So the Conservatives have managed to put themselves further to the Right on Immigration than New Labour; no mean feat. It’s now set to be a central issue of the Tories’ election campaign. While they preach reasonableness and practicality, I’m left feeling very uncomfortable about the idealogy that lies behind this. Michael Howard says “we cannot take them all“, which seems to me to be the epitome of a straw man argument. Who ever said we were going to “take them all”? But if we’re going to decide who to take and who not to take, shouldn’t it be on other grounds than an arbitrary quota designed to look appealing in an election manifesto?

On the plus side, maybe this will force Labour back to the left on this issue, but I worry that the net result will be discussion about the level of immigration controls, rather than discussion about the pros and cons of immigration itself. I’m all in favour of more informed debate, but it seems to me that the level of current political “debate” is all after the fact. It amounts to: “We all agree that these Johnny Foreigners are a huge problem, so how do we best keep them out?” Or, even more depressingly: “We all know that the public has a hugely disproportionate fear of these Johnny Foreigners, so how do we best placate them?”

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but it really annoys me – so much so that I think I need to start tracking down some actual facts, because sometimes all we seem to get are opinions, myths and misinformation. There is a hopeless confusion in the public mind between immigration, asylum and illegal immigration, and unchallenged assumptions abound: assumptions that we all agree that current levels of immigrants and asylum seekers are too high; that immigrants are in some way inherently undesirable and/or presumptuous; that we can blithely send asylum seekers back where they came from on a quota basis without considering the threat to their lives; that outsiders are a threat to our culture instead of an addition to it; and assumptions that Britain is a single polyglot culture that can be “preserved” instead of a mixture of many cultures and influences, both ancient and modern.

Personally I’d like to see some perspective and context. Just why is concern over immigration so disproportionate to the other issues facing our country? Why is no-one mentioning our moral, ethical and legal obligations around asylum? Without meaning to sound OTT, would it hurt in a holocaust anniversary year to point out that the focus on immigrants as the cause of the nation’s ills is exactly the kind of prejudice that got Hitler into power? Is it really possible to protect the interests of our society by acting in a way that goes against principles of tolerance and individual human rights? There are so many different inter-related issues here, yet the debate is on the level of the lowest common denominator – where there’s even a debate at all.

…as you can tell, I’m feeling a bit ranty on the subject. 😉

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