by both left and right. Everyone has bowed down and accepted the campaign of hate against asylum seekers which, over the last two years especially, has become relentless.

Why hasn't the Express been taken to the Commission for Racial Equality many times over the last two years?

For this: "Cut benefits and stem the asylum tide"? Or this "Refugees in under-age sex scandal"? "Anger at 5-star migrant centre"? "Asylum luxury"? "Asylum violence fear for villages"? "Asylum law lets pervert stay in UK"? "Neighbours' fear of asylum seeker held in ritual killing case"?

The headline message from the Express is ludicrous, yet people have come to believe in it. The message is foul, and yet people don't seem to notice anymore.

The BNP will be standing candidates in the Euro and council elections this year. New Labour is worried. Some say the BNP could take Burnley council. And Labour's stategy to beat the BNP? Labour's answer to the scaremonger?

To be tougher on asylum seekers. To be more foul. To take away even more legal rights for people who may be fleeing persecution from a violent state. To threaten to take away their children if they aren't happy and willing to be deported.

Unfortunately the left is taking a step back and away from the kind of working-class socialist politics we need to undermine the working-class support the BNP is now garnering. A large part of the activist left is set to sign up to a bland mush of good causes, headed by a careerist who routinely apologised for Saddam Hussein's tyranny. That is the "Respect" coalition. The same "Respect" coalition that will not oppose immigration control.

Socialists must build a solid base in working class communities and in campaigns on student fees, privatisation, social housing and so on. We desperately need to be an inspiration to working-class people. Not least because we need to break down the divisions between black and white.

There is a lot we can do. In the first place we can get our trade unions to build labour movement campaigns in local areas to defend asylum seekers and fight racism. We will need to confronts head on the ideological shit that has amassed over the last years: explain what life is really like for asylum seekers, argue that the welfare state is affordable and can be rebuilt, demonstrate how the press peddles racist lies.

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