Exclusive…Liberal Democrats: “Go home” poster vans “disproportionate, distasteful and ineffective”

go home illegal immigrant posterThe Liberal Democrats, so I hear, had nothing to do with the poster vans sent by the Home Office into 6 London boroughs which have caused much anger in Liberal Democrat circles  as I wrote earlier.  I said that I had seen no evidence that Liberal Democrat ministers had cleared them and it seems that my instincts were right.

A party spokesman told me:

These poster vans were not cleared or agreed by Liberal Democrats in government. We are totally committed to tackling illegal immigration but this is a disproportionate, distasteful and ineffective way to do it.

It so happens that Nick Clegg is on holiday and our Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne is in south east Asia as part of his global tour to investigate drugs policy this week. It would be naive to think that the appearance of these vans was a coincidence.

Let’s hope , now our ministers are aware, that those billboards are put through the shredder where they belong.

On this, though, it’s clear that we have been caught napping and that’s embarrassing. This is one unpleasant and potentially dangerous Tory idea that got away before we had the chance to stop it. We need to look at whether our processes are robust enough in keeping an eye on the Tories and whether our response once it was clear what was going on was quick enough. If Sarah Teather could respond within hours, why couldn’t our people within the Government?

Update: Tim Farron says on Twitter:

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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37 Comments

  • “Let’s hope , now our ministers are aware, that those billboards are put through the shredder where they belong.”

    Sounds more like the coalition agreement should be put through the shredder, if something like this can happen without the party’s knowledge, even in a department where the Lib Dems have a minister.

  • NIck is able to tweet congratulations to the Royal Couple from holiday – I don’t see why he can’t tweet condemnation of these billboards.

  • Roger Roberts 24th Jul '13 - 3:41pm

    This afternoon in the Lords, I asked a supplementary during Lord Dubs’ Oral Question on what assessment the Government have made of the causes of homelessness and rough-sleeping. I asked the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether she agreed with me, that homeless and rough-sleeping people are amongst the most vulnerable in our society. I urged her that we must do everything possible to give these people the assistance and confidence they need.

    I also asked Baroness (Joan) Hanham about the dreadful Home Office advertising campaign targeted at ‘illegal immigrants’. I specifically raised the fact that billboards displaying the message “go home or face arrest” are being driven through the capital.
    I put it to the Minister that this campaign is creating a great divide in our communities. I’m worried it’s also sending a dangerous signal to other migrants (including those who are homeless) that they too are under threat. Rest assured, Lib Dems in the Lords will not rest until we have brought dignity and support to this vulnerable group.

  • Actually further to the above – it’s fairly inconceivable that a party spokesperson would say this without having cleared it with a minister. So way issue this in an off the record way.

  • Oliver Sidorczuk 24th Jul '13 - 5:50pm

    Replying to Roger, Baroness Hanham said: ‘This initiative [aims] to encourage those who should not be here and have not got accommodation to think about going home…it is intended to be helpful…I do not think that it is meant to be intimidating but to address the reality of the situation, as there are people coming here without jobs and accommodation.’ Has she seen the billboards? What’s not intimidating about this? (See, here bit.ly/13cBWJb). This move is yet another example of Tories cranking up the anti-migrant rhetoric – just how did this get through?

  • “Replying to Roger, Baroness Hanham said: ‘This initiative [aims] to encourage those who should not be here and have not got accommodation to think about going home…it is intended to be helpful…I do not think that it is meant to be intimidating but to address the reality of the situation, as there are people coming here without jobs and accommodation.’ “

    The poster doesn’t even mention not having acommodation. And something that says “Go Home or Face Arrest” and displays the number of arrests “last week in your area” is obviously meant to be threatening. It seems even the Tories are too embarrassed to defend this stunt.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Jul '13 - 10:13pm


    These poster vans were not cleared or agreed by Liberal Democrats in government. We are totally committed to tackling illegal immigration but this is a disproportionate, distasteful and ineffective way to do it.

