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The Tory hostile environment continues – but Labour must face up to its past

No sympathy should be wasted on Amber Rudd. Her role in the Windrush scandal can be dealt with swiftly. According to the Home Office memo sent to Rudd and other ministers:

  • The Home Office set a “target of achieving 12,800 enforced returns in 2017-18 … we have extended our target of assisted returns[1]
  • This target set the government on a “path towards a 10% increased performance on enforced returns, which we promised the Home Secretary earlier this year.”[2]
  • Rudd set the target “personally”.[3]

So her responsibility for what happened is established and her claim to know nothing about targets is rubbish.

However, this isn’t just about the Windrush generation or even their descendants. The injustice done to them is manifest and for many of them a tragedy. But this story of targets goes wider than this particular scandal. It is about a very real and ongoing hostility at the Home Office towards migrants in general and asylum seekers in particular.

The memo cited above speaks of “assisted returns”, a category which certainly does include asylum seekers. “Typically”, says the memo, “these will be our most vulnerable returnees.”[4] The use of the word “vulnerable” does not indicate sympathy any more than talk of “assisted returns” indicates a helpful approach. When Home Office officials use the word “assisted” it means the same as when they use the word “enforced”.[5] It means you’ve got to go, we don’t believe you, we don’t want you, didn’t you understand the message on Theresa’s big van? – GO HOME.

I described what happens when you are in the hands of the Home Office in earlier blogs.[6] As I said in these blogs, during my research as long ago as 2007 I found that what was called an “agenda of disbelief” had permeated the asylum process. This was encouraged by section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act 2004, which obliged “a deciding authority” to “take account, as damaging the claimant’s credibility, of any behaviour” specified as such. I gave several examples of how, in the frantic rush to find “credibility issues”, Home Office officials forgot the UN Guidelines urging them to give, wherever possible, “the benefit of the doubt” to asylum seekers’ accounts of persecution or torture and instead set up what asylum support and human rights groups called an “agenda of disbelief” which enabled them to cast doubt on the stories told by large numbers of applicants who had indeed been persecuted or tortured.[7]

The focus today is not on section 8 of that Act but on paragraph 322(5) of the Immigration Rules. Caseworkers are using this paragraph to justify refusing indefinite leave to remain (ILR) to 1,000 highly skilled migrants by claiming they are guilty of lying in their applications, typically about their incomes or their tax records. Growing numbers are taking their cases to court – and winning. According to The Guardian, among the cases waiting to be resolved are

a former Ministry of Defence mechanical engineer who is now destitute, a former NHS manager currently £30,000 in debt, thanks to Home Office costs and legal fees, who spends her nights fully dressed, sitting in her front room with a suitcase in case enforcement teams arrive to deport her, and a scientist working on the development of anti-cancer drugs who is now unable to work, rent or access the NHS.[8]

Saleem Dadabhoy is unlikely to become destitute or fall into debt, since he is

a scion of one of the wealthiest families in Pakistan, [facing] deportation under [para.] 322(5) despite three different appeal courts having scrutinised his accounts and finding no evidence of any irregularities, and a court of appeal judge having ruled that he is trustworthy and credible.[9]

Others connected to him, however, might well face debt or destitution: if he were to be deported, 20 people employed by him would lose their jobs and the company (worth £1.5m) would close.

It has become clear that all this is the result not just of Amber Rudd’s time at the Home Office but of Theresa May’s creation of a “hostile environment” when she was in the same job. However, it goes back further than that. The examples I have given of the “agenda of disbelief” relate to Labour’s time in office. The hostile environment, in fact, goes back to Tony Blair, who set targets for asylum seeker deportations, and to Home Secretary David Blunkett, who had kids separated from their parents and put into local authority care in order to persuade their parents to go home when they were afraid to do so. Rod McLean, Head of Asylum Policy at the Home Office in 2006, told me this was because Blunkett was making policy “with an eye to the media”, who wanted tougher measures on removals. He then told me the policy would be abandoned “because it hasn’t worked”. I asked him, “When you say it hasn’t worked do you mean that, instead of waiting for you to take their children away, they just disappear?” “Yes,” he said. Unfortunately the policy wasn’t abandoned – it remained on the statute book.[10]
I believe that Labour not only has to blame the Tories for the “hostile environment” but own up to its own past, when it presided over an “agenda of disbelief”, in which asylum seekers were considered guilty until proved innocent. Because if Labour doesn’t recognise its past it will be in danger of repeating it. This is not to cast doubt on Corbyn’s best intentions –  but the tabloids are still there, and so are the successors of Rod McLean.

