LibLink: Willie Rennie: The Conservatives are fanning the flames of xenophobia

Willie Rennie writes in the Times that the Tories are throwing petrol on the fires of prejudice unleashed by the Leave campaign during the EU Referendum.

Telling doctors from other countries who are here saving lives in our NHS that their position is only secure until we can rush a crop of new graduates through medical school is not responsible. Telling people from other countries who are thinking about moving here to work and pay taxes that their names might be included on a list of foreign workers is not responsible.

If we are publishing lists of foreign workers, we may as well pull up the drawbridge. These policies are not about controlling immigration. They are about demonising immigrants.

The message this sends to foreign students, medical staff, businesses and others is clear. You are not welcome here. As a liberal who has always believed that we can achieve more when we work with those around us, this does not just make me sad. It makes me incredibly angry.

The Scottish Conservatives are just as responsible as their colleagues, he adds:

The Scottish Conservatives have one MP who is a Cabinet Minister and Ruth Davidson attends Cabinet too. They are every bit as responsible for these shameful announcements as the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister.

It is now crystal clear what a vote for the Conservatives in Scotland or anywhere else in the UK means an end to openness and tolerance.

Ruth Davidson’s party would have us weak, divided and pandering on immigration. The UK can be better than this. We must be better than this.

The Liberal Democrats will oppose these dangerous proposals and stand proud in our belief that immigration benefits our culture, our economy and our communities.

You can read his whole article here.

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  • Time to support Independence so we in Scotland can say not in our name, this week was a new low in English politics.

  • Yeah Independence for the Northern Isles.

  • Richard Underhill 7th Oct '16 - 10:28am

    Also note that the DUP were attending the Tory conference, although their leader was unwilling to say why. On BBC TV she denied wanting to add to the Tory majority in the Commons. Possibly money is the issue.
    I can testify that he also has a sense of humour. He was general secretary when John Alderdice (now a Lib Dem peer) was Alliance leader. There was a memorable Liberal International conference in Belfast when John Alderdice was LI President. David Ford was elected as a minister with the support in the Assembly of the DUP ad Sinn Fein.
    Deputy leader Naomi Long was Westminster MP for Belfast East during 2010 – 2015 and would be an excellent leader. In May 2010, Mrs Long became the first Alliance Party MP when she was elected for East Belfast, defeating DUP leader Peter Robinson, campaigning against double-jobbing. Interviewed on TV during the 2010 campaign she said that “Vince Cable would make a good Chancellor of the Exchequer”.

  • Jeremy Hunts stated there was a worldwide shortage of doctors. Is Willie Rennie saying this is not true? Should we be poaching trained doctors from poorer countries? Of course not if they are left with a shortage of doctors. Should other countries pay to train our doctors? Of course not. I think Hunt stated, “by the end of the next Parliament we will make the NHS self-sufficient in doctors.” This means by 2025 the NHS will no longer have to recruit new doctors from foreign countries, but it does not mean that we will not need the ones here now and those who arrive between now and 2025.

    We should not be attacking the principle but supporting the MBA by saying 1500 extra is not enough!

    By all means attack the Conservatives for wanting all employers to publish the number of their foreign workers, but do not attack them for wanting us to be “self-sufficient” in new doctors. We should also be calling for us to be “self-sufficient” in nurses and expand the call to other professions such as engineers.

  • If you want to read an alternative to the poisonous rhetoric emanating from the Westminster Government and want your faith in human nature restored, take a moment to look up the hashtag #WeAreScotland on twitter just now.

  • I’ve got to disagree Al. The #wearescotland hashtag may be well intentioned, but for many, it’s just a crude and cynical exercise in claiming Scotland is than the rest of the UK. You don’t fight the xenophobia of the Tories by bragging about how much more tolerant Scotland is.

    I say to Laurence – you can use this as an excuse to hate the English if you like, but as a Scot, I say not in my name. I blame the bigots for bigotry, and trying to pin it all on “English politics” is a nasty example of anti-English bigotry.

    If the people starting the trend really did care about foreign nationals living in the UK who might be feeling vulnerable right now, wouldn’t it be better to start a hashtag for all of them, and not just the ones in Scotland? It’s lacking self-awareness to deny that people in the rest of the UK are also welcoming of immigrants.

    Great words by Willie Rennie, and the only strong voice in Scottish politics on the subject. The Tories, including those who campaigned for remain, are being disappointingly quiet, Labour are distracted by internal politics, and the SNP are using the suffering of immigrants as another excuse to create divisions within the UK and to push for independence.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Oct '16 - 2:10am

    Excellent posting , very well phrased. Personally I think Willie was wrong to drag Ruth Davidson into it , she is clearly a liberal Conservative and a very likeable one , and a very able one.