    Tough. We have had several missives from Party HQ recently which have taken the line that whatever this government does is done “with the Liberal Democrats presiding” or similar words. If they use that line, then this is what follows. If our party is to use lines like this, then these posters vans ARE Liberal Democrat policy.

  • 11 hours on this is the nearest the party has got to a condemnation of this. No name, no attribution, no-one in government.

    As well as tweeting his congratulations to the Royal Couple, Nick also posted 2 messages on Facebook within a few hours of the birth.

  • Pete Dollimore 25th Jul '13 - 7:34am

    Looking at the picture of the van on the BBC website, it struck me that the wording is in English. That suggests to me fairly clearly that the target audience is not any “illegal immigrant” but former Conservative voters, now perhaps UKIP supporters. This is a campaign stunt ahead of the 2014 London Council elections isn’t it? Brent, Harrow, Ealing, Enfield? All areas the Tories want to progress in. What a coincidence !!!

    Pete Dollimore
    London Campaigns Chair

  • Bill le Breton 25th Jul '13 - 7:47am

    These bill boards will have been designed by an ad agency. That agency will have responded to a written brief. I wonder whether Roger Roberts might use his good offices to request a copy of this brief. (Even if the posters were designed by an in house facility they too would have responded to a commissioner’s brief.) The ‘campaign’ will have followed a report and been given a budget which may very well have been signed off my a minister. A further FOI request might track that down.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 25th Jul '13 - 8:13am

    I don’t think we’re in any doubt about who the ministers were who signed it off – Mark Harper made public comment about them and I expect Theresa May would have been involved at some stage too. What we do know is that no Lib Dem saw, knew or signed off this plan and now it’s out, they are really annoyed.

    I actually felt, yesterday, for the first time in a while, that there was a bit of hope for the disconnect in the party. Those I spoke to inside the bubble were as livid as we all were about these boards. “Morally repugnant” was one phrase I heard from a senior Lib Dem source. I also heard that they were glad to belong to a party that kicked off about this sort of thing.

    This is apparently a two week pilot. I asked if it could be stopped in its tracks now and they weren’t so sure if it could. However, if it were to be extended, cross government approval would be required and the chances of that happening are not, shall we say, looking likely.

  • Until there is condemnation from an attributable, senior source we don’t know anything of the source.

    If our leaders need us to kick off before they will criticise this then we need new leaders.

  • “This is apparently a two week pilot. I asked if it could be stopped in its tracks now and they weren’t so sure if it could. However, if it were to be extended, cross government approval would be required and the chances of that happening are not, shall we say, looking likely.”

    Why wasn’t cross-government approval required for the pilot in the first place?

  • RogerRoberts /Wales 25th Jul '13 - 10:29am

    Written Questions – Lord Roberts of Llandudno (submitted this morning)

    1. At the request of which Government department were the “Go Home or face arrest” posters prepared and displayed ?
    2. What London boroughs and other areas have been covered by mobile “Go Home or Face arrest” vans.
    3. In what languages have the mobile Bill boards been printed ?
    4. What are the languages of those expected to be influenced by this campaign ?
    5. Who prepared the written brief used by the advertising agency instigating this “Go home or face arrest” campaign ?
    6. . What is the total cost of the “Go home or face arrest” campaign ?

  • Now that we’ve been caught napping we should be quite open about the fact and say what we’re going to do about it (e.g. once the two week trial is up we won’t be renewing it).

    We MUST come out lous and clear in saying that this nasty labelling of immigrants is divisive, disproportionate and immoral. We MUST NOT try to pretend that we had anything to do with this.

    We will gain more respect in the long run by being open about our mistake and being open about rectifying it by refusing to extend the poster “trial” than by pretending that this had anything to do with us. Yes Lib Dem haters will mock – but they hate us anyway. The trouble is that I suspect that Nick Clegg is afraid of upsetting the fearful public and don’t want us to be seen as pro-immigration.