 

Immigration Rules, para. 322: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/immigration-rules/immigration-rules-part-9-grounds-for-refusal

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] “Amber Rudd was sent targets for migrant removal, leak reveals”, The Guardian¸ 28 April 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/27/amber-rudd-was-told-about-migrant-removal-targets-leak-reveals

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., see the “Q & A” box, “What are enforced departures?”

[6] https://bobmouncerblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/the-secretary-of-state-still-doesnt-believe-you-2/

https://bobmouncerblog.wordpress.com/2018/02/14/inappropriate-behaviour/

 

[7] See Dealt with on their Merits, pp.151-162: https://hydra.hull.ac.uk/assets/hull:2678a/content

[8] “At least 1,000 highly skilled migrants wrongly face deportation, experts reveal”, The Observer, 6 May 2018:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/may/06/at-least-1000-highly-skilled-migrants-wrongly-face-deportation-experts-reveal

[9] Ibid.

[10] See Dealt with on their Merits, pp.220-221: https://hydra.hull.ac.uk/assets/hull:2678a/content

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Obedience is Death

jaynelinney

From  The time for obedience is over

Howard Zinn wrote, “Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of leaders… and millions have been killed because of this obedience… Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves… (and) the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.”

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This IS The Killing STATE of #Tory Britain

More from Jayne Linney to make us think:

jaynelinney

Two month ago I wrote a post with this name which I’ve left below as a reminder.Today further evidence of the discriminatory way Governments of the past ten years have treated Sick & Disabled people has been published “Sick and disabled Brits killed by the state – crime without punishment Successive UK Governments have restricted access to vital long-term sickness and disability benefits” by Welfare Weekly

It is time the attitudes and actions by Politicians towards not only disabled people but ALL individuals and groups not of the Elite; the disgusting treatment people labelled as  the #Windrush generation, the record number relying on Foodbanks to survive, the list goes on.

As the evidence Grows the words of Martin Niemoller haunt me

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist……Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak…

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Time for ALL Survivors of the Hostile Environment to come Together

Read this from Jayne Linney:

jaynelinney

I’m not the first to say this, Leon  , has both blogged and tweeted as have others and I want to reiterate an belief I’ve written about before

I believe it is now time we multiple survivors of the ‘Hostile Environment, created and managed by those in power, came together. The  racist and discriminatory treatment of the people in the #Windrush generation has appalled so many, and I truly get it. 

We disabled people have spent the past eight fighting to survive as our lifelines have been slashed away and we have lost thousands of our community already as a result. But the discrimination, which I believe it is continues, just as it will for anyone considered unwelcome by the elite.

We who feel this way are no longer alone Kenan Malik in the Observer today considers how the working classes have been used by obscure the…

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It makes us feel better to believe it but was the Windrush generation really “invited”? Not quite.

The government has been telling a growing number of UK citizens of Caribbean origin that, after around 50 years’ residence here, that it doesn’t believe they are citizens at all and that they must go “home”. David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, tweeted yesterday as Theresa May refused to meet Commonwealth heads of government to answer their concerns. She has now, under the relentless pressure of Lammy and others, apparently agreed to meet them. This is what David Lammy said yesterday:

Awful. I won’t let them get away with this. Our Govt invited the Windrush Generation to Britain as citizens to rebuild our country in the wake of WWII. That these individuals are being treated with such contempt, disrespect and lack of dignity is shameful.

He is right to say that the Windrush Generation helped to rebuild the country after the Second World War. He is right to say that it is shameful that “these individuals are being treated with such contempt, disrespect and lack of dignity”. All power to him and others who are pursuing Theresa May to get her to reverse the cruel and unjust policy of depriving them of benefits and threatening to deport them after their lifetime’s contribution to the UK.

    But the story he then tells is of a post-war Labour government that “invited the Windrush Generation to Britain as citizens to rebuild our country in the wake of WWII”. It didn’t. None of the post-war governments (Labour or Tory) did. They tried to keep them out.

    I reproduce below a short extract from my PhD thesis, which deals with asylum and immigration, where I  give a brief account of what happened at that time.

