The Left and Migration

Blogger and scum watcher Left Outside has written a very interesting piece on how immigration is discussed in the modern British political sphere, and with less than optimistic conclusions.

With Tory MEP Daniel Hannan’s recent praise for Enoch ‘Rivers of Blood’ Powell as his backdrop,  LO briefs us on the stark similarities in sentiment with which the current popular press share with the racism that appealed to Powell’s speech; a racism that was blunt, explicit and erroneous in its ‘swamping’ conclusions.

The conclusions are shockingly correct, as can be found in this entry written by Stirring up Apathy recently, and the hat-tips that inspired that entry. But what interested me most about LO‘s entry was the point about discussing immigration. His words;

Discussing immigration is difficult in this country, often it descends into one side calling the other racists. Or more commonly, a writer beginning a piece by stating that it is no longer possible to discuss immigration in this country, without being accused of being a racist. I don’t think that this is a particularly healthy way to conduct debate.

Not healthy indeed. But who is lagging behind? The answer is anyone who ducks out of the question on immigration. This gap in leftist discussion has two effects; it opens up a free space for the far right who pride themselves on speaking up for the silent majority, and it leaves the assumption untouched that the left consensus on immigration is an open border policy. As such there are real problems here.

Do the European left have this same problem with talking about immigration? Of course there are many examples, one being the Dutch Socialist Party who oppose mass economic migration on the grounds that it is the logic of free-market capitalism, exporting workers from abroad to do the jobs that natives don’t need/want to do.

Another example can be taken from the words of Oskar Lafontaine, a German politician and co-chairman of Die Linke, a coalition leftwing group set to be a real challenge to Merkel’s Christian democrats in the next election. Known as a maverick to some, and not one to mince his words, in 1996 said “We have taken in 3.5 million immigrants,” … “In the last few years we have taken in 1 million extra people of working age, and they are walking straight into unemployment – into unemployment benefit or to draw a pension or to get welfare support.” These comments soon turned into an argument in Germany about race, since it concerned many of Eastern Europe’s German diaspora to migrate back “to the Fatherland”. It was, however, revealed soon after that many of the Aussiedler – or settlers – were not really German at all.

The main point here is that for bringing up numbers of migrants, Lafontaine was accused of “populist demagoguery” due to there being an oncoming election, but looked at carefully, Lafontaine’s main focus was not ethnicity or the claim that migrants steal jobs, but rather that migrants are sold the idea that the “Fatherland” is where they will be free, when in fact a lot of those migrants were walking straight into unemployment.

There is a great deal of benefit from migrant communities to any country, but it seems to cross the border of fairness when economic migrants are exposed only to exploitation and poverty in rich countries, which is what the above leftist sentiment seems to demonstrate.

But this is not without its own problems, for example exploitation in the rich west may not have the same character as exploitation elsewhere which is why this life is still preferable to migrant workers. Of course, though this may be the case, exploitation should not be tolerated in any form, and should be curbed by any who can do so.

A reason why the left has to get their case right on immigration is because when immigration turns into a charter for exploitation, when free travel permits workers of poorer countries to become fodder for richer, then a left voice needs to be heard, for the left is the traditional wing against exploitation of all kinds.

Another reason why the left needs its voice heard on immigration is because who a country accepts or denies as being legitimately in need of political asylum may be wrong.

Take homosexuals for example. Diane Taylor reported for The Guardian in August 2004 that following the murder of gay activist Brian Williamson a letter published in the Jamaica Observer the next day read, “To be gay in Jamaica is to be dead.” The article by Taylor further announced that Jamaica was on the British Home Office’s “safe country list” and applications of homosexuals were often dismissed unsympathetically – which paints a different picture than that the far right would have us believe about Britain’s so-called “open-door policy”.

Another example is the case of Pegah Emambakhsh, an Iranian lesbian who escaped Iranian prosecution against homosexuality, after her partner was arrested, tortured, and sentenced to death by stoning. At first in 2007, her asylum demand was refused by the UK government, but after a concerted campaign she has now been granted asylum (the decision was made on the 11th of February 2009) and will be allowed to remain in the UK.

