Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Please stop playing the racist card when people raise immigration concerns.

Last week The Daily Express launched a campaign asking David Cameron to keep in place labour market controls which are due to expire on December 31 2013.

The campaign references "people from Romania and Bulgaria", as residents of these countries will be able to move freely into Britain after the controls lapse.

A day after the campaign was launched, New Statesman columnist Frances Ryan took to Twitter to describe it as "racism" and said the Express is "exploiting fears to promote a blanket ban on a problem that barely exists."

Now, I'm not one to get involved in Twitter spats, as most of my tweets are about Tottenham and Manic Street Preachers, but I was frankly appalled by Ms Ryan's tweets.

I know Ms Ryan a little - we studied Politics together at the University of Nottingham and had some seminars together - and she always seemed a sensible person who would not get caught up in hyperbole.

But once again, the debate on immigration/migration/freedom of movement or whatever terms you wish you to use, was being couched in the term 'anti-immigration = racism'.

So I took to Twitter to point out to Ms Ryan "It's not a campaign based on their race. It's a campaign based on fears of mass migration. It could apply to any group."

Ms Ryan responded by saying the campaign is "edged in xenophobic racist fear", and laced "in filthy racism".

I simply do not agree with this. I do not think that people's concerns about immigration can be simplified in this way.

A YouGov study released in September showed 53 per cent of the public saw immigration as a national issue, and was "widely blamed for insecurity, low pay and the lack of social housing for people born in Britain."

When Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg took part in his weekly radio phone-in show on LBC last week the station was bombarded with calls, texts and emails from people who backed the campaign.

People are concerned about immigration. That is a fact.

I am not saying that everyone agrees with the Express's campaign - of course they don't.

But here is what really annoys me - jumping to accusations of racism in a debate shows the same lack of respect and understanding for other people's views as those who are racist.

It is lazy to label someone as a racist because they express a view which uses words such as "immigrants", "controls", and "foreign".

But if you think this petition is wrong, if you think the border controls should be relaxed as currently planned, then please explain why.

Why is immigration good? Why do we need it? What are the benefits?

Instead of trying to shut down the debate, please put forward a coherent, well-thought out argument outlining why you believe the thousands of people who signed the petition are wrong?

And try and do it without playing the racism - not race, racism - card.

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