 

2.3 Civis Britannicus sum

Such a project [the reconstruction of the country after the devastation of the second world war] would require much work and many workers, and the story of how the job was eventually done is usually told in terms of the willing recruitment of black and Asian workers from the colonies and ex-colonies to augment the labour force. As more and more colonies achieved independence, imperial rhetoric about British rule over an empire “on which the sun never sets” gave way to a Commonwealth rhetoric used by both the Labour and Conservative parties for many years following the war. Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell told his party conference in 1961 (Race Card, 24 October 1999):

I believe with all my heart that the existence of this remarkable, multiracial collection – association – of independent nations, stretching across five continents, covering every race, is something that is potentially of immense value to the world.

More specifically, in 1954, Henry Hopkinson, Conservative minister of state at the Colonial Office, declared (cited Hayter 2000:44) that colonial subjects’ right of free entry into the UK was “not something we want to tamper with lightly … We still take pride in the fact that a man can say civis Britannicus sum [I am a British citizen] whatever his colour may be and we take pride in the fact that he wants to and can come to the mother country.” Indeed, for at least a century no distinction had been made between citizens of the British Empire regarding their right to enter Britain. The reasons for this were economic and political: from the middle of the nineteenth century “the economic imperatives of the free flow of goods, labour and services within the Empire enhanced the feeling that such distinctions were likely to be detrimental to broad imperial interests” (Spencer 1997:53). In the post-war period Britain wanted to foster good relations with the newly independent countries in order to keep a foothold, particularly in terms of economic power, in the regions of the world it once ruled. These were the realities which underlay the softer talk of the Commonwealth and the continued right of free entry into Britain for all its members – and it was against this background that the British Nationality Act 1948 was introduced. Carter et al. argue that its purpose in defining UK and Colonies citizenship was not to reaffirm rights of free entry but to “curb colonial nationalism” (1993:57). Nevertheless, within this context, the Act did confirm those rights.

2.4 “… we cannot force them to return …”

The post-war reality, however, proved to be very different from the rhetoric. The 1945 Labour government attempted from the beginning to limit the number of black and Asian Commonwealth and colonial citizens allowed into the country. It resorted to administrative methods of control, many of doubtful legality and most of them secret. The government‘s first action was to ensure the early repatriation of the black workers who had been urgently recruited from the colonies during the war. It also set about discouraging them from returning. This was true in the case of about a thousand Caribbean technicians and trainees recruited to work in war factories in Merseyside and Lancashire. In April 1945 an official at the Colonial Office had minuted that, because they were British subjects, “we cannot force them to return” – but it would be “undesirable” to encourage them to stay (Spencer 1997:39). The Ministry of Labour managed to repatriate most of them by the middle of 1947. Then, in order to discourage them from returning, an official film was distributed in the Caribbean

showing the very worst aspects of life in Britain in deep mid-winter. Immigrants were portrayed as likely to be without work and comfortable accommodation against a background of weather that must have been filmed during the appallingly cold winter of 1947-8 (ibid.:32).

2.5 Redistribution of labour and recruitment from Europe

But the need for labour remained and the government tried to solve the problem in two ways – neither of which involved importing labour from the colonies. First, it tried to increase labour mobility within the existing population and, secondly, it imported labour from Europe.

A Ministry of Labour report (Harris 1993:16) had predicted before the end of the war that there would not be sufficient mobility of labour within the country to face the challenges of the post-war world. Workers would have to be more willing to move into sectors where they were needed most. Virtually no one could be excluded, for everyone had to be part of the reconstruction project, even the unskilled and those “below normal standards” (ibid.). In 1947 the government issued an invitation for people to go to their local labour exchanges to register themselves. Some incentives (in the form of Ministry of Labour hostels and training) were provided, plus the threat of prosecution (ibid.:18-19). The presenter of the radio programme Can I Help You? entered into the spirit of the government’s intentions: “The hope is … to comb out from plainly unessential [sic] occupations people who could be better employed; and to get the genuine drones in all classes to earn their keep …” (ibid.:17). Attlee had hoped that this project would provide what he had identified as the “missing million” workers (ibid.) but six months later only 95,900 of the “drones” had responded (1993:17-18). Moreover, one source of home-grown labour had hardly been tapped in this exercise: women, essential during the war, were now told to go back to the home and make way for the men returned from battle. There were still sectors where women might work (e.g. textiles) but, as Harris notes, ―their ability to do so was greatly hampered by the reluctance of the government to maintain the war-time level of crèche provision‖ (ibid.). Thus an important source of labour was largely excluded.