  • Pardon me for being excessively cynical, but this strikes me as exactly the sort of political stunt that suits both coalition parties and identifies clear water between them – which they will increasingly want as we approach the next election. The Tories get to dog-whistle on the Immigration meme to the Tebbitt tendency, and the Liberals are all up in arms showing how soft-hearted they really are. Both parties get to say – this is what would happen if there was a majority Tory government – the Libs can claim to have stopped it / prevented it further (and so show a value to being in coalition) and the Tories can say ‘pesky Libs – give us a majority and we’ll be able to be tough on Johnny Foreigner’. Coupled with both Nick and Jeremy being away at the same time, and the lack of a prompt and robust response – this looks like plausible deniability to me… but then as I say, I am probably being excessively cynical.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Jul '13 - 2:43pm

    Bang on Lennon. A good example of how left versus right, or “liberal versus illiberal”, is an unwinnable fight that just leads to nastiness, anger, hatred and harm.

    The right will blame the illegal immigrants for the divisiveness, the left will blame intolerance, the truth is that it is a bit of both. Both sides view this as a fight between right and wrong, which is why it rouses such passion.

    Many people don’t like me in the party, but I just want to see an end to this divisive, harmful and unwinnable fight. When we see someone erecting a dividing line we need to seek to defuse the situation, not step onto the battleground.

    We need to end the politics of dividing lines, which not only pits us versus them, but also child versus parent, sibling versus sibling, friend versus friend.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Jul '13 - 4:10pm

    Although I wouldn’t say that liberals are just acting up to show clear dividing lines, they are genuinely angry about this.

  • Divisive and Orwellian.

    Will not encourage anyone to return home (does not begin to address why they are here) and only whips up the most base and negative reactions. In one word, “disgusting”.

  • Pete Dollimore 25th Jul '13 - 6:00pm

    Indeed John Innes. Just to correct my earlier posting, Hounslow is one of the areas targetted, not Harrow.

  • Our Borough is the only one with LibDems in administration of those lucky enough to have been selected for this demonstration of government spending public money wisely in difficult times. Clearly it is asking too much to have expected that, before our local communities were singled out for this bizarre experiment, someone in government might have thought it a good idea to consult (or even tell) us about it?

    We are however talking about two vans presumably lost somewhere in up to half of London, and so far despite a lot of interest, no-one in Redbridge has actually reported seeing one as yet. Whilst recognising the concerns about intimidation, the more likely result in the event that anyone catches sight of one of the two vans is that it simply makes the government look ridiculous. I am in coalition myself and one of the advantages is that there is more chance that dumb ideas, from wherever they come, are screened out before they see the light of day. In this particular case it would appear that someone has taken advantage of our key people being on holiday to rush this out without proper consultation. The publicity around the objections is generating a lot more noise than the vans themselves but, as I tweeted earlier, when UKIP is complaining about something being unpleasant it’s probably a good sign for an urgent rethink…

    It is surely very tempting to text “home” to the advertised number, just to test out what actually happens next…?

  • Meral Hussein Ece 25th Jul '13 - 8:09pm

    @CaronLindsay Excellent piece. This so called ‘campaign’ is a disgrace, exactly the kind of dog whistle politics the Tories think will resonate with potential UKIP voters. It’s divides communities, and will damage community relations. I’m very pleased to hear that Lib Dems colleagues in government are completely opposed to, this shameful stunt. Even Farage has condemned it!

  • You guys are in government, the Lib Dems are just as responsible for this as your Tory bosses.

  • Roger Roberts/Wales 25th Jul '13 - 10:56pm

    “This is a campaign stunt ahead of the 2014 London Council elections isn’t it? Brent, Harrow, Ealing, Enfield? ” -six London boroughs BUT in her House of Lords answer the minister said that this was operational in Westminster – only Westminster -.
    Someone has some explaining to do !

