Teather slams Home Office “Go Home” billboards as “straightforward intimidation”

The Evening Standard reports that the Home Office is planning on sending large billboards with “Go home or face arrest” on them around six London boroughs:

The billboards will also display the number of illegal migrants arrested recently in the relevant part of the capital.

Ministers say that the hardline message is intended to encourage visa overstayers or others here unlawfully to return voluntarily.

A phone number offering help – including potential free flights and other travel assistance – will also be shown on the adverts along with the promise that those who come forward voluntarily will not be detained while they arrange their departure.

The use of the advertising vans, which will be deployed initially to six London boroughs including Ealing, Barnet and Hounslow, forms the latest stage in a renewed Home Office drive against illegal migrants in recent months.

Some critics are likely to see the move as evidence of an excessively hostile attitude to migrants.

Sarah Teather, whose Brent constituency is one of the targets of this campaign has taken great exception to the plan:

This is the latest in a string of Home Office announcements that are designed to make the Government look tough on immigration. But I fear that the only impact this deeply divisive form of politics will have will be to create tension and mistrust towards anyone who looks and sounds foreign.

Instead of trying to grab cheap headlines, the Government would be much better advised to tackle the real issues that undermine confidence in the immigration system. Home Office statistics show that decision making by officials is extremely poor and leads to a quarter of initial decisions to refuse asylum being overturned on appeal. And many of those people who the Government are targeting with these policies are either those whose case has been mishandled by the Home Office, or who Ministers acknowledge cannot be sent home because they wouldn’t be safe.

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.

It worries me that this sort of thing will just generate hatred towards people, including those who have every right to be in this country. It certainly has the potential to make everyone who has made their home in this country feel very uncomfortable. My instinctive reaction is to want to stand with the people who are or who will feel they are the target of these billboards. One person suggested on Twitter that she’s tempted to have a suitable reply printed on a t-shirt and to wear it round Brent. It got me thinking that this initiative actually deserves to be mocked into retreat. Sometimes the best way to deal with these deeply divisive things is to come up with some humorous, eye-catching riposte. Any ideas?

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

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  • Sarah is spot on about this. Shame the rest of the parliamentary party are letting it happen.

  • :O

    This is really bad. Its terrible. I don’t even have any funnies for this 🙁

  • This is an absolute disgrace – such f*scist tactics are unworthy of any democratic government. Party Conference should consider sanctions on any elected Lib Dem who supports such bully boy nastiness. ALL Liberals without exception in the past would have totally condemned it.

  • I presume there’s some small print somewhere saying these billboards aren’t directed at everyone who looks a bit foreign?

    You lot really do have a lot to answer for.

  • I want the T-Shirt!

  • I want the T-Shirt!

  • Let’s round up anybody we suspect might be an illegal, and let’s make them all display a demeaning symbol, which shows all the rest of us who they are. The Nazis made their targets wear the Star of David, but we’ll find something else to mark out our targets. It’s only harmless fun, sort of. Next we smash up their buildings. Let’s call that Crystal Nite. And next….

  • Its funny how when the Tories have aussie advisors like Crosby or Plattell they always play the immigration card, with no sense of irony whatsoever. It is a source of eternal shame that we facilitate this kind of thing.

  • The Home Office posters encourage overstayers to send a text to begin their own deportation procedure. An interesting idea I spotted on Twitter earlier today was to organise a mass text to the number in protest at the campaign.

  • It does deserve to be mocked into oblivion. Is there really a ‘text us to be deported’ service? That’s the daftest idea I’ve heard of since John Major’s ‘Cones Hotline’ – yes, the one that had people ringing up for an ice cream, or pretending to be a depressed traffic cone…

  • According to Guardian there is a new Ministerial group on Migrants Access to Benefits. David Laws is a member of that group alongside the Tory Immigration Minister Mark Harper. This is a disgraceful cabal and Laws shames our Party by his participation in it.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 23rd Jul '13 - 8:45am

    As has already been mentioned this tactic is reminiscent of Nazi Germany, and personally I am disgusted that we as a Party are associated with such abuse.

    I joined this Party because it had a genuine history of doing the right thing with regard to equality and diversity, but since the birth of this Coalition a small percentage in our Party have actually colluded with the Right to further erode equality and human rights in this country, and to chase the votes of the bigots.

    Demonising people in the way that this latest tactic does, 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, and those who are quietly sitting back and remaining silent even though they know that this is totally disgraceful.

    We could all well learn from the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

    In Germany they first came for the Communists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Catholics,
    and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

    Then they came for me —
    and by that time no one was left to speak up.

    When will we put ‘liberalism’ back as the central tenet of the Liberal Democrat Party?

