Knowsley, immigration, Prevent and the return of the Far Right

Over the weekend, further anti-migrant protests continued in Rotherham and elsewhere following protests in Knowsley last week held outside a Hotel housing asylum seekers.  Roughly 300 people from the local area were involved initially, before around 150 far-right protesters joined later. Some threw fireworks and a group attacked a police van with hammers before setting it alight. One police officer and two members of the public suffered light injuries. Fifteen people were arrested on suspicion of violent disorder, mostly from the local area.

Far-right agitators had played a significant part in the protest from the start. A video purporting to show an encounter between a 15-year-old girl and a 25-year-old man asking for her phone number was shared heavily, initially in fascist circles, with the unfounded claim that the man was an asylum seeker. It quickly gained a wider audience.

Three days before, the far-right group Patriotic Alternative had turned up outside the Hotel with a banner reading, “Europe belongs to the European.” Members distributed several hundred leaflets with the slogan, “5-star hotels for migrants whilst Brits freeze.”

Two days prior to Knowsley, in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Suella Braverman welcomed the Shawcross review of Prevent, including its judgement that the programme had laid too much emphasis on the danger presented by extreme right ideology. “While obscuring the Islamist threat,” the home secretary told MPs, “Prevent has defined the extreme right-wing too broadly, encompassing the respectable right and centre-right.”

Ever since the 1979 General Election and the landmark party-political broadcast by the now defunct ‘National Front’ at the time, immigration has remained a key political issue in UK Politics. Knowsley brings together the convergence of two moral panics: “Muslim grooming gangs” and an “invasion” of asylum seekers, both narratives having been promoted heavily in the mainstream press:

  • The latter being fuelled by the Conservative government, and indeed Braverman herself. Just a day after a far-right terrorist attack on a migrant centre in Dover, Braverman called for an end to the “invasion of our southern coast”. This language echoed both inflammatory immigration rhetoric of the past and current xenophobic propaganda.
  • Equally, the former, is virtually ignored in media reports, namely the baying chants of “nonces” (colloquial for paedophile), graffiti with the same slur, and how various far-right actors explicitly linked the riot to “grooming gangs”.

These asylum seekers have been scapegoated and have been identified as politically expedient, propping up a hardline anti-immigration agenda, stoking culture wars and detracting from the devastating impacts of austerity and widespread systemic failings across Government.

Amnesty

Back in 2010, during the General Election campaign, the Liberal Democrats made a manifesto commitment to having an Amnesty on illegal immigration to those undocumented migrants who had lived in the UK for 10 years. An Amnesty would have allowed undocumented migrants the legal right to live & work in the UK.

More recently, Lib Dems have policies which could have helped prevent these issues arising. The Party’s proposals include a more efficient and fairer way of making decisions and supporting the right of asylum seekers to work after 3 months.

Conference had previously agreed a policy on providing humanitarian visas and we have also supported the introduction of safe and legal routes into the UK. We need to talk about what can be done rather than bemoaning the problems. Parliamentarians, local councillors, and those in a position to influence need to make sure our policies are part of the public discussion.

More work does need to be done on some of these policies particularly teasing out how safe and legal routes would actually work in practice and how the Home Office can get through the current backlog of decisions without compromising on fairness or reducing still further quality. It is frustrating that none of these proposals have been implemented by the government which is now facing a mess it has manufactured.

But it is tragic for asylum seekers who are risking their lives to come here because there are no safe routes and then when they get here housed in inhumane conditions where they are also at risk of infections and possibly death (back in November last year, an individual who was being processed at Manston was taken ill and died in hospital).

* Michael Bukola is a former Parliamentary Candidate and Lib Dem Councillor in the London Borough of Southwark (2010 – 2014). Michael’s triumph against the Far right by way of the British National Party (BNP) who stood their only candidate against him in South Bermondsey ward during the 2010 London local elections. He is currently Treasurer for the Lib Dem Campaign for Race Equality (LDCRE) and a prospective candidate for the London Lib Dem Assembly List.

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11 Comments

  • Adam Pritchard 22nd Feb '23 - 1:47pm

    Thanks Michael good article. i am sure we are all really down about events in Knowlsey and elsewhere.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Feb '23 - 6:00pm

    ” we are all really down about events in Knowlsey (sic) and elsewhere.

    We shouldn’t be too downhearted because the counter demonstrations in Liverpool were much better supported. The Liverpool Echo perhaps forgot to give prominent local Lib Dems a mention.

    https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/jeremy-corbyn-attends-demo-say-26273279

  • George Thomas 22nd Feb '23 - 7:45pm

    The polls suggest that most voters would go center-left at next election (or party positioning themselves as center-left) but this feels like UK is more on the right in attitude than any other point in my relatively young life.

    A country where there are a million and one people wanting to be influencers but a shortage of nurses and teachers because it doesn’t pay as well is, to me, a country obsessed with making money at expense of society.