  • Roger Roberts/Wales 25th Jul '13 - 11:06pm

    Today – further info – total lack of confidence in Parliamentary answers !
    Since Monday, vans have driven around the London boroughs of Hounslow, Barking and Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge carrying billboards as part of a week-long, £10,000 pilot meant to tackle illegal immigration.
    The billboards showed residents how many illegal migrants had recently been arrested in their local area and carried a text number for overstayers to use to arrange their return home.
    Adverts read: “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest. Text HOME to 78070 for free advice, and help with travel documents. We can help you to return home voluntarily without fear of arrest or detention.”
    If deemed successful, the vans could be rolled out across the country, the Home Office said.

  • “If deemed successful, the vans could be rolled out across the country, the Home Office said.”

    Have they not heard what the party has been saying? (oh – no probably not!)

    Thanks Roger – you are, as always, a legendary start in the liberal firmament 🙂

  • “You guys are in government, the Lib Dems are just as responsible for this as your Tory bosses.”

    Indeed. The loyalist line seems to be that because a ‘party spokesman’ has disclaimed responsibility, everything’s OK. On the contrary, you should be looking as a matter of extreme urgency into how the Tories could have done this without Lib Dem ministers even being aware of it (if the ‘spokesman’ can be believed). And you should be making sure it doesn’t happen again. Remember that in Tory/LD contests in 2015 the Tories will have a strong vested interest in the Lib Dems losing support from the centre left.

  • When they say “if successful the vans could be rolled out across the country” how is success defined? Does it mean “if the vans stop us Tories bleeding support to UKIP they could be rolled out across the country”? Where is Clegg anyway? Call this a “coalition”?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 26th Jul '13 - 8:37am

    I am as is Baroness Hussein Ece is, pleased to hear that this tactic from 1930’s Germany (my words) has nothing to do with our Party, but has the public heard this? Speaking within the past few days with some grass roots community groups they were under the false impression that we were in favour and were horrified, as they have not heard a senior Liberal Democrat from the Cabinet say anything to the contrary.

    I would suggest that the size of the ‘clear water’ between ourselves and the Tories on this should be oceanic.

  • Meral Hussein Ece 26th Jul '13 - 10:32am

    @Ruwan, I agree, we need a very clear and emphatic statement, that our ministers were not involved in this decision, and utterly condemn it.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Jul '13 - 10:57am

    R Uduwerage-Perera, it’s not fair to compare tories to nazis.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 26th Jul '13 - 11:11am

    I now hear that Jeremy Browne isn’t on holiday but he’s in South East Asia on one of his drugs policy tours. Nick is on holiday. Tweeting congrats on a royal baby is very different than getting the nuance right on this one. I think we need to allow him his break. If he had waded in from Spain, there would have been coalition row stories everywhere and he wouldn’t have got any peace.

    The most important thing is that this horrible campaign is stopped. I am livid both about the vans themselves and about the way that Labour, whose record on immigration is awful (telling gay people to be discreet after deportation etc etc) are attacking it.

    Notwithstanding the delays in getting our message out, I do take a little bit of heart from the fact that them inside the bubble are just as livid about this as we all are. “Morally repugnant” was one phrase I heard from a senior Lib Dem government insider.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 26th Jul '13 - 2:45pm

    Eddie,

    I did not say that the Tories are Nazis, I was speaking about their actions, and what is being proposed is reminiscent of similar things that occurred during a period in history when Nazis Party was in power. Unless we learn from history, I see no point in teaching or learning it, and I say this whilst I am currently meant to have my head down completing a 15,000 word dissertation on ‘Policing the Holocaust’.

    Let us not forget that racism and other forms of bigotry are not merely theoretical topics to be discussed in LDV, or for that matter things that happened in the past, but are real and need to be challenged in meaningful way that will cease the abuse.

  • Eddie Sammon 26th Jul '13 - 3:27pm

    R Uduwerage-Perera, I respect you and your aims, and others whom I criticise, I just have a different belief in how to create peace in society. Good luck with the dissertation.

  • These posters are disgusting. They bring disgrace to the Tories – and to our nation.

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