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.

On voting Labour…

I have always voted Labour.

For a while, my passion for a kind of politics that fought for liberty and equality was indistinguishable from my faith. Both drove me in the same direction.

I believed in a God who was more interested in the gutters of society than the doings of the well to do and famous. I became convinced that Jesus was a revolutionary, sent to call us to a way of life that promoted the last to be first and the first to be last. My heros were people who sought to live out this radical path- even where I failed.

And you know what- I still believe those things.

In the 80’s and 90’s the only party that seemed to embrace some of these views was the Labour party. It was a party in turmoil- arguing over it’s very soul. But still deep in it’s DNA was this passion for social justice and compassion for the weak and poor.

The years of power and compromise have soured so much of this image. The dispicable war in Iraq, the aparent surrender to the ‘free market’, the loss of identity in a changing world. The accommodation with the worst elements of the press on immigration.

Like many of us, I have been struggling to decide how to vote in this coming election. Could I vote for the Liberal Democrats, who are saying some things that I like? Or was there anything about the leadership of Brown that I could still believe in and celebrate?

I am not swayed by the leadership debates. They are televisual circuses that might yet lead us down a kind of politics that has dominated the USA. Beware voting for a well polished public image. We vote for policies and principles, not personalities.

I heard a story about Atlee, the labour leader who did so much to introduce the Welfare State and National Health Service. Someone quipped that an empty taxi arrived at Westminster, and he got out. But his legacy is with us still.

But still, my trust in Brown had reached a low ebb. He seemed so shambolic, so defeated.

I know a lot of men like Brown up here in Scotland. Sober, dignified, private men, who suffer no fools nor enjoy the social life. Taciturn and truculent. Men who believe still in public service.

I watched this (Thanks Jonny) and saw for the first time in this election something that really stirred me.

And made my voting choice a lot easier.