    We can criticise vehemently without sounding over the top. They used to do these things better in the days of my childhood, with wit and pungent comments , not kneejerk statements.

  • Be critical by all means but for heaven’s sake keep it in proportion. Calling the Conservatives xenophobic is well OTT for endeavouring to reduce immigration numbers and get our country self-sufficient in home trained labour from doctors to plumbers and builders. I agree the language of some Ministers was unnecessarily crass but it was hardly ‘poisonous rhetoric’.

    As for the SNP’s struggle for Independance, the proportion of Scots wishing to remain part of the UK outweighed those who voted in favour of separation in their referendum. What is the point of asking the people to vote for what they want then undermining the result. I’m beginning to think Lib Dems are less liberal than they claim to be especially when voters disagree with them!

    I agree with LC, Ruth Davidson is an exceptionally talented politician and a very likeable one. Her speech at the Conservative Party Conference was inspiring.

  • I agree that Ruth is a very formidable, and likeable politician, and she has done well to tactfully disagree with members of the Cabinet in the past. She hasn’t joined in with the nasty talk, but she can’t be let off the hook, and allowed to keep quiet. She is very capable, and it’s for that reason that maintaining pressure on her to put pressure onto the Brexit team is important.

    Pat, I’m sorry if my post was ambiguous, but I didn’t intend to call all Tories xenophobic, but without doubt, some of them are, and there were elements of May’s speeches that were designed to appeal to them. The only uncertainty is just what proportion of the Tories genuinely agree with her, or are they quietly going along with it because they know it’s a way of attracting those who have been voting UKIP lately?

    Training enough doctors, or plumbers, has nothing to do with immigration. The long-term shortages are a sign of successive governments failing to invest in the right sort of education. Getting companies to create lists of foreign workers, or telling those born abroad that they can stay until we work out how replace them is awful, and I’m not sure how it can be defended. I don’t think we should stay silent, nor do I think the decent Tories, like Davidson, should. And to be frank, even with immigrant doctors, we still have a shortage now, so we will need the increased home grown medics, as well as imported expertise if we are to have a properly functioning NHS. As an aside, you do wonder how many of our bright young things will consider a career in medicine, knowing how terribly Hunt has been treating our existing professionals, and the threats he makes to those who come along in the future.

    I liked what Anna Soubry said yesterday. She said she was not being awkward, but was being true to what she believes in. As a back-bencher, she has more scope, but Davidson is a star of the Tory party, and they need her more than she needs them.

  • Glenn Andrews 8th Oct '16 - 9:27am

    @Pat, immigrant register of workers, immigrant register of school pupils, impunity for the military, imprisonment for landlords that fail to check immigrant tenants papers, demonisation of human rights lawyers, questioning the legitimacy of human rights courts, snooper’s charter, imply all unemployed britons have their imaginary job stolen by foreigners, suppressing government reports (drug policy and immigrant impact on employment to name but two), demonisation of any dissenter as ‘liberal elite’….. at what point are we allowed to call this what it is without sounding OTT?

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th Oct '16 - 10:19am

    @ Pat,
    There was no reason for any reference to be made to foreign doctors. It would have sufficed to mention that the Government intended to fund the training of more doctors, something that I agree is highly desirable. Many young people who would have made good, caring doctors have been denied places at medical schools.

    As for the UK being self -sufficient in British trained doctors by the year x, what nonsense. Medicine is an international profession, doctors move between countries for many reasons, for training purposes, to improve their ability to work to standards that they deem acceptable, to improve their lifestyle etc.

    By casting the net wide, we have benefitted from the best doctors from a large pool rather than the best from a small one. However, as some of our British Graduates who are being ‘poached’ by foreign countries, for example, Australia will discover, many of the jobs some have been ‘poached’ for, will be filling those that Australian Graduates do not want, in hard to fill specialities or in less desirable geographical areas.

  • “The Conservatives are fanning the flames of xenophobia”…

    How anyone listening to the Tory conference could disagree with that statement is beyond me…
    The whole theme was English ‘good’ foreign ‘bad’…Identifying others as ‘different’is a slippery slope…I am old enough to remember Northern Ireland’s “No Catholics/Protestants need apply” signs……..
    If a landlord can be prosecuted for failing to perform stringent checks on his tenants he will opt not to rent to that section….The tabloids will be full of stories about ‘immigrants working/renting’ further demonising them

    BTW..In 2014 Mark Harper, the immigration minister, fell foul of his own anti-immigrant legislation,,,

  • Many junior doctors see the opportunity to travel and work abroad, as one of the perks of the career. My brother is one who spent a year in Australia as part of an exchange scheme. He enjoyed the experience, and it helped him grow on a professional and personal level. He’s back in the UK working hard for the NHS, who are getting the benefit from his experience of a different medical system. Junior doctors are expected to move around different hospitals and different disciplines before specialising. A broad experience is good, and that includes our junior doctors having placements abroad, while we accept foreign doctors on placement. Some will stay in both directions. If we want the best to stay or return here, we have to offer the right working conditions, not make threats.

