Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Immigration van an unpleasant waste of time

The latest edition of the government’s ‘Bash an immigrant’ policy has been unleashed this week and could be coming to a London borough near you.

For the coalition government, in its wisdom, thinks dispatching a van emblazoned with the messages ‘In the UK illegally?’, ‘GO HOME OR FACE ARREST’ along with the warning ‘106 arrests last week in your area’. And in comparatively tiny type, at the bottom, there is a line saying ‘we can help you…’. It’s a line few people will notice when the van cruises on its merry way through the boroughs of Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge.

Unsurprisingly, when this pilot, an initiative by the brains at the Home Office, was unveiled yesterday it provoked consternation and anger. Quickly, a campaign started on Twitter with the term #racistvan trending and local government leaders – who evidently were not consulted about this thoughtless campaign – called for it to be suspended.

While I don’t think it is actually racist – though its ‘GO HOME’ message has horrible echoes of anti-immigration campaigns in the past – it is self-evidently designed to frighten people, to upset and intimidate them. The size of type, the dark forbidding colours, an image of a pair of handcuffs were hardly chosen by accident.

Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, communities and local government minister Baroness Hanham happily arose in the House of Lords today and had the gall to say the posters were not meant to be intimidating at all.

‘I don’t think it is meant to be intimidating. I think it is meant to address the reality of the situation that there are people coming here without jobs and without accommodation.’

The vans were merely trying to suggest it ‘would be more helpful’ if illegal immigrants decided to return home of their own accord, she suggested.
Not only is this campaign hateful, it is also a complete waste of time, money and effort. By their very nature, illegal immigrants are illegal; they know it and thus inevitably spend much of their time trying to avoid the authorities. An aggressive government poster is hardly likely to convince them otherwise.

And much like the poster campaign which urged neighbours to alert the authorities if they suspected someone was cheating benefit, these are tactics which have chilling echoes of tyrannical Cold War regimes.

And then there’s the UK Border Agency, the country’s most incompetent and unpleasant state body. In regards to the 106 arrest figure mentioned above - if indeed it is an accurate number and not simply dreamed up - judging by the lamentable record of the UKBA, many of those will have been held in error and be perfectly legally entitled to be here, while the rest are probably trying to negotiate their way through the labyrinthine immigration process.

And all the time, the government loudly ignores its own Office for Budget Responsibility which advised last week we will need more immigration in order to deal with the impacts of an ageing population.

There’s clear disquiet amongst the Liberal Democrats. Former minister Sarah Teather thinks it’s unpleasant and president Tim Farron told me this afternoon he wants to see the van ‘removed from the streets asap and the banners shredded’.

I can only hope he has success in persuading colleagues in government, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

Update: It seems the billboard's actual target agrees with me. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has today described the campaign as 'nasty, unpleasant' and 'Big Brother'. 

He added: 'What the billboards should say is please don't vote UKIP, we're doing something. That's what it's all about, of course it is.'

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