In the case of immigration from Europe, the government set up Operation Westward Ho in 1947 in order to recruit labour from four sources: Poles in camps throughout the UK, displaced persons in Germany, Austria and Italy, people from the Baltic states and the unemployed of Europe (ibid.:19). It was partly knowledge of this recruitment which inspired pleas to the British government from the governors of Barbados, British Guiana, Trinidad and Jamaica. Each of these territories was suffering from high unemployment, with consequent discontent among their populations, and the governors wrote to London arguing that Britain could solve its own problem and theirs by accepting these workers into the UK. In response to this, an interdepartmental working party was set up which decided that there was no overall shortage of labour after all. Spencer records that the working party’s minutes display “entirely negative attitudes to colonial labour” (1997:40):

One senior official at the Ministry of Labour expressed the view that the type of labour available from the empire was not suitable for use in Britain and that displaced persons from Europe were preferable because they could be selected for their specific skills and returned to their homes when no longer required. Colonial workers were, in his view, both difficult to control and likely to be the cause of social problems.

2.5.1 “… the object is to keep out coloured people”

Opposition to black and Asian immigration continued throughout the next decade, with successive British governments seeking to justify legislation to control it. Hayter observes that the delay in introducing the legislation “was caused by the difficulty of doing so without giving the appearance of discrimination” (2000:46). There is no doubt, however, about the racist nature of the intent to do so. From 1948 onwards various working parties and departmental and interdepartmental committees were set up to report on the “problems” of accepting black immigrant workers into the UK. All of them were created in the hope of providing evidence that black immigrants were bad for Britain. There was the “Interdepartmental Working Party on the employment in the United Kingdom of surplus colonial labour”, chaired by the Colonial Office; the Home Office based “Interdepartmental Committee on colonial people in the United Kingdom”; the “Cabinet Committee on colonial immigrants”; and the one that really gave the game away: the “Interdepartmental Working Party on the social and economic problems arising from the growing influx into the United Kingdom of coloured workers from other Commonwealth countries”.

Committees reported, cabinets discussed their findings and much correspondence passed between ministers and departments. Lord Salisbury (Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords) wrote in March 1954: “It is not for me merely a question of whether criminal negroes should be allowed in … it is a question of whether great quantities of negroes, criminal or not, should be allowed to come” (Carter et al. 1993:65). Lord Swinton, secretary of state for Commonwealth relations, saw a difficulty and wrote to Salisbury (Spencer 1997:64): “If we legislate on immigration, though we can draft it in non-discriminatory terms, we cannot conceal the obvious fact that the object is to keep out coloured people.” In the case of the “old Dominions” (i.e. the “white” Commonwealth – Canada, Australia, New Zealand), he noted a “continuous stream” of people coming to the UK “in order to try their luck; and it would be a great pity to interfere with this freedom of movement” (ibid.:67). Moreover, such interference would undermine the strong ties of kith and kin between the UK and the “white” Commonwealth. Swinton also believed that those strong ties would be further weakened by the development of a large “coloured” community in Britain – declaring that “such a community is certainly no part of the concept of England or Britain to which people of British stock throughout the Commonwealth are attached‖ (ibid.:67-68). “Swinton held the view strongly”, wrote Spencer, “that immigration legislation which adversely affected the rights of British subjects should be avoided ‘if humanly possible’ and if it did become inevitable it was better for the legislation to be overtly discriminatory than to stand in the way of all Commonwealth citizens who wished to come to Britain” (ibid.:68).