  • expats

    ““The Conservatives are fanning the flames of xenophobia”…

    How anyone listening to the Tory conference could disagree with that statement is beyond me…”

    The Lib Dems or Liberals have been saying that about every Tory conference for as long as anyone can remember. Yet after many, many Tory governments Britain still remains one of the most tolerant countries in the world. Lots of people want to live here – all races and religions, rich and poor – so they can’t have done that bad a job.

  • malc 8th Oct ’16 – 11:05am…

    Would you agree that a large part of the ‘Brexit’ campaign was ‘playing’ on the fear of immigration?
    Would you agree that, post Brexit, there has been a marked increase in ‘xenophobic incidents’?

    You must move in different circles than I…I noted almost all those ‘Leavers’ I spoke to supported the view that immigrants were the main cause of NHS, Employment, Housing, etc. problems…..Rudd and May’s speeches reinforced those views…

  • @Fiona
    I also have relatives in the medical profession who have worked abroad and, when visas or contracts have expired, had to move back to the UK (or elsewhere in the world). None of them ever regarded these situations as offensive in any way; they just took it in their stride as the kind of thing to be expected when working abroad. I’m not sure the moral outrage being shown on this issue is fully justified.

    Personally I would prefer it if all the foreign workers (particularly medical staff) already here were allowed to remain indefinitely. But surely the government’s plan for us to become self-sufficient in doctors is the right thing to do. How can we, as one of the richest countries in the world with one of the best higher education systems, justify failing to train enough doctors, while sucking in valuable professionals from much poorer countries to plug the gaps? A country like Britain ought to aspire to be a net exporter of doctors. My concepts of internationalism and fairness do not include rich countries poaching expensively trained doctors from poorer countries who then suffer shortages.

    See for instance :-

  • expats

    You are right we must move in different circles. Although I voted “remain” I live in a “leave” area, but I have seen very little fear or hatred of foreigners. Polish shops are not being attacked, the local papers are not full of racist incidents and on the whole everyone seems to get on fine. Just because people want to leave the EU and would like to see a reduction in immigration doesn’t mean they are fearful or full of hate. I’m not sure most “leavers” see immigrants as the “main” reason of NHS, Employment or Housing problems. However, putting more people in areas with those problems certainly does cause some resentment. Perhaps we hear and see want we want to. I certainly don’t see the UK as a racist country to be ashamed of. The EU has many countries like that, but the UK isn’t one of them.

  • We seem to be talking at cross-purposes Stuart. This isn’t about countries like Australia offering limited visas to our medical staff (although they did want my brother to stay – he chose to return as he’d always intended to). No, there are proposals that new medical graduates will be BANNED from getting that experience of medical systems abroad in their early years. This may just be a populist announcement aimed at people who don’t understand the system, but if it would be very damaging if it happened, and the threat alone will be damaging to recruitment.

    Put it this way, if the mooted rules existed when my brother was considering medicine, one of the following would have happened:

    1. He’d have chosen a different degree.
    2. He’d have waited until he was further into his career before doing his placement in Australia, making it more likely he’d want to settle there permanently. He was invited to extend his stay, and would not have had a problem extending his visa, but he was still young enough that he didn’t put down serious roots and the time was right to return. Travelling later in his career would have disrupted his training, while travelling after he’d had more training would give him better and more attractive job offers abroad.
    3. He’d have decided not to travel at all, meaning he missed out on that experience which has made him a better doctor, meaning the NHS would also miss out on that insight.

    As far as I can tell, no-one is criticising the idea of funding extra university places, just the claimed motivation, and whether it will be sufficient to achieve that. There is a debate on whether or not we should be poaching international talent, but that is a totally separate issue, and threatening those working here now, or considering working here, is not the way to solve it. Making a career in medicine seem very unattractive to our own bright young things is very definitely not the way to support the health services of other countries.

    So, our ‘offence’ is because Hunt’s plans will damage the NHS, and is offensive towards the highly skilled medical professionals who have contributed so much to this country. There are many in the Tory party who don’t want to defend him, so I’m not sure why anyone here would bother.

  • Peter Watson 9th Oct '16 - 10:06am

    @Fiona “there are proposals that new medical graduates will be BANNED from getting that experience of medical systems abroad in their early years”
    These proposals do not sound that unreasonable when described as on the BBC website:
    “Medical students will also be expected to work for the NHS for at least four years – or face penalties that could include them having to repay the cost of their training, which currently stands at £220,000 to the taxpayer over the five-year degree.”
    I have seen similar suggestions by Lib Dems on this site.

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