Sunday, February 27, 2011

Support for far right grows in the UK

A newly published Searchlight poll gives some disturbing food for thought: 48% of Britons would consider supporting an anti-immigration party promising to tackle Islamist extremism. Another poll recently found that 71% of young people (16-24) think immigration is a "very big" or "fairly big" problem, the highest number registered in the 12 years this question has been asked. A majority of Britons believe that "on the whole, immigration into Britain has been a bad thing for the country" and that "Muslims create problems in the UK".

Though disturbing, these results are hardly surprising to someone familiar with the history of immigration and rhetoric in Germany.  In the 1990s, German politicians increasingly toyed with anti-immigrant rhetoric, finding that it gained them votes. The result: a rise in neo-Nazi and other right-wing, xenophobic parties as well as a huge increase in the number of violent acts perpetrated against foreigners and minorities. People began to attack asylum seekers' houses and burn them down. After years of electioneering by manipulating anti-immigrant sentiment, German politicians realised that they had created a monster. While such rhetoric might originally have bought them votes, these voters quickly abandoned them for more extremist candidates. Furthermore, the politicians were faced with the stark reality that Germany needed immigrants - desperately, in some industries - to fill hundreds of thousands of vacant jobs that Germans could not or would not fill.

When David Cameron made his 'multiculturalism is dead' speech on 5 February 2011 in Munich, he made some grave errors. First, he did not distance himself from the English Defence League rally in Luton occurring the same day, giving credence to their views on immigration. Second, he was hardly original, seeing as Angela Merkel gave this speech back in October 2010. Merkel was wise enough to insert cautions about xenophobia and violent racism and was arguably responding to intense pressure from within her party to move back towards the right. Third, he continued to draw attention to immigration, painting it as a horrible evil whilst failing to recognise the huge amounts of money that foreigners contribute to the UK economy, especially via the higher education sector.

While Damian Green gives speeches about how net migration is increasing, he fails to recognise that this is not actually because more people are coming to the UK - they're not. It is because fewer Brits than usual have left the country in the past year or so. Immigrants pay for two-thirds of the costs of UK border patrolling. They're forbidden from accessing benefits but pay National Insurance and taxes. They pay £11,000 a year to study at UK universities.

And they've been consistently criminalised by the Tory government.

The important point is that these speeches are not just empty words. They have a fundamental impact on real people's lives. They will increase the number of racial slurs identifiable minorities face on Britain's streets. They will increase the number of violent acts perpetrated against foreigners - or people the actors think are foreigners. And these people will see themselves as justified, sanctioned by the government rhetoric.

It saddens and angers me to think that the UK has the same lessons to learn as Germany and that I personally may have to pay some of the price of Cameron's and Green's speeches.

No comments:

Post a Comment