Challenging the narrative around immigration

It’s a referendum about Britain’s future, at the risk of being decided by the prejudices of past generations. Both Labour and the Conservatives are divided, facts are manipulated to suit the needs of the day and the voices of the young are generally being drowned out by those of the old.

The outlook is bleak for young and first time voters, but more than anything else related to the EU referendum I am disappointed by the amount of fearmongering and negativity that has dominated the ‘Brexit’ campaign.

Financially speaking, Boris & Gove don’t have much left to stand on. Reasonable discourse and sensible debate have been thrown to the wind as the Brexit economic argument collapses under the weight of its own incoherence. Now, in tried and tested fashion, those politicians who would have us withdraw from the EU are turning to the politics of fear and division. The anti-immigration rhetoric has been stamped in bold all over this referendum for the world to see, almost at the cost of any other pro-Brexit sentiment. Should we, as a nation, decide to leave the European Union on June 23rd, the message that decision will send to the continent and to the world will not be one of national pride of reclamation of sovereignty it will be one of collective xenophobia and isolationism.

We are surely better than this. That’s why, when Brexit point the finger at foreigners we have to speak out and challenge the narrative that we are somehow not masters of our own fate.

It is successive governments, not successive waves of migrants, that are to blame for Britains ongoing housing crisis. It was the bankers, not immigrants that caused the collapse of 2008 and plunged the nation into recession. It is governments who preside over the welfare system, not foreigners and it is this government that has chosen to slash benefits for local authorities, the disabled, parents and young adults. In demonising immigrants in this way, Brexit are attacking the basic EU principle of Freedom of Movement, yet their campaigns shamefully neglect the fact that the freedom works both ways. How can we let this go unchallenged when millions of our fellow countrypeople use that same freedom in order to work, live and love across the continent?

Sadly, hostility towards outsiders seems to be heavily entrenched in our society. Pandered to by self-serving politicians and perpetuated by the predominantly right wing media, this paints a grim image of what it is to be British. Most unpalatable of all is the assertion that the Brexit argument holds the monopoly on patriotism, that to be internationalist is to be anti-British or that somehow we betray our country by acknowledging the benefits others might bring to it. In a time of unparalleled uncertainty on the continent, the need for Britain to play a positive role in a progressive Europe is clear. The appetite is there for it. YouGov suggests that upwards of 60% of those under 30 are pro-EU whereas a similar percentage of those over 50 would vote to leave.

Unfortunately, the young are far less likely to vote than the old. In order to change this the positive case for the EU needs to be made loudly. The dangers of leaving alone are not enough. We need to challenge the divisive notion that our nation’s problems can be blamed on immigrants across the channel. Instead we should look to our own government, to reforms closer to home and to the people who represent us in Brussels.

* Shaun Ennis is a Lib Dem campaigner for Trafford in Greater Manchester and part of the team organising the Shirley Williams Lectures.

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14 Comments

  • The basic problem is that mass immigration is simply not liked by locals and this hold pretty much true everywhere in the world. Whether or not the narrative is fuelled by the political Right or the narrative is fuelling the Right is pretty hard to ascertain. Personally, I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that to an extent the progressive view is falling into the Utopian trap of believing it can create better people rather than working with what you’ve got. All this stuff about, well, it’s old people set their ways or it’s uneducated or it’s manipulation is very well and good, but the fact is those people still get to vote and in truth support for free movement and mass immigration is a minority view.

  • @Glenn that’s an important point – and why the outers appear more motivated. There’s a sense amongst the people who hold those views that all this was done without their consent and they’re angry about it.

  • You cannot do anything about this, it is emotional and deep felt by a load of people, their reasons may be wrong but leave it. Dangerous to focus on immigration that is what LEAVE want you to focus on. Best go on the economy and blast that for two weeks.
    We may have to leave it to the MPs to block matters in the House of Commons.

  • “It is successive governments, not successive waves of migrants, that are to blame for Britains ongoing housing crisis. It was the bankers, not immigrants that caused the collapse of 2008 and plunged the nation into recession. It is governments who preside over the welfare system, not foreigners and it is this government that has chosen to slash benefits for local authorities, the disabled, parents and young adults.”

    Three lines more eloquent than the entire Nick Clegg speech elsewhere on this site – but beyond identifying the problems, we have to offer solutions. Nick Clegg saying people want to go back to the 1950’s or are little Englanders or we must think about the Norwegian stockbroker, when what the public want is affordable housing and well paid jobs plays to the leave campaign.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Jun '16 - 1:25pm

    Nice idea , well put , missing the point !

    It is precisely because the xenophobes are out in force , that the internationalist non prejudiced needs to be moderate and understanding.

    That is not the case when all the argument seems to be , ” it is all the right wings fault , nothing to do with any immigrant , therefore be happy your area has changed character and you still do not have a job or prospects because it is all the right wings fault !”

  • Shaun Ennis 6th Jun '16 - 2:19pm

    While I agree that it could be considered “Utopian” to try and chastise people for their fears on Immigration, I don’t believe those fears should be pandered to by the LEAVE campaign in the absence of a logical argument. It would also be fair to criticise aspects of the “Remain” campaign for scaremongering.