  • Totally agree with the comments here; this is appalling, and we should distance ourselves from this – and try to stop it if there is any way. 2 key campaigning points:
    1) This is all part of turning sections of society against each other – we’ve seen it on benefits and we should be loudly saying that this isn’t how Lib Dems work, we seek to bring communities together not divide them.
    2) The real news on immigration is the further worsening of determination figures. We should be firmly focussed on getting the backlog down, implementing the policies we have at the moment, rather than daft gimmicks playing to the crowd.

    Sarah Teather is fast becoming one of my favourite Lib Dem MPs and she’s shown real courage in standing up on the issues she has this year. I hope she is some way towards redemption in the eyes of many on here.

  • Tony Greaves 23rd Jul '13 - 3:58pm

    Why has no-one in this government, let alone Laws or Clegg, replied here to explain why they have allowed this
    despicable and very harmful Tory publicity stunt??

    Pehaps Mr. Laws can tell us whether it was discussed or approved or even set up by this committee he is a member of?

    Tony Greaves

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jul '13 - 5:05pm

    I don’t see what’s so bad about this. Nobody legal has anything to worry about or should feel targeted in any way. It’s a disgrace that the “liberal” hate mob is out again, trying to bash anyone trying to tackle illegal immigration with the bigot stick.

    R Uduwerage-Perera demonstrates this with his quote: “…since the birth of this Coalition a small percentage in our Party have actually colluded with the Right to further erode equality and human rights in this country, and to chase the votes of the bigots.”.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jul '13 - 5:08pm

    18 comments on the trot jumping to condemn, a level of ideological conformity unhealthy for any party, backed up with the hate speech to frighten others from speaking out to support it. I don’t love these bill-boards, but I’m pretty indifferent given I want the government to tackle illegal immigration.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jul '13 - 5:16pm

    Many of you are also intolerant to opposing views, the famed hypocritical liberal bigotry, yet you call others bigots.

    “Bigotry: intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself”

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Jul '13 - 6:31pm

    @DuncanStott: that mass text of the number sounds like a great idea. Where did you hear it?

    @eddiesammon: Imagine you are married to a British citizen. You are here perfectly legally. Then these vans start coming round your area saying that there are loads of illegal immigrants there. The local EDL starts to think its area is being (in its own terms) overrun with immigrants. They decide to challenge anyone who looks or sounds a little bit foreign. That’s the way to total breakdown in community relations.

    It is a lot harder to get into this country than the Daily Mail would have you believe. If people are here illegally, it’s likely that at some point the Home Office has mucked up their case in some way. I wish I could get over to you how horrendously and inhumanely we treat these people. The immigration system is probably our biggest shame as a nation. I’ve seen breastfeeding babies separated from their mothers who have been made to go to the other side of the world so that they can apply to come back (against Home Office policy), I’ve seen mothers threatened with being deported without their babies, I’ve seen people who are obviously abuse victims being denied asylum and being afforded no respect or dignity. And now the government does something that might see them and others hunted down on the streets.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jul '13 - 7:24pm

    Caron, Mark, I agree that Lib Dems need to fight negative attitudes towards immigrants, I just get worried about the opposite “bury your head in the sand and call anyone who tries to tackle immigration a bigot” approach, just like what happened to Gillian Duffy.

  • Stephen Donnelly 23rd Jul '13 - 7:37pm

    Our claim to be a restraining influence has really taking a beating over the last couple of weeks, this is on a par with Jeremy Hunt’s outrageous claims about ‘13000 excess deaths’.

  • @Eddie – you only have to speak another language in public in this country to get strange looks from people. Xenophobes get plenty of encouragement from the Daily Mail, the EDL and the BNP as it is, they dont need tax funded billboards to spur them on further.
    In any case, its a stupid idea. What next, billboards in the City encouraging those who manipulate Libor to turn themselves in? Maybe a billboard outside Westminster to tell MPs that expenses cheats will be jailed. Its a publicity stunt and a particularly dumb one at that.

  • Anon MP's Caseworker 23rd Jul '13 - 8:42pm

    After the Oldham riots in 2001 Simon Hughes said:
    “we must be very careful with our language and that’s why some of us have been very critical of some of the language particularly William Hague and his colleagues have used over the last two years and it doesn’t help”.

    “It may not have a direct effect but it doesn’t help and in some cases it may well encourage people to think they can get away with intolerant language and intolerant attitudes and sometimes intolerant behaviour.”

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jul '13 - 9:00pm

    I have just seen a photograph of one of the vans and it confirms my suspicion that the level of outrage over this is unfair.


    The most prominent words on the van are actually “In the UK illegally?”, not “go home or face arrest”. The Evening Standard have been deliberately misleading to provoke outrage.

    The Evening Standard article doesn’t even mention that the vans have on it “In the UK illegally?”, never mind as the most prominent text.

  • An Open letter to Nick, Jeremy and Tim Farron which I’m seeking signatures for so any further welcome

    Open letter on the “Go Home or Face Arrest” billboard campaign

    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.

