Head to Head: Are fears about immigration fuelled by racism?

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Yes – Jonathan Eldridge

In the past week, European election campaigns have begun to move through the gears. The party vehicles have been filled with statistical and emotive petroleum, and we, the electorate, now have the unenviable task of wafting away the reeking exhaust fumes. Of course, this may be easier for some to do than others, and the primary aim of these campaigns is to intoxicate the many who are either undecided or are being swayed to the side of confused disillusionment by years of statistics, figures and misinformation.

This is not going to be an article of conciliatory understanding for UKIP, neither is this going to be an article which attempts to portray said political party with a human face.

The UK Independence Party recently revealed a series of controversial election posters, one of which features the words: “26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?” – adjacent is a finger pointed directly at the reader. This particular one appears eerily similar to Lord Kitchener’s famous WWI recruitment poster. Farage has responded with typical dismissive smugness, saying that he wasn’t bothered by “ruffl[ing] a few feathers among the chattering classes.” Might this be because these posters have been engineered towards people who don’t have the facts to partake in any sort of fruitful discussion about Europe?

Campaigns such as these proliferate the habit of constructing prejudicial conceptions of difference. The fears of the public are bunched together and form facets of the foreigner. Tactics such as these are especially effective in a time of economic hardship – no matter what the supposed recovery suggests, life for many within society is exceedingly tough. What do people treasure most at this time? Their jobs. Who is going to take this most precious thing – the thing which ensures your immediate survival – away from you? Foreigners. This is also coupled with the chastisement of foreign workers who will accept jobs “on the cheap.” Never has there been a more double-edged sword. When it suits us we praise this attribute of immigration; when it threatens us we despise it.

There are obviously eurosceptics who are not racist, but these posters – if not explicitly racist – do contain strong overtones of racism. Remember, this is the same party which welcomed William Henwood who thought that Lenny Henry should “leave Britain” and emigrate to a “black country”. Of course, individual beliefs should not be confused with collective ones. However, we should also recognise the fact that the type of people a movement attracts says a lot about the movement itself. The xenophobic tendencies of Farage and UKIP may sit well alongside a quote from Voltaire: “It is lamentable, that to be a patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.”

We should not wish to isolate ourselves from the rest of Europe, or from the rest of the world, and follow the road of myopic selfishness. Farage’s tendentious claim that 75 percent of our laws are made by the EU neglects the crucial detail that, as a member, we have a considerable say in the construction of these laws. Moreover, as is worthwhile to his cause, Farage is intent on portraying this institution as one adorned with little red horns and a poker which unjustly pricks Britain’s royal arse. Whilst I will concede that our rebate is smaller than our contribution, I would also appreciate that there are many EU member states which, to put it frankly, need money more than we do. There is also the question of the economic benefits of staying within the EU – a European Commission study of the single market in 2007 found that the Union’s GDP was raised by 2.2 percent since the introduction of the single market in 1992, which equates to an increase in GDP for the UK of around £25 billion.

Former Labour immigration minister Barbara Roche has launched the first cross-party campaign to denounce UKIP as racist. As Roche puts it, Farage and his party engage in “what is in effect a form of ‘Euracism.’” Whilst Farage has been quick to distance his party from any comparisons with Marie Le Pen’s Front National, there is a sinister and reproachable characteristic to these placards and billboards which should bring even the non-chattering classes to the same conclusion that Roche has come to. One can only hope that UKIP undergoes the same sort of decline as another once established political threat – the BNP.

No – Rachel May Quin

As a person with very little political leaning and thus next to no interest in UK politics, I’m finding it impossible to ignore the upcoming European elections. It seems to me that the party on everybody’s lips and the party attracting the most hate (not the Conservatives, weirdly) are UKIP and their notorious leader, Nigel Farage.

Acquaintances on Facebook are taking the time to snap pictures of UKIP leaflets being put through their doors, or posting statuses about how they’ve been posting them back. From what I can gather, everybody hates UKIP because UKIP is the new voice of xenophobes and closet racists. Why? Well, because they don’t believe that we should be allowing as many immigrants into the country as we do. Does this really make a person racist? I don’t think so. I feel like I should put a disclaimer in here, that to present this side of the argument does not imply that I myself am an advocate of UKIP’s policies, and to tar every member of UKIP with the same brush is to be as narrow-minded as some of UKIP’s more controversial members. Now we’ve straightened that out, let’s continue.

As part of the EU, we are obligated to allow other members of the Union to freely enter our country as they please. If the people entering the country are bringing valuable skills or experience that we don’t have – fantastic. Before coming to Lancaster, I lived near a town in Yorkshire, which people would complain was full of Polish immigrants that were ‘stealing all our jobs’. Perhaps this might be annoying to have fewer jobs, but surely people coming to the UK to work hard is better than people coming here to take advantage of our free healthcare or claim benefits without giving anything back. A fear of immigration is not a racist viewpoint, so long as you don’t fear immigration simply because the immigrant in question doesn’t share your religious beliefs or skin colour.

Personally, I don’t see the problem with making immigration stricter in order to make sure that the right sort of people are coming to the UK, and by that I mean hard-working individuals who will be an asset to us. Australia is my case study for this argument: a society which has thrived off the Victorian criminals that we deported and banished from Britain, and a society that is also very well organised. Australia’s strict immigration laws demand that if you choose to live there, you need to have several things: enough money to look after yourself, useful skills and a job to walk in to when you arrive. By enforcing this checklist of necessities rather than allowing anybody to enter the country, I would say that Australia are doing well. I would also say that Australia has just as much religious and racial diversity as any other country.

We can’t do that in the UK. Yet with the state of our economy and our struggling job market – which from a selfish point of view as a soon-to-be graduate, is a nightmare – it wouldn’t hurt to be selective about who we choose to be a citizen of the UK. Unfortunately, being a part of Europe takes away our freedom to do that.

To conclude, I do not believe that fear of immigration is intrinsically linked to closet racism, and I think that there are many younger people who are afraid to talk about it for fear of being branded a racist by their peers. UKIP might be a disgusting, racist excuse for a party – but right now they’re the only ones willing to address the issue

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