“Go home” billboards – an open letter and blog round-up

Since my post on Monday about the Home Office’s plan to send mobile billboards proclaiming that people who are in this country illegally should go home or face arrest, a number of bloggers and party members across various internet fora have expressed emotions ranging from horror to anger at the plan.

Sarah Teather is, as far as I can tell, the only Liberal Democrat MP to have passed any comment at all, and just to remind you, she wasn’t chuffed:

Vulnerable individuals who are fleeing persecution and violence are treated with disbelief and a complete lack of compassion in a rigid and inhumane system. But rather than tackling these problems head on, Ministers are choosing to once more crank up the anti-migrant rhetoric.

These adverts are nothing less than straightforward intimidation and can only have bad consequences for communities like those I represent in Brent, where people from all faiths and races have mixed for decades. We will all be much poorer for it.

Hywel Morgan, who wrote the party’s guide on “How to beat the BNP” is seeking signatures for an open letter to Nick Clegg, Jeremy Browne and Tim Farron. It says:

Dear Nick, Jeremy and Tim

We write as Liberal Democrat members to express our absolute disgust at the current Home Office billboards which are “touring” parts of North London carrying the message, “Go Home or face arrest”.

We believe that this is an ill thought out, insulting, and even stupid act. Like Sarah Teather we believe these billboards amount to nothing more than straightforward intimidation. Like the director of Migrant Rights Network we believe this campaign will damage community relations, and increasing mistrust and suspicion of minority ethnic groups in the areas being targeted.

Demonising people in this way, may well lead to further verbal and physical abuse of supposed ‘immigrants’, and this reality will be the responsibility of those people who implemented the programme.

They represent a crude bit of dog whistle politics, tactics which no person standing up for liberal values should engage in. Nothing the Coalition Agreement the party signed up to suggests support for such a divisive tactic. If Liberal Democrat ministers cannot stop the promotion of such divisive campaigns then we question what use they are serving either the party or the cause of liberal values.

We call on the leadership of the party, and Lib Dem ministers with Home Office responsibility to make a clear and unequivocal statement repudiating this campaign and announcing what steps that are taking to terminate it within 72 hours of the publication of this letter.

If you are a party member, and you wish your name to be added to this letter, please say so in the comments.

In the wider blogosphere, Liberator’s blog asks why Teather is the only senior Liberal Democrat to respond:

And why has Nick Clegg failed to respond to criticisms from within his party? In this instance, he would be well advised not to resort to his usual tactic, which is to patronise internal critics as naive children who don’t understand the practicalities of government. Party members already understand perfectly well what nasty game the Tories are playing – the question is, does Clegg?

I would like to think that the answer to that is that he’s on holiday. It surely can’t be a coincidence that this and Cameron’s plans to deal with internet porn come out when Nick’s away. I think it’s important as well to recognise that there is as yet no evidence that any Liberal Democrat minister agreed to this. I would like to think that they are fighting in Government to stop it. That surely can’t be insane and irrational optimism, can it? The Liberator piece suggests that David Laws might have agreed to this given his participation in the Migrants’ Access to Benefits group. There is no evidence to warrant that in my view. It doesn’t sound like a very David thing to do especially given that he has form for vetoing immigration status checks for school kids. It also doesn’t sound like anything this group would have dealt with in any event. It’s hardly a benefit for migrants, after all.

Lester Holloway says that the billboards make him wonder if the BNP are in power:

The Home Office’s “Go Home” poster is the kind of divisive stunt I would have expected if the BNP were in government.

Touring the multicultural boroughs of Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, and Brent today it was nothing more than a modern version of the infamous “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” B&B signs of the 1950′s on wheels.

The choice of London boroughs displays the same kind of racial profiling that Home Secretary Theresa May says she wants the police to stop.

Here’s hoping that we soon hear the news that this divisive, illiberal and unpleasant plan has been quietly dropped.

UPDATE: Just an hour after this post, the party finally responded. We had nothing to do with them, apparently, and condemn them as distasteful, disproportionate and ineffective. Let’s hope that those billboards are headed for the shredder.