    Hywel Morgan, Calderdale, Author of the party’s guide on “Beating the BNP”
    Stephen Clarke, Tower Hamlets Executive Member
    Caron Lindsay
    Angharad Bethan Jones Rhondda Cynon Taff Welsh Liberal Democrats

  • Eddie,

    “Go home or face arrest” appears in large capital letters on the poster, doesn’t it? Yes, it does also say “In the UK illegally?” in marginally larger lettering. What difference does that make?

    It also says “Text HOME to (number)”. Now, who do you suppose is going to actually do that? If it told burglars to “Text LOCK ME UP”, do you think it would get any takers?

    No illegal immigrant is going to send that text. Of course not. It’s just a deliberate wind-up, courtesy of government.

    But plenty of other people will send the text. If we’re lucky, they’ll just be practical jokers. If we’re less lucky, they’ll be neighbours with grudges, racists, far-right activists, and troublemakers. They’ll all use the opportunity to make trouble for other people they don’t like. Meanwhile, right-wing hooligans will be cheering whenever they see the vans, chasing around after them, and laughing at anybody who doesn’t like it.

    Do you really think these vans are a good idea?

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jul '13 - 10:50pm

    David I never said the vans were a good idea, I don’t have much of an opinion on them because I think they are clearly targeted at illegal immigrants, rather than all immigrants and descendants of immigrants.

    Disagree for sure, but I just wanted to say that I think the level of outrage, including comparing the government to Nazi Germany and calling people who want action on illegal immigration bigots, is unfair.

    I might even disagree with the vans, I don’t know, I just know I don’t agree with the level of outrage and the misleading Evening Standard article.

  • Oh Eddie – for goodness sake don’t be so naive! Extreme right wing regimes that re violent and cruel to people they don’t like don’t spring out of nowhere you know. All these kind of tactics act as a run-up to the really violent nasty stuff. Consider what Suzanne Fletcher says – we already have indefinite detention here.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 24th Jul '13 - 7:44am

    Eddie, some of us live in the real world where we are acuttely aware of the fear that currently exists within some BME communities as a result of growing tensions. To believe that the entire immigration rhetoric is only about ‘illegal migrants’ is to be niave. There is as one would expect in an economic recession increased intolerance towards ANYONE who appears different.

    If the Party genuinely wishes to not only attract but retain BME members then it may well benefit by adopting a more evidenced based approach to what it supports and promotes, rather than making assumptions and generally chasing the Right Wing for votes.

    When it comes to racism, sexism, homophobia, and others forms of bigotry, even liberals would benefit from ‘drawing a line in the sand’ for otherwise they will be too late to make a difference. Bigotry is not only theoretical topic to be discussed amongst friends, or merely being called ‘nasty words’, but it very commonly involves not getting or losing a job, and equally commonly a boot in the stomach and a fist in the face, as I can vouch for. This is why I am intolerant of intolerance and may appear as not particularly “fair” or liberal on the subject.

    As for drawing parallels from history, this is actually rather useful, for it gives us a steer as to what may well happen next, and when it comes to the current rhetoric with regard to Immigration, and specifically Muslims, there is much that we could learn from history, I would suggest.

  • nuclear cockroach 24th Jul '13 - 11:17am

    It’s a bloody disgrace, which would shame a BNP election poster. Theresa May should hang her head in shame. As for the Lib Dems, they should demand this poster is withdrawn and never repeated. If not, they should leave government. They cannot allow themselves to be associated with such offensive crap. I’m glad I spent some time leafleting for ST during the 2010 GE campaign and will happily do the same in 2015.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Jul '13 - 11:30am

    R Uduwerage-Perera, I’ve been attacked by both white and ethnic minority gangs, so I do live in the real world. I just don’t make a connection between race and crime. I can’t stand prejudice!

    I understand the notion that if you permit intolerance then there is more of it, I just prefer to seek to understand and explain, rather than the hardline approach.

  • David Wilkinson 24th Jul '13 - 12:18pm

    I wonder if Nick will mention it in his weekly letter or will he run out of bottle.
    There are times when lines in the sand have to drawn.
    I have copied Hywel’s letter and sent it to Nick, I think I might not get a reply this time

  • Having seen the picture of the van billboard in the BBC article Eddie posted and seen the context for the sound-bite quote , I think many are just sounding off without really thinking.

    From an advertisment point of view, the question that arises is what is the real intent of the campaign? I suggest from the copy the ad is intended to be scanned as: “In the UK illegally? … Text HOME to 78070”. Hence the real question is what is the purpose of the offending line, since it gives no rationale for a person to make a text. Whereas if it were to say words to the effect “Need help getting home” then I could see it having a purpose. Also is the assumption that illegal immigrants have unhindered access to functioning mobile phones.

    So whilst I agree with the intent of the campaign, I do disagree with the language and messages it is using.

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