    No wonder the far-right are on the rise again.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Feb '23 - 10:31pm

    “Back in 2010, during the General Election campaign, the Liberal Democrats made a manifesto commitment to having an Amnesty on illegal immigration to those undocumented migrants who had lived in the UK for 10 years.”
    But then abandoned it three years later, polling having shown that “the so-called amnesty was one of the most unpopular policies they put in front of the electorate, and was seen as a drag in pulling over centre-ground voters.” (https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/mar/22/clegg-abandons-amnesty-immigrants)

  • Richard Easter 23rd Feb '23 - 4:37am

    There is and has always been a lot of noise from the hard right and far right, and the right wing press amplify it. Additionally politicians of all stripes seem to be obsessed with trying to “placate” and “listen” to these people (where as they dismiss anything from the left – e.g. the current strikes).

    It means that the UK appears further to the right than it is. If you take the noises from senior politicians and the right wing press seriously and read nothing else then we get the absurd situation where Truss is a visionary who was bullied out of office by communists, that Patriotic Alternative (run by the odious ex BNP member Mark Collett) are a well meaning bunch concerned about child grooming, and that the working class, rather than being (more accurately) represented by the likes of Mick Lynch and Dave Ward – or the legions of care home workers, delivery drivers and supermarket workers – are all supporters of Lee Anderson who think food banks are run by do gooders wanting to boost their egos and used by the greedy, nurses are liars, rents in London are too cheap and working 7 days a week on low pay is a virtue.

    Clearly the above is absolute codswallop.

    Not to mention the myriad of centrist, centre left and left wing parties and the splits between them which make it easier for the Tories to gain power.

  • Martin Gray 23rd Feb '23 - 6:45am

    We have to be honest & realise that a significant number of voters want those asylum seekers returned forthwith.
    Housing asylum seekers in ex uni halls of residence , army barracks , and holiday parks etc – none of which has been successful, as they’ve been met with bitter existence from local residents. That’s echoed in a considerable number of towns where hotels are being used at a staggering cost each day… With pressures mounting services, & social housing in such high demand – resentment is undoubtedly running high .
    This will be a significant issue come the GE …

  • Alex Macfie 23rd Feb '23 - 9:14am

    @George Thomas: Looking at the big picture, people are more liberal than ever before, but at the same time the gap between the attitudes of the most and least liberal people are wider than ever before, while the illiberal crowd (helped by social media) are also louder than ever before.
    As for low pay causing shortages of nurses and teachers, well you can hardly blame people for eschewing professions that don’t pay for the cost of living. This is the fault of government, not of people. And whether “influencers” are a good thing or not depends on how they seek to “influence”. Greta’s an “influencer”.

    @Martin Gray: Asylum seekers might be a significant issue in the way you suggest, but mainly in parts of the country where Lib Dems aren’t strong, and among people who are least likely to consider voting for us. There is no point in tailoring our message to such people. This is where Nick Clegg seems to have made a mistake in 2013. The danger of considering stated public opinion is in assuming that the people who state it would shift their votes to us if we pandered to them. Most likely they wouldn’t.

  • Jenny Barnes 23rd Feb '23 - 9:15am

    “We have to be honest & realise that a significant number of voters want those asylum seekers returned forthwith.”
    We can all want things – and a pony – as they say.
    However, returning refugees to war zones, for example, is contrary to international laws on treatment of refugees “IRL provides a specific definition of refugee, safeguards the right to seek asylum, and protects against being forcibly returned to a country where one would face persecution”
    What needs to be done to reduce the problem is to speed up the determination of asylum claims, allow people to work while waiting, and stop the inflammatory rhetoric from the Tories. Small chance of that, ofc, as their plan for the next election is to ramp up the anti trans, anti immigrant, culture wars hate.

  • Martin Gray 23rd Feb '23 - 9:51am

    @Alex ….
    Sadly Alex ‘those people’ are more inclined to vote in my experience, than a young progressive metropolitan electorate that would accommodate our message..
    Outside of those metropolitan areas voters remain socially conservative on immigration ….The bitter opposition to the potential use of large scale accommodation & hotels is testament to that …
    Jenny …It’s the HO that dictates refugee status & as you say zero chance of them working until their status is confirmed..

  • Alex Macfie 23rd Feb '23 - 1:09pm

    @Martin Gray: Maybe but they won’t be voting Lib Dem, and we won’t be remotely credible if we try to court their vote via populism (which is anyway a crowded market anyway). We can win only by appealing to people who might vote for us, and then getting them out to vote.

  • Peter Hirst 26th Feb '23 - 1:11pm

    A more informed knowledge of the actual issue would help to counter some of this anti-asylum rhetoric. Like much else in politics, a better understanding might add some compassion and understanding to both sides. Balancing freedom of movement with concerns around culture is always going to be challenging.

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