Dialogue on asylum, immigration, migration is very important, but little is said by the left on the subject other than to denigrate the position taken by the BNP, which is as good a reason as any, but to leave a gap in valid ideas of its own, realistically leaves the far right to dominate the argument, and does nothing to counter the argument that the entire left supports a borderless country.

There can only be one thing worse than a policy where all immigration and asylum is curbed (more or less in line with how the BNP stand) and that is an open door policy, for this is the sort of argument sympathised by libertarians and hardcore free marketers (such as Dan Hannan) who embrace a pick of the workforce for as little payment as possible, and a constant wave of unemployment just in case that cheap worker gets silly.

Illegal immigration, too, leaves wide open the opportunity for trafficking and exploitation of the type that occured in Morcombe with the cockle pickers. This is not the reason why the BNP oppose illegal immigration, theirs is a whole host of nonsense such as preserving white identity, racial segregation and “flooding”. A leftist opposition to a borderless country – against leftists who do support such a thing – seeks to disuade the opportunities for the unpalatable forces in the world to hijack and exploit people who are either escaping tyranny or seeking a better chance.

The notion that the left can pursue these opinions are lost, and should be found. Understandably it takes a brave contingent to start of such a debate, but hopefully such a day will present itself, it might even put the politics of immigration into a perspective that not only disects the nonsense peddled by the right and far right wing press, but also draws the dominance of the issue away from the far right, thereby disuading white working class voters away from the lies and race hate produced in the ranks of the BNP.


This entry is in response to Left Outside’s article Dan Hannan, Enoch Powell, Volcanoes and the Daily Mail as part of the Bloggers Circle experiment


10 Responses to The Left and Migration

  1. Paul says:

    Dear Mr/Ms Raincoatoptimist

    This is an exceedingly well written and well considered article, in response to an equally well considered and written article by Mr/Ms Leftoutside.

    I agree that the Left (and those styling themselves liberals) have pussyfooted around their position on immigration for too long, and have allowed the nonl-libertarian right to dominate the argument, to the extent that the UK has become a violent and intimidating place, if you’re not from here. We have a lot to answer for, therefore, and a lot to get right. I don’t share LO’s charitable view that Hannan is anything other than a Powellesque demagogue, and I think the quote LO uses, with its emphasis on the sanctity of the nation states, makes that clear enough.

    And as a self-styled left libertarian, I disagree with your conclusion that an open border policy is worse than the ‘solutions’ proposed by the BNP, and by Hannan if he comes to have proper influence (and he may). As with Powell’s anti-immigration stance, it is predicated on the primacy of the nation state, rather than the liberty of the individual to do what they want as long as they do not hurt others. Sadly, I think the argument that advocating free migration is merely tto condone the free market is a cop out from the real challenge of allowing free movement of peoples and freedom to collective action (Polyani and all that).

    I’m not suggesting that this is an easy political argument to win in the current environment, but I do think the Left has to get back to the basics of its political philosophy, accept that free movement and free association are sine qua non’s of socialism, and then go about working how we manage the process of international reform, and concomitant restructuring of power relations, to allow that to happen.

    If you can be arsed, I wrote about these matters at utterly tedious length, in the context of this winter’s Convention on Modern Liberty, and it’s at I may cheekily ask Matt at Bloggerscircle whether he’d signpost to it now, as not many people read it back then.

  2. Samuel Dale says:

    There is little sensible debate on immigration in this country. t is right to point out that the left does not demand or desire an open door policy but most of the right don’t demand a closed door policy either. Both extremes are opinions held only by extremists.

    A sensible starting point for the left is to a make a stronger case for asylum and make the distinction with economic migration clearer. Too often immigration is bundled together ignoring different types of immigrant.

  3. Thank you Paul and Samuel. Especially proud, am I, to be complimented by the 21st best left of centre political blog as noted by Iain Dale and Total Politics. How does that feel?

    You were both right to remind me on certain things, namely that the libertarian project wasn’t set up necessarily in order to exploit migrant workers, and that the open door policy is just a wing of extremism.

