When does concern about immigration become racism?

Today, the Limp Lettuce Leaf that heads up the opposition in our parliament spoke out.

Not against injustice, overconsumption, unsustainable lifestyles- he spoke about immigration.

In an interview with the Guardian, he concedes that immigration is being discussed in “every kitchen” and that the Labour party has been too quick to dismisses the concerns of ordinary people as “prejudice”.

He says the government should strengthen the law so that employment agencies cannot – even informally – favour foreign workers.

He was at pains to suggest that the former labour government had got it wrong on immigration- that it had ‘let too many people in’. This from the son of an immigrant- his mother, Marion Kozak (a human rights campaigner and early CND member) survived the Holocaust thanks to being protected by Roman Catholic Poles. His father, Ralph Miliband, was a Belgian-born Marxist academic, who fled with his parents to England during World War II.

With this in mind, perhaps we might take a moment to reflect on the fact that in the middle of just about every renewal and innovation in our society has always been the incomer- the outsider seeking to make good. At the middle of industry, and at the centre of our professional groups.

Also of course, doing all the jobs we do not want to do, and in times of economic success, refuse to do.

To be fair to the Leaf, if and when he does speak out on issues of justice no one listens, but when he speaks out like this he is at the top of every news bulletin.

But our kitchen has hosted no debates over immigrant labour of late- has yours?

If it did however, I might find myself suggesting that the reason why so many Eastern European people, or so many Asian people, come to this country is very simple- economics. Our lifestyle is based in the need to sustain huge inequality, some of which was enforced at the point of an imperialist bayonet. The shadow this casts is over a dozen generations or more.

In the Eastern European case however, the opening up of the borders in the European Union did indeed cause a large movement of migrant workers far beyond what was expected. Working people in some cases were simply priced out of the market as workers from the East were cheaper, and willing to work long hours.

In the past this would not have been possible, because of something called Trade Unions. But we more or less neutralised them in the name of free market economics.

So- when does concern about immigration become racism? Remember the famous spat between Gordon Brown and the redoubtable Gillian Duffy? Was she a bigot as he famously was heard calling her?

The answer of course, is probably not- but at the same time, maybe we have to acknowledge there is something about our society that is instinctively hostile to the outsider, or the other. When this becomes part of our politics, it gets ugly very quickly and the victims are usually those with the least power.

Particularly during an economic downturn- when we have the need for a scapegoat.

If the Leaf should visit our Kitchen, we can discuss it in more detail.

2 thoughts on “When does concern about immigration become racism?

  1. I have had debates about this with people who I would say 100% are not racist-the debate was about limited resources and why it was seen as so wrong to look after ‘our own’ before extending what everyone hoped would be a generous helping hand to those who needed it. No one in this particular group was against giving asylum, but felt that economic migration had to be looked at. The worst thing was that, without exception, people who had tried to talk about this, and have this discussion were immediately shouted down and branded as racists. Surely it should be something that can be asked and debated till a consensus has been reached. Its very easy to react with a ‘conditioned’ response but it is much harder to really look at the issues and let people give their honest thoughts without fear of being branded as politically incorrect racists. It kind of makes me think of what many of us have encountered over the years in ‘Christian ‘ circles where there are lots of untouchable subjects and things which are accepted as being far too important and set in stone to be questioned. It is definitely an interesting debate and I would look forward to it, if I thought it could happen in a respectful and interesting way, but politicians in this country seem to have lost the art of debate and persuasion. Maybe because they don’t actually know what they believe any more.

  2. Cheers for comment Aud

    Do you think that Miliband is wanting to stimulate an honest debate about economic migration, or is he seeking to reposition the party in relation to a particularly touchy subject in middle England in particular?

    And surely if we were to have an honest debate we would have to look at the average salary of these migrant workers, and decide what impact it had on the lives of the working people in the UK? The research i have seen is pretty clear that any affects were largely short term from the Eastern European influx- although there are anecdotal stories which always get lots of airing in the press.

    I was not branding anyone racist, but was responding to the words of a politician in a political way- which is of course about broad brush- even ‘conditioned’ ideology.

    This is because I believe that both as a Christian and a socialist, what we do should be based on some core principles, and I think that one of these is to look to those who are most vulnerable within our society and culture and to evaluate our policies in light of the impact on them. I do not think that what Miliband is doing is in line with the spirit of the party that I have supported all my life, hence my little rant.

    There is a debate about borders, and the degree to which we protect them. I just believe that there is a far more important debate about international inequality, the flow of raw materials (including humans when it suits us) in one direction to be consumed by those who already have so much. This is what causes economic migration, and will continue to do so. I would love this debate to be in the headlines, but this is not very likely…



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