Tuesday 23 July 2013

Are Lib Dem ministers happy with a “wogs go home” message?

Yesterday came news of the government’s latest wheeze to reduce illegal immigration. The Home Office is planning to send large billboards round six London boroughs on the back of advertising vans, carrying the slogan “Go home or face arrest”.

For the full sordid details, read Caron Lindsay’s report on Liberal Democrat Voice, the report in last night’s London Evening Standard, and a statement issued by Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, which is worth quoting in full:
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 straight forward 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.
Well said, Sarah. The question is why there have been no similar utterances by any Liberal Democrat minister. After all, this is not merely some mildly unpleasant concession the Liberal Democrats have made as part and parcel of the coalition agreement. This is a fundamental issue of principle, where the Tories are indulging in blatantly racist and provocative tactics. It’s not even a practical policy; these billboards will have no impact on immigration but they will help increase racial tension. Any self-respecting Liberal should publicly disown this policy. Instead, not a word.

Might this be the explanation? In yesterday’s Guardian, John Harris noted how all the proud talk of Britain’s diversity we heard during last year’s London Olympics has been dropped by the government. He reported:
Ten days ago, the former Lib Dem education minster Sarah Teather broke cover, and talked not only about initial Tory intentions to restrict the bringing-in of non-European spouses to people earning £40,000 a year or more, but a new subcommittee of government called the Inter Ministerial Group on Migrants’ Access to Benefits and Public Services. No cabinet ministers attends its meetings, but it apparently includes such figures as the Lib Dem education minister David Laws and the Tory immigration minister Mark Harper, and its fingerprints are all over many of the proposals above.
What on earth is David Laws doing participating in such an exercise? Did he consult Liberal Democrat colleagues before agreeing to these racist policies? The man is a complete and utter disgrace to the party.

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?

Postscript: See Liberal Democrat Councillor Lester Holloway’s blog post: “Theresa May and her ministers and officials know full well the impact of this billboard will be on multicultural communities in general rather than the odd illegal immigrant who might be passing by. It reads like a message to the whole community, an attempt to divide communities and harvest the racist vote from UKIP.”


  1. Only thing I'd say on this, though I absolutely agree with the sentiment, is that there is no evidence that David Laws or any other Lib Dem minister has agreed to this.

    It doesn't sound to me as if this awful plan falls within the remit of a "Migrants' access to benefits group." While I am sure you and I will have plenty to say about the proposals that comes out with, unless we hear to the contrary, let's not assume David Laws has had anything to do with the billboards proposal.

    I would like to think that our ministers are fighting within the government to get this plan stopped. Surely that can't be insane and irrational optimism on my part?

    In terms of what to do about this, there's an open letter to Nick, Tim Farron and Jeremy Browne doing the rounds, talk of an emergency motion and I also think we need to think up of creative ways to mock these billboards. Duncan Stott said on the original LDV thread that he'd seen plans for a mass text in to the number. We have to do something - no liberal, surely, can let this sort of divisive measure stand.

    1. I hear what you say about David Laws. But he must have realised the implications that would be drawn if this policy were implemented. If he profoundly disagreed with it, he should have publicly disassociated himself from it, otherwise he should not be surprised if people assume, at the very least, equanimity on his part.

  2. Given that his participation in the group has so far led to him vetoing immigration status checks on school kids, I really don't think he can have had anything to do with it. It's not as if it's even likely to have been part of that group's remit.

  3. And we have our answer. No, we aren't. This, it seems, is the dangerous Tory idea that got away without our knowing about it.


  4. If there's an open letter the feeling I'm getting from EMLD colleagues is that we would very much like to see it with a view to signing.

    Lester Holloway
    EMLD Secretary


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