    With mentioning these elements my aim was to demonstrate a leftist opposition to open door policy (from a kind of humanitarian bent) and to curb the idea that typical leftist attitudes to immigration doesn’t appeal to that kind of extremism. For a lot of the time, which was LO’s implication, the left shifts and shirks at the question of immigration, rendering their argument contrarian in distinction to far right, when in fact the leftist attitude should not be in contradistinction to the far right, but should be debated and distincy in itself.

    Obviously I’m little more than a second-rate blogger having a rant, but this debate should be mainstream, I’m just doing my bit and offering my two cents, and I’m ready to admit that my thinking here is only in its early stages, so it may well be a little flabby (of course, as is pointed out, its not an easy argument).

    As for your epic entry Paul, I will have to give that real look at some stage, but your point on the categorical imperative looks to be interesting, and the notion that certain freedoms must be constantly sought for and aspired to really rang true with me. But to be an unknown in a land that has such unpalatable elements, an open door policy is not only terribly ambitious but a perversion of the thing it tries to aspire to; namely freedom. Of course the Kant referent irons out the problem, thats to say that the conditions with which open door policy will be realistic have to change, thus not being hindered by the unpalatable elements, and with these wider philosophical notions I have no great problem.

    But as I say, if I’ve misread that, I will be arsed soon. Cheers chaps.

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  7. paul canning says:

    Labour’s stance on LGBT asylum deserves highlighting because it is shameful – including to many Labour Party members. In all of government the Home Office/UK Border Agency are the only ones left where homophobia is institutionalised.

    You cite Jamaica and Iran but it is worse – we are telling Iraqi gays to ‘go home and be discreet’ despite a well-documented anti-gay pogrom in that country which has killed hundreds of people.

    Unfortunately the issue has a low profile, including in the LGBT media, and there are only a few of us trying to do something about this.

    My experience is that many people are sympathetic to LGBT asylum although lots of stupid myths abound. Read more about the issue on LGBT asylum news

    • you’re absolutely right, what a very strange and wicked thing it is to tell an Iraqi homosexual to stay discreet, truly awful, there is simply no need, it is a very curious notion by the HO/UKBA.

      With regards to the issue’s low profile, the Pegah Emambekhsh campaign proved to move people, but I think this is the beauty of individual cases, you see pictures of them, read about their lives, close to real contact and then be moved by the case, change in policy is a different kettle of fish, that’s not to say impossible. I’m sure Tatchell and Stonewall have campaign materials, but Labour LGBT (or sympathatic campaigners of LGBT in Labour) should bring this to the table. what with Alan Johnson on the subject of migrant work, the issue of overseas visitors is on the table, and LGBT asylum seems to me very very important, enough so to warrent debate.

  8. bookfalls says:

    Labour’s stance on LGBT asylum deserves highlighting because it is shameful – including to many Labour Party members. In all of government the Home Office/UK Border Agency are the only ones left where homophobia is institutionalised.

    You cite Jamaica and Iran but it is worse – we are telling Iraqi gays to ‘go home and be discreet’ despite a well-documented anti-gay pogrom in that country which has killed hundreds of people.

    Unfortunately the issue has a low profile, including in the LGBT media, and there are only a few of us trying to do something about this.

    My experience is that many people are sympathetic to LGBT asylum although lots of stupid myths abound. Read more about the issue on LGBT asylum news

  9. Thomas says:

    The humanitarian argument has its merits, but don’t dismiss the fact that labour immigration when there is not full employment in a capitalist economy only serves to depress wages for workers at home.

    I am fed up with the anarchists and “libertarian socialists” who dismiss the above point as far-right rhetoric. You cannot eliminate the nation state first and expect socialism to fall into place and flourish.

    An international socialism can only be developed with worldwide wealth redistribution, as a coming together of individual socialist domains which have already achieved a reasonable degree of equality and social justice. Otherwise, one only ends up with exploitation.

    These “left-libertarians” are not the least bit interested in economics and insofar as they cite State economic activity in the here and now, they appear to think welfare entitlements can be increased to infinity in rich Western nations while the borders stand wide open. I dare say the economic policies alone of a Le Pen make more sense.

    But, of course, I prefer a Lafontaine to both. The Left Party could also draw upon the experience of the DDR, which educated many from the Socialist-allied Third World nations and allowed many of those to stay and work, but not beyond the capability of the economy.

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