Author: Caron Lindsay
Remember back in March, I almost spontaneously combusted when I read the consultation paper on immigration. Anything that put the word “robust” before “humane” really didn’t have a place in a liberal party as far as I was concerned.
After I wrote that piece, I became more hopeful at what I though was a genuine attempt by the working group to engage with members. I know that they received a huge amount of feedback suggesting that they should take a more compassionate and fair approach.
We don’t know what the policy paper says yet as it hasn’t been published but the motion, which appears from page 35 of the Conference agenda actually makes me ashamed.
Let me talk a bit about why it is so important to tackle fear and prejudice. Nigel Farage, the Daily Fail and other elements of the right wing press have spent the last half century dripping poison about immigrants and immigration. They have used immigrants and lately EU citizens as scapegoats, wrongly. The problems we have are as a result of the failure of successive governments to adequately invest in housing and public services. If they had done that, then there would be no need for the right wing to turn groups of vulnerable people on each other.
As we move in to very dangerous times, as Brexit’s economic hit threatens jobs and public investment, when they can’t blame the EU any more, who will the Torykip lot blame next? It sure as hell won’t be them for getting us into this mess. It’ll be disabled people for claiming too many benefits (as if – most can’t get the help they desperately need), workers for demanding such indulgences as a minimum wage, set working hours and maternity leave.
If this immigration paper is an indication of how we as Liberal Democrats are going to stand up for these targeted groups, then we really need to demand better.
The motion is apologetic, timid and half-hearted. Every time it talks about doing something remotely right, it adds in a caveat saying, effectively, “but it’ll save us lots of money.”
It talks about fairness in the title, but there is no underscoring of that in the motion.
It tinkers at the edge of a horrible system that needs to be dismantled and started again from scratch with a new, enabling, compassionate, culture.
I also have a real problem with the paragraph that reads:
Our goal should be a positive, liberal consensus on immigration, partly by rebuilding people’s trust in the system, and that this requires us to listen and engage with those who do link pressures on public services and housing to immigration and to reject the argument that merely labels such people as racist.
That is a worthy goal, but thinking you are going to achieve it with the policies and attitude outlined in the motion is a bit like trying to clean a casserole dish with baked on dirt with a cotton wool ball.
There is nothing wrong with feeling under pressure, that your housing is awful, that you don’t have enough to make ends meet. There is nothing wrong with thinking that isn’t fair. Because it isn’t. Linking that to immigrants and opining that they get everything while you have nothing is wrong, though. We shouldn’t be pandering to it. While we shouldn’t necessarily blame those who have absorbed the Faragesque drip feeding, we need to challenge it. We should be calling it out for what it is while making sure that there is enough investment in housing, public services and jobs.
If that means that some people don’t vote for us, then we will just have to live with that.
My heart sank when I saw a whole section in the motion on trafficking and gangs. Why is that even there? That’s got nothing to do with the immigration system and everything to do with crime and exploitation which are illegal.
It isn’t all awful. There are some sensible policies in there – allowing seekers of sanctuary to work, for example.Or making it easier to bring your parents in. The abolition of the appalling income requirement for bringing in your spouse is welcome, but I would much rather see people have some recourse to public funds if they need it. But a lot of it is less than I would want to see- enabling up to 28 days detention when I thought we were supposed to be abolishing detention for immigration purposes. We should be looking to reduce the exorbitant fees for everyone. Imagine you have a family of five needing to renew leave to remain. We’re talking about £8 grand. If you are renewing a family and private life visa, there is every possibility you are doing a very low paid job. And the Home Office hardly ever grants fee waivers. You have to prove you are destitute – and that means not being able to afford anywhere to live. But often they will have slapped bail conditions on you tying you to a particular address. It’s a catch 22 situation.
I’m concerned about the section on seekers of sanctuary because it doesn’t mention the particularly vulnerable victims of gender based violence and sexual violence.
What we needed was a document that loudly and proudly shouted that we were an enthusiastically pro-immigration party which put fairness and dignity and compassion at the hart of its policies. This motion furtively looks at the ground and mumbles.
We should have said up front that we wanted to create a system that inspired the confidence of everyone who used it and the organisations working to support them.
It falls well short of what is needed and I am not certain it can be fixed. The paper will be published soon and I’m sure there will be much discussion on here.