CentreForum Liberal Heroes of the Week #44: Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour leaders on Redbridge London Borough Council

by Stephen Tall on August 2, 2013

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf - lib heroes - redbridge cllrs

Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour leaders on Redbridge London Borough Council

Keith Prince, Ian Bond and Jas Athwal (respectively)
Reason: for opposing the Home Office’s ‘Go Home’ poster-vans targeting illegal immigrants

Vans have long been used as mythical deterrents. For years the BBC went to great lengths to pretend that its roving TV detector vans could pin-point licence dodgers from the electromagnetic emissions of unauthorised TV sets (or some such invented pseudo-scientific nonsense).

The Home Office clearly looked on approvingly, wondering how it too could spend public money on vans which serve no purpose. And then someone had a brainwave (which somehow went undetected by the BBC’s van). Why not send a poster-van around some London boroughs telling illegal immigrants that they are living here illegally? And, even better, why not suggest to those illegal immigrants they text the Home Office to let the authorities know that they are here illegally?

It’s a wonder no-one’s thought of such a simple solution before. Just think of the time and money that could have been saved. As Nick Clegg pointedly asked this week: “What are we going to have next? Home Office vans driving around saying, ‘Please don’t shoplift,’ or, ‘Please don’t steal this car,’?”

But of course there’s a little more calculated method to this apparent random madness than meets the eye. The vans aren’t really aimed at illegal immigrants: their true target is people who don’t like illegal immigrants. Or legal immigrants. Or asylum seekers. Or, let’s be honest, anyone who looks a bit shiftily foreign. As Rafael Behr argues in the New Statesman:

… [the vans] are unlikely to have a discernible impact on numbers, while certain to reinforce the impression that the nation is overrun with illicit foreigners. The government accepts the view of many voters that Britain is full to the brim with people who don’t deserve to be here. That assertion doesn’t always recognise a difference between legal and illegal status, nor between economic migration and political asylum. For the Home Office to drive around brandishing a pair of handcuffs is to abet the suspicion that there is something generically illegitimate about being foreign-born in the UK.

So why is the Home Office doing it, and why is a Conservative minister defending it (in, where else, but the Daily Mail)? Because they think it will be popular, appealing not only to those who are racist, but also to those who aren’t but who have bought the right-wing media-driven myth that all our woes can be laid at the door of foreigners, whether those who’ve ‘swamped’ this country or those who plot from Brussels how to run the UK.

Kudos is due, therefore, to those politicians who have denounced the Home Office’s tactics. Step forward the leaders of the Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour groups in the London Borough of Redbridge:

Council joins attack on Government immigration vans

Redbridge LBC has urged the Government to withdraw a mobile ad campaign which urges illegal immigrants to ‘go home or face arrest’. Councillors said the local authority had neither been informed nor consulted on the Home Office’s plan to drive vans around six London boroughs and emphasised the strategy could cause problems in affected communities. In a statement, council leader Keith Prince, deputy leader Ian Bond and Labour group leader Cllr Jas Athwal questioned why the Home Office had taken actions ‘bound to be controversial’ without meeting with communities first.

Redbridge said they were ‘neither informed nor consulted’ about adverts deployed by the Home Office in the region. ‘We were neither informed nor consulted about this Home Office initiative,’ the statement read. ‘It is clearly most unfortunate that the Home Office should take actions which were bound to be controversial, about highly sensitive matters, without very careful discussion with the affected communities. If we had been consulted, we would have warned strongly that, whatever effect this campaign might be intended to have on people who are in the country unlawfully, that message is far outweighed by the negative message to the great majority of people, from all backgrounds, who live and work together in Redbridge, peacefully, productively and lawfully. We ask the Home Office to withdraw the campaign.’

These vans are (just as were the BBC’s) a gimmick designed to convince the public of the state’s capacity to act tough. Worse, the “Go Home” vans’ real intent is to pander to popular anti-immigrant prejudice. Councillors Prince, Bond and Athwal are this week’s Liberal Heroes for calling out these vans for the tawdry trick they are.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.