Black and southasian readers of Pickled Politics more than 10 years old will remember how casually racist and intolerant England was in the early 70s and 80s. They will remember how easily and routinely anti-foreign sentiment was ratcheted up a degree or two during times of national economic hardship. Most people will probably remember, painfully, the passive-aggression that was targetted, widespread and palpable during the late seventies. Others may have even faced real violence.
The mood against “foreigners” almost always turns ugly during times of economic hardship. So when Gordon Brown made the statement that the country is officially in recession, he confirmed what everyone already knew. But as the country enters a possible 2 year recession, I wondered to myself how long it would be before first anti-foreigner soundbite, like bird call signalling the changing of season, would appear.
What did surprise me was how quickly that call would come. Phil Woolas, Labour Minister of Immigration kicked off:
“We need a tougher immigration policy and we need to stop seeing it as a dilemma. It’s not. It’s easy.”
This is David Osler on Phil Woolas:
Hereâ€™s the most worrying soundbite of all: We need a tougher immigration policy and we need to stop seeing it as a dilemma. It’s not. It’s easy.
What Woolas knows full well – but of course doesnâ€™t say – is that the only â€œeasyâ€ way to limit further immigration is to single out black and Asian would-be immigrants for the kind of treatment that is openly discriminatory.
Nothing will be done about the one million or more South Africans that have the right to live in Britain because they have one British [read: white] grandparent, when many children born and brought up in Britain by non-British parents do not.
Moreover, hundreds of millions of EU citizens are able freely to live and work in the UK. Short of withdrawal from the EU itself, there is no way that right could be curtailed. Thankfully for Phil, they are again very largely white, and tend to congregate in the south east anyway. No need to get tough on them.
Remember also that in 2006, 50,000 foreign nationals married British nationals, while 25,000 claimed asylum. To stop either group living in Britain would require dismantling human rights conventions and withdrawal from treaties.
Still, there is one aspect of immigration policy that truly is colour blind. Millionaires are allowed automatic entry into Britain, whatever their passport. No word from the minister on how he intends to put a stop to this particular abuse.
There is a crucial difference between confronting racism and meeting it half way, as all the mainstream parties tend to do, and as Phil has done in this article. When Labour prime ministers advance catchphrases such as â€˜British jobs for British workersâ€™ and Tory parliamentary hopefuls proclaim that â€˜Enoch was rightâ€™, they boost the fears the BNP thrive on.
Enoch was wrong. The River Tiber isnâ€™t flowing with much blood. Britain hasnâ€™t built its own funeral pyre. It is today a far more tolerant and less racist place than it was three or four decades ago.
Phil Woolas entered politics to fight racism, apparently. He is appalled by stories of immigrants being given Â£1 million houses at taxpayers’ expense. He opposes an amnesty for people who are already here illegally because he thinks it would encourage more to come. He believes passionately, however, that those who do become part of the British workforce should be treated with far more respect.
The Labour Party also banned Woolas, Home Minister of Immigration from appearing on BBC’s Question Time last night. This may be because they disapprove of his abilities as an populist agent provocateur.
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