2.6 Obstacles to racist controls

2.6.1 The Commonwealth connection

It was not just concern for the “white” Commonwealth which made governments delay legislating for controls until 1961. The UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth as a whole was also a factor. In a period of decolonisation and the building of Commonwealth institutions, UK governments trod carefully. For example, openly discriminatory legislation “would jeopardise the future association of the proposed Federation of the West Indies with the Commonwealth” (ibid.:82). Politicians tried to persuade governments in the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent to control the flow of migrants at source. They had some success in India and Pakistan, but not in the Caribbean. In 1958 Sir Henry Lintott, Deputy Under-Secretary of State at the Commonwealth Relations Office, advised caution on the question of legislation. There had been calls for immigration controls in the wake of the Notting Hill riots (provoked by extreme right-wing groups). Sir Henry advised that in these circumstances immigration controls would imply that “the British people are unable to live with coloured people on tolerable terms” (ibid.:102):

This could be immensely damaging to our whole position as leaders of the Commonwealth which, in its modern form, largely draws its strength from its multi-racial character. If, therefore, strong pressure develops for the introduction of legislation to control immigration, I would hope that some way could be found to delay action and to permit passions to cool.

These arguments were supported not only by many in the Conservative Party in the mid 1950s but by the Labour Party too. In 1958 Arthur Bottomley spoke for the Labour front bench against legislation to control immigration (cited Foot 1968:251):

The central principle on which our status in the Commonwealth is largely dependent is the “open door” to all Commonwealth citizens. If we believe in the importance of our great Commonwealth, we should do nothing in the slightest degree to undermine that principle.

With a House of Commons majority of only fifteen, the Conservative government was vulnerable. Similar considerations had applied in January 1955 when Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George presented his ideas for restrictive legislation to the cabinet. The cabinet judged that “such a bill would not obtain the full support of the Conservative Party and would be opposed in the House by the Labour opposition and outside the House by the Trades Union Congress” (Spencer 1997:76).

2.6.2 The working party evidence

Another obstacle to immediate legislation was the fact that the working parties set up to provide evidence of the “undesirability” of black immigrants failed to do so. They described “coloured women” as “slow mentally” and said that their “speed of work” was unsatisfactory. They claimed there was “a disproportionate number of convictions for brothel keeping and living on immoral earnings” among West Indian men and made references to “the incidence of venereal disease among coloured people” (Race Card, 24 October 1999). But they failed to make the case for immigration legislation. The committee with the specific mandate to investigate “social and economic problems” relating to “coloured workers” must have been a particular disappointment. In August 1955 the committee’s draft statement went to the cabinet. The allegation of a high incidence of venereal disease was included here – but only as a “suggestion”. The author of the report admitted that there were no figures to support the claim (Spencer 1997:78). Spencer summarises the committee’s findings (ibid.):

Although “coloured” immigration was running at the rate of about 30,000 a year … even those arriving most recently had found jobs easily and were making “a useful contribution to our manpower resources”. Unemployment … could not be regarded as a problem, nor could undue demands on National Assistance or the National Health Service … The immigrants were for the most part law-abiding except for problems with [cannabis] and living off the immoral earnings of women. Though the immigrants had not been “assimilated” there was no evidence of racial tension and it was apparent that some “coloured” workers in the transport industry had made a favourable impression.

The same was true of the working party’s reports between 1959 and 1961. “Viewed objectively”, writes Spencer,

the reports of the Working Party consistently failed to fulfil the purpose defined in its title – to identify “the social and economic problems arising from the growing influx of coloured workers”. In the areas of public order, crime, employment and health there was little noteworthy to report to their political masters (1997:119).

Moreover, the Treasury, when asked whether black and Asian immigration benefited the economy, “gave the clear advice that on economic grounds there was no justification for introducing immigration controls: most immigrants found employment without creating unemployment for the natives and, in particular by easing labour bottlenecks, they contributed to the productive capacity of the economy as a whole” (Hayter 2000:48).

But, in the end, the working party managed to construct an argument for controls: “assimilability – that is, of numbers and colour – was the criterion that mattered in the end” (Spencer 1997:118). Between 1959 and 1961 there were large increases in the numbers of blacks and Asians entering the UK. At the beginning of the period there were around 21,000 entries a year; by the end they had risen to 136,000 (though much of this last figure may have been due to the fact that the government had signalled its intention to introduce legislation and larger numbers had decided to come in order to “beat the ban”). Working party officials compensated for their inability to find existing problems by predicting that they would arise later (ibid.:119):

Thus in February 1961, whilst it was admitted that black immigrants were being readily absorbed into the economy, [officials predicted] “it is likely to be increasingly difficult for them to find jobs during the next few years”. Further, it was doubtful if the “tolerance of the white people for the coloured would survive the test of competition for employment”.