    I certainly do not want to be dismissive of older voters but the point should be made that the discourse surrounding the referendum is alienating young people. Not enough has been said about the opportunities that come from remain. I believe young people have the most to loose from British exit of the EU and I don’t want to see the debate slip into a grubby scare-fest of anti-immigrant rhetoric. As a young adult and a child of immigration myself, I certainly don’t want that rhetoric to go unchallenged.

  • Peter Watson 6th Jun '16 - 4:53pm

    “I am disappointed by the amount of fearmongering and negativity that has dominated the ‘Brexit’ campaign. … Financially speaking, Boris & Gove don’t have much left to stand on. Reasonable discourse and sensible debate have been thrown to the wind as the Brexit economic argument collapses under the weight of its own incoherence.”
    Ironically this seems to be an example of the “fearmongering and negativity that has dominated” the Remain campaign!
    A parallel article (https://www.libdemvoice.org/its-time-to-come-clean-about-immigration-50817.html) at least attempts to make a positive case for immigration.
    The Brexit campaign (unlike perhaps many individuals who will vote for it) is not anti-migration per se, and as somebody on that thread pointed out, their press release stated, “Migration brings many benefits to Britain – culturally, socially and economically. We want Britain to continue to benefit from migration.” The constant misrepresentation of that aspect of the campaign is one of the things that pushes me away from the “Remain” vote I would instinctively prefer to cast.
    If uncontrolled migration within the EU is making everybody’s life better, then present the evidence and make that case (and not in the impersonal terms of the “economy”). If anybody’s life is being made worse, then explain how that can be addressed (or why it is an acceptable sacrifice).
    The smearing and knocking-down of strawmen practised by both sides of the debate (though more I feel by the Remain campaign) is confusing and aggravating. Worse, I fear that it fuels a cynical view of our politicians that is likely to work to the advantage of the Brexiters.

  • Do commenter’s here suggest they are speaking for the views of all young people or do they subliminally mean … ‘middle class’ young people, whose parents can afford to maybe carry them through their gap year,… because to be honest, I cannot see any credibility in the idea that the EU has raised the prospects of a young working class person living in either Barnsley, or Athens.?

  • Shawn Ennis,
    It’s not case of chastising people for there fears or being noble. It’s really a case of understanding that an overtly pro open boarders stance and endlessly talking about the positive benefits mass immigration is not a vote winner. 70 or more percent of the population want lower immigration. That isn’t mostly old people, or nasty people or gullible people. That’s a clear cut majority of all the people. The biggest threat to progressive politics is not the Right or the press, it’s the inability to understand that ultimately in democracies you have to attract rather than annoy the electorate and rightly or wrongly some causes are simply vote losers.

  • David Allen 6th Jun '16 - 6:44pm

    You don’t generally succeed in winning people’s votes by lecturing them as to why they are wrong.

  • “Sadly, hostility towards outsiders seems to be heavily entrenched in our society.”

    I don’t believe that’s true at all. If it were, I don’t think the British people would have tolerated the levels of immigration they have seen without voting for somebody who would do something about it. I live in a much more ethnically diverse part of GM than you do and all I see 99% of the time is people of different ethnicities and nationalities getting along fine.

    What about you – do you believe the current levels of immigration are too low, about right, too high, or do you think there should be no limit? As is often the case with this kind of article, you attack the views of others while not being clear about your own views.

  • Nobody yet seems to have taken the Brexit campaign head on on this. Where is the evidence that with the present economic situation that Brexit is capable of reducing the levels of “net immigration”? The main driver of immigration (both EU and non-EU) is the number of jobs available. In the main, what we would consider low-paid jobs – it is the shape, the balance of our economy which is dictating this – I haven’t yet heard from the likes of Farage, Gove, or B Johnson, let alone Gisela Stuart or Kate Hoey, that the foremost consideration is rebalancing our economy. There could be a useful debate about this, but it is at least arguable, that we need a more European style economy to do the rebalancing, and therefore, joining the Euro when exchange rates come to a reasonable balance should be what we are thinking about. Welcome back, 1992!

    People seem distinctly unprepared to argue that wrong political and economic policies have been pursued here over many years, leading us to the pointless, nay counterproductive debate and referendum we are having now. Remain have let this argument go by default at present. The other point worth making is that if we are so concerned with “control”, it is the unbalanced nature of globalisation which has caused that, leaving no democratic levers to pull supranationally, and a total imbalance between democratic and corporate power. The terrific thing (potentially!) about the EU is that it gives such a democratic counterweight to global corporate power an early trial, for what should be happening across the world.

  • Unfortunately, the young are far less likely to vote than the old.
    Well from the electoral roll data, it would seem that this is mainly due to them not being registered…

  • Andrew Sosin 7th Jun '16 - 5:24pm

    I consider that B Jonson and M Gove will do anything to support business. This will include allowing any body to come to Britain for a job. Their control of immigration is likely to be more immigration than now (unless the recession in the economy is too severe after Brexit).

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