LibLink: Kavya Kaushik: Britain’s immigration debate has taken a turn for the toxic

Ealing Southall Liberal Democrat candidate Kavya Kaushik has been writing for the New Statesman about the effect of the sort of rhetoric we’re hearing in the immigration debate.

She was annoyed by Evan Davis’ comments about Nick Clegg’s family background during his leader’s interview last week and recognised Nick’s obvious irritation:

The choice to fixate upon Clegg’s multicultural upbringing, suggesting it to be out of touch with “British” people, made for uncomfortable viewing. For centuries immigrants have been an integral part of the British working class. Within the context of the current immigration climate, it feels like further demonisation of BME people.

Davis’s intention was unlikely to be intentional racial discomfort, but Clegg’s furious reaction mirrored that of many children of migrants. Our Britishness is consistently questioned despite having lived in the UK for our entire lives. Casual racism is on the rise, particularly within politics. On the doorstep a BME canvasser is increasingly likely to hear “I don’t want your people here”, and worse. These experiences lead to racial sensitivity and passing comments questioning multiculturalism vs Britishness can be interpreted as a personal attack when coupled with modern attitudes to race in Britain.

Hang on! What was that?

On the doorstep a BME canvasser is increasingly likely to hear “I don’t want your people here”, and worse. 

That’s appalling and something that should have no place in our discourse. Reading that anyone has to put up with this sort of abuse should kick us all out of any complacency about racism. What would you do if someone you were canvassing with was subject to this sort of attack? How would you support them?

Davis doesn’t even get what he did wrong:

Davis’s unwillingness to comprehend the harm to BME communities demonstrates a lack of compassion, as well as a lack of cultural awareness at the BBC. His intentions may not have been malicious, but seeing such comparisons on prime time BBC One make the children of migrants feel like they must justify their heritage and language to all of the people they meet on a regular basis who question their identity. Davis does not have to regularly prove his ‘Britishness’ and therefore he is unable to comprehend his statement for people who have to regularly prove their British identity.

So what’s the way to resolve this?

We constantly feel like we must prove our value and it is not helped by journalists inadvertently contributing to these divisions. We need to seriously look into why multiculturalism is regarded as an elitist concept, despite the “British working class” being extremely multicultural. Most of all, we need to acknowledge when the immigration debate creates sensitivity and unease within BME communities.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • I think the number of places you would hear “I don’t want your people here” is very limited (unless by “your people” they are referring to politicians as a type of people).

    Interestingly Davis could have had an interesting line of questioning but unsurprisingly he bungled it. There is an issue that the level of foreign language knowledge in the UK population is so poor, it adversely affects our attitude to other countries.

    If schools were better at teaching European languages it may change how we perceived them and how open the population were to trying ideas from those countries. In this context Clegg’s background mattered in so far as he went to a very expensive school and had lots of opportunity to improve his language skills.

    Making it about where his parent came from is just ridiculous, it show how Davis is out of his depth in his current role. He is a bad interviewer and mistakes like this just highlight that. He should stick to the “correspondent” role where he can just talk, it suits his skills.

  • It’s not sudden. Racism as been built into the immigration debate from the start. One of the few times I ever agreed with David Cameron was on his assessment of UKIP.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Apr '15 - 6:24pm

    When it comes to immigration I find myself talking a good game, but playing a mild one. We are only a small country, so concerns about immigration need to be respected, but at the same time we shouldn’t believe borders between humans are fundamentally a good thing .

  • jedibeeftrix 22nd Apr '15 - 6:58pm

    On the other hand we recognise the right of free association, and that of self determination.

  • It’s a globalised world. Today a spoke to a delightful half English half Korean young lady from Manchester. She is living in India and had come to Bangkok because her sister is marrying a Thai.

  • I was born in England but if after this election the Tories are propped up either by UKIP or the overly compliant Nick Clegg leading to Brexit, I will probably have to change my citizenship (ie lose my British citizenship) to continue to be able work freely around Europe. This is why I would prefer to see a minority Tory administration than another Tory Lib Dem coalition, Clegg for all his language skills isnt very skilled at negotiating with the Tories in the language that matters. On their own as a minority administration the Tories wont be able to achieve anything so damaging but supported by the Lib Dems they can.

  • George Potter 22nd Apr '15 - 11:37pm


    I don’t think the number of places you’d hear that is limited at all – I think most BME canvassers are likely to hear it anywhere they go in the country.

  • Alistair
    Most people in Britain favour continued membership of the EU which is good for you as you would find it very difficult to change your citizenship.

  • Manfarang, my wife is not a British citizen, either of us can change our citizenship to match that of the other under existing rules, but neither of us needed to before now as we are both from EU members. I dont share your confidence about most voters here being pro EU. I hope the next Lib Dem leader is more charismatic and persuasive than the current one. All of the party leaders other than the Greens have stoked casual racism in one way or the others, Clegg less so, but he has still enabled anti immigrant policies driven by the Tories.

  • Alistair, if you think that then I’m sorry but you’re wrong. The Tories as a minority would come up with populist measures and then dare the Lib Dems to vote them down and risk public wrath, rather than things being stopped before they saw the light of day as they have mostly been during the Coalition. I’d like to see how any Lib Dem leader could have negotiated a better deal than Clegg did, given our measly total of 57 MPs, soon to be reduced further.

    There is always someone who insists that the grass is greener on the other side of the political fence, contrary to all the evidence, isn’t there?

  • RC: You are right, a minority government would put a huge populist pressure on Lib Dems to withdraw objections based on principles of liberty and free expression. If Lib Dems stood firm there would be a constant barage of blame for any number of tangentially related incidents: “if Lib Dems had supported our policy … this would not have happened …. etc.” It could get very nasty.

  • @RC ” The Tories as a minority would come up with populist measures and then dare the Lib Dems to vote them down and risk public wrath, rather than things being stopped before they saw the light of day as they have mostly been during the Coalition.”

    I’m a supporter of the coalition and the stability it has brought to government, but you have to admit we’ve hardly avoided public wrath by doing it 😉

  • “I don’t want your people here”

    I was privileged to help in Leeds in the campaign that resukted in Michael Meadowcroft being elected as MP.
    He recalled that he was used to people saying something to the effect of “I don’t want your people here”, or “you are wasting your time we are all Labour round here”.

    So imagine my delight when knocking on one door and someone from upstairs leaned out of a bedroom window and shouted “We’re all Liberals round here”.

  • RC, if you want to see a masterclass in how to wield influence with few MPs you need look no further than UKIP and the SNP. Tories have tacked massively to the right due to the UKIP threat. The SNP meanwhile came within a whisker of independence, a lot closer than the Lib Dems got to PR despite our MPs being kingmakers. SNP are likely to gut the Lib Dems in Scotland and wipe out most of the leadership of Labour in Scotland. So yes, I think its possible to do more with 57 MPs

  • Simon Foster 23rd Apr '15 - 4:01pm

    Brilliant article by Kavya, dropping that straight into my A2 Politics classes when they’re studying multiculturalism shortly 🙂

  • Alistair
    The SNP didn’t come within a whisker of independence.
    Chief counting officer Mary Pitcaithly stated: “It is clear that the majority of people voting have voted No to the referendum question.”

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