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

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29 Comments

  • Is there an email address for Hywel Morgan? I’d like to encourage members of my council group / local party to sign the letter. Thanks

  • Penny Goodman 24th Jul '13 - 1:03pm

    Please add my name to Hywel Morgan’s letter. I am a member in Leeds North West.

  • Benjamin Mathis 24th Jul '13 - 1:12pm

    Remove reference to Sarah Teather and you can add my name too.

    Utterly disgusting stunt from the Home Office.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Jul '13 - 1:25pm

    Why do we have to jump to the defence of illegal immigrants with such passion and outrage? Disagree with the vans for sure, but this level of outrage is over the top.

    A picture of one of the “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest” vans:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-23419848

    I know I posted this on the other thread, but so was the open letter.

  • Alex Macfie 24th Jul '13 - 1:37pm

    @Benjamin Mathis: Sarah’s views on gay marriage are irrelevant to this government proposal; they are separate issues. I disagree with her on gay marriage but I am not prepared to treat it as a political litmus test, unless we are going to do the same for every issue under the sun that is discussed in Parliament.

  • Richard Snowdon 24th Jul '13 - 2:57pm

    Please add my name to the letter too. This bullying approach from the Home Office is disappointing to see and I wish more of our representatives would speak out against it. I’m a member of the Amber Valley local party.

  • Not a LD member but would like to add my own support to this initiative and send out my thanks to those MPs, bloggers, candidates and members for coming out against such an unpleasant campaign.

    It is, howver, disappointing to see a lack of robust condemnation from the party leadership. If Labour had done this whilst in Government the condemnation would have been quick and unequivocal. This gap between the high-profile members of the Quartet and the principles that the party has based itself on is becoming more and more unsustainable.

  • Hywel,

    Please add my name to your letter.

    Colin Ross
    City of Wolverhampton Liberal Democrats

  • Happy to add my name to the letter despite my reservations about Sarah. Hywel, you have my details.

  • robert sayer 25th Jul '13 - 10:04am

    could you add my name to the letter..no action Clegg must go

  • Richard Marbrow 25th Jul '13 - 10:35am

    Also happy to add my name to the letter (despite Sarah Teather).

  • Paul McKeown 25th Jul '13 - 10:51am

    Add my name to the letter (Lib Dem member; Hillingdon Borough)

  • Please add my name to the letter thanks, Tam Langley, Lib Dem member, Portsmouth

  • Rebecca Taylor 25th Jul '13 - 11:49am

    Please add my name, Rebecca Taylor, LibDem MEP for Yorkshir and the Humber

    Thanks

  • Duncan Brack 25th Jul '13 - 12:28pm

    Please add my name to the letter too.

  • Happy to add my name to the Letter.

    Louise Shaw, Stockport member

  • Please add my name: Mark Platt, Westminster

  • rita giannini watson 25th Jul '13 - 3:16pm

    please add my name to the letter, I am a member in somerton & frome

  • Happy to have my name added. Dan Kelly, Bridgwater and West Somerset.

  • George Selmer 25th Jul '13 - 7:03pm

    Please add my name to the letter.

    George Selmer, Parliamentary Candidate, Middlesbrough, 2012

  • This might be a little late, but you can add my name to the letter

  • Add my name too. I now see that Vince Cable has said the posters were ‘offensive’ and that our ministers had a row with the Tories about it behind the scenes. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23489925
    This is good, but was said far too late. Plus, he said it in an interview, in response to questioning, which raises the question, would he have said it if nobody had asked him???!
    Our party needs to get much tougher in stating publicly where we think the Tories have gone too far. This should have been taken as a God-sent opportunity to do so. We should have issued an immediate statement (from Nick) – along these lines: “Stamping on this sort of nonsense is exactly why we are in government. This shows what the Tories would do if they were allowed to govern on their own – these vans would be everywhere. As it is, we’re making sure they are junked. I’ve told David Cameron to his fact that this is not a Tory government and he can’t get away with this sort of thing. Not in our name. LibDems joined this coalition to clear up the mess Labour made of our economy. We did not sign up to support bigoted Tory attacks on immigrants, and we will block such attacks every time.”
    Or am I being hopelessly naïve??

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