UKIP have somehow risen to prominence in Britain over the last few months. Where we were getting used to people on social media bleating on about how grim the Tories are; we are now seeing people on social media posting links about ridiculous things that UKIP have come away with, we are seeing the media giving them an unprecedented level of exposure. Why? Nigel Farage has been on Question Time more times in recent months than anyone other than David Dimbleby, he has columns in two national newspapers. He has built this success for himself on the back of peddling myths about immigration and how we have an ‘open-door immigration policy’. Nigel Farage has clearly not read or paid attention to legislation and policy brought out in the last 15 years.
From as early as 2001, an immigration problem just seemed to emerge in Britain. The New Labour government made a distinction between immigrants, seeing them as skilled and wanted, or unskilled and therefore, unwanted. An unfriendly and severely damaging discourse about asylum seekers emerged fro around 2001 onwards, where David Blunkett, then Home Secretary said the government at the time would be “tough as old boots” on immigrants who came to Britain to ‘abuse the system’- widely implicated as asylum seekers. In 1999, Labour passed their first act of Immigration in government which essentially introduced a two tier welfare provision for asylum seekers where social security would be provided in the form of vouchers rather than actual cash. These were only redeemable in one particular shop. Asylum seekers were placed in one of 12 participating areas of the country where they agreed to place asylum seekers. Asylum seekers were treated as criminals, despite not actually doing anything wrong except from fleeing war torn areas, further arrivals of Asylum seekers to the UK would be detained upon arrival. There was widespread opposition to this, the government then brought in the UK’s first ever compulsory ID card by requiring all asylum seekers to carry them. The New Labour government also removed the permanency from refugee status and reduced it to just five years.
In the first half of Blair’s government, economic migration was widely accepted. But in 2004, responding to concerns of EU enlargements, the government brought in some restrictions on seasonal agricultural workers and a cut in work permits was announced to accommodate for the expansion of the European Union.
The immigration debate was characterised in the second half of the Blair government by several isolated incidents, involving immigrants such as the 58 immigrants who died trying to cross the English Channel in a lorry in 2000 and the Morecambe Cockle Picking disaster in 2004 where 21 Chinese immigrants drowned. In addition, the 9/11 and 7/7 disasters also shaped the way that people looked upon immigrants to the United Kingdom and the dichotomy of the issue began to change. In 1997, prior to the general elections, immigration was not in the top ten issues that the electorate were voting on, but in 2001, only four years after the 1997, 14% of the electorate felt that it was one of the most important issues.
What parties like UKIP don’t seem to grasp, is that the New Labour government actually had a rather draconian policy on immigration. They forget that when Labour were in government, we actually detained children. The average of these children was around five and according to the charity Medical Justice, children were harmed psychologically following detention.
Immigration was particularly high in the Blair era simply because the UK faced a skills shortage in areas where a particularly high skill set was needed, such as medicine and business. Statistics have shown that since 2006, work related immigration has fallen, according to a Government report.
In addition, we are also facing hostility from the coalition towards immigrants with the new Culture Secretary Sajid Javid suggesting that all immigrants will have to learn English. But, one of the first things this government did when in power, was cut funding for ESOL courses, so that immigrants could learn English. George Osborne has also brought in new tougher rules on EU migrants claiming benefits.
In April, 19 year old A-Level student Yashika Bageerathi was deported from the UK separately from her family. She was sent back to a country where she fled from due to abuse from a male family member-her family remain in the UK. The Home Office completely ruined a young woman’s life and took her opportunity to do better and amazing things for herself. There was absolutely no reason for Yashika to be sent back to Mauritius and the Home Office were scandalously quiet on the issue.
Tomorrow when you’re trotting off to the polling station to cast your vote, think. Is voting for UKIP a change from the establishment? No, it isn’t. As we’ve seen over the last fifteen years, the establishment has been anti immigration and if UKIP gains any more traction with the UK electorate, we’ll see a lot more of the same. UKIP is the establishment- a party predominantly made up of old, straight, white, rich men who are hell bent on making life rather difficult for anyone who doesn’t fall into any of those categories. Voting for UKIP because you want change is like eating raspberry ripple ice cream because you don’t like vanilla. Its the same, anti immigration stance that has already been peddled over the last fifteen years.