I remember in the late seventies when Margaret Thatcher first used the words swamped. Many accused her of using race issues as a way of attracting voters and raising unnecessarily fears in the general population.Recently Michael Howard, himself a descendent from the European mainland (Mr Howard was born in Llanelli, Wales, where his Romanian shopkeeper father had moved as an asylum seeker in order to escape Nazi persecution) announced the Conservative partys proposed policy on immigration. The content of the proposed policy should be examined very closely. For example, issues raised include: annual limits in three areas: asylum seekers, people wanting work permits and those coming to Britain to be with their families. In addition, reviewing caps in these latter areas, stronger border controls, a points system for scoring applicant appropriateness and quotas.
Its interesting that no one ever talks about the positive aspects of immigration, for example: economic contribution and renewal, the vitality that immigrants bring and a sense of enriching of a nations culture. Immigration can also help to plug labour shortages.Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, has asked the Conservatives to clarify exactly what their proposals mean. If they are going to restrict immigration, he argues, they would have to start with those moving within the European Union. If the party does not mean EU migrants, he suggests, then the policy would leave open the way for racists to put the worst construction on the party’s message.From an international perspective, the United Nations Convention on Refugees, an international document that helps manage and protect those fleeing persecution could be bypassed by this policy.Although, immigration and asylum often prove highly contentious issues the Tories are confident they are tackling real public concerns. In reality it appears that many politicians are confused, with definitions often and fuzzed/altered to fuel fear, sound familiar?
On April 20, 1968, the British politician Enoch Powell made a controversial speech in Birmingham to the annual meeting of the West Midlands Conservative Political Centre, in which he warned his audience of what he believed would be the consequences of continued immigration from the Commonwealth to Britain. Because of its allusion to Virgil (Roman poet; author of the epic poem `Aeneid’) saying that the Tiber would foam with blood, Powell’s warning became known as the Rivers of Blood speech. Although the current language is different in both cases the prediction of rivers of blood and the declaration that Britain has reached a turning point could be construed by many as calculated to cause an affect of fear. The last thing we want is for another phrase to be added to minority right wing parties vocabulary.
It is important to also realise that such talk can create a backlash against communities that have settled here since the early 1950s, and earlier. Over the coming weeks Labour will be unveiling its own proposals. They also suggest that the Tory plans to cut the Home Office budget may mean they cannot police the proposed scheme.One thing is for sure, the return of immigration to the headlines of our dailys has the potential to generate the wrong message just like Thatcher did.