There would be “strains imposed by coloured immigrants on the housing resources of certain local authorities and the dangers of social tensions inherent in the existence of large unassimilated coloured communities” (ibid.:118). The working party recommended immigration controls. It was “prepared to admit that the case for restriction could not ‘at present’ rest on health, crime, public order or employment grounds” (ibid.:120) but

[i]n the end, the official mind made recommendations based on predictions about … future difficulties which were founded on prejudice rather than on evidence derived from the history of the Asian and black presence in Britain.

Now there was just one obstacle impeding the introduction of controls.

2.6.3 Public opinion

One of the government’s worries about introducing legislation had been the uncertainty of public opinion. Racist stereotyping in the higher echelons of government could also be found among the general population. Bruce Paice (head of immigration, Home Office, 1955-1966), interviewed in 1999, believed that “the population of this country was in favour of the British Empire as long as it stayed where it was: they didn‘t want it here” (Race Card 24 October 1999). It is true that hostility towards black people existed throughout the 1950s, and in 1958 the tensions turned into violent confrontation. In Nottingham and in the Notting Hill area of London there were attacks on black people, followed by riots, orchestrated by white extremist groups (Favell 2001:103). After these explosions racist violence continued but became more sporadic, ranging from individual attacks to mob violence (Fryer 1984:380). Nevertheless, for much of this period governments had not been confident that public opinion would be on its side when it came to legislation on immigration control. In November 1954 the colonial secretary wrote a memorandum expressing the hope that “responsible public opinion is moving in the direction of favouring immigration control”. There was, however, “a good deal to be done before it is more solidly in favour of it” (cited Carter et al. 1993:66). In June 1955 cabinet

secretary Sir Norman Brook wrote to prime minister Anthony Eden expressing the view that, evident as the need was for controls, the government needed “to enlist a sufficient body of public support for the legislation that would be needed” (cited ibid.). In November 1955 the cabinet recognised that public opinion had not “matured sufficiently” and public consent, conclude Carter et al., “could only be assured if the racist intent of the bill were concealed behind a cloak of universalism which applied restrictions equally to all British subjects” (1993:68).

2.7 Mission accomplished

By 1961 the cloak was in place, and a Bill could be prepared. Home secretary R.A. Butler donned the cloak in a television interview: “We shall decide on a basis absolutely regardless of colour and without prejudice,” he told the interviewer. “It will have to be for Commonwealth immigration as a whole if we decide [to do it]” (Race Card, 24 October 1999). He removed the cloak, however, when he explained the work voucher scheme at the heart of the Bill to his cabinet colleagues (cited Hayter 2000:47):

The great merit of this scheme is that it can be presented as making no distinction on grounds of race or colour … Although the scheme purports to relate solely to employment and to be non-discriminatory, the aim is primarily social and its restrictive effect is intended to, and would in fact, operate on coloured people almost exclusively.

The Bill passed into law and became the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962.

 

For full references please consult this link to the original thesis:

https://hydra.hull.ac.uk/assets/hull:2678a/content

 

 

From tee-shirt to suit and tie – but is it worth all this air time?

Am I alone in being unimpressed? So salespeople and advertisers and propagandists try to hoodwink us into buying their goods, voting for their candidates and their programmes, and donating to their bogus charities. In the 1960s, I read a book about all that called The Hidden Persuaders by, I think, somebody called Vance Packard. He explained the tricks, the psychological ploys, the whole lot. Sixty years on and they’re still at it. The tricks are trickier, I suppose, and more pervasive, but the insulting assumption is the same: we are infinitely manipulable, we easily fall for their tricks, they can read our minds and control our behaviour, make us buy what we don’t really want, get us to vote in the way they want us to, persuade us that our refugee next-door neighbours are a threat to our way of life, and that our disabled neighbours are getting benefits under false pretences. They make fat profits and accumulate power out of this stuff.

One claim that annoys me is the idea that, because of Cambridge Analytica’s trickery, we ought to revisit the EU referendum result because millions of people were hoodwinked into believing clever lies so we didn’t know what we were doing when we cast our vote (I voted Remain, by the way). The argument reminded me of a member of my local Constituency Labour Party who argued in a meeting after Corbyn had won the 2015 leadership election that we needed another one because, after the 2015  general election defeat, we had been traumatised and we – yes – didn’t know what we were doing. I had only just rejoined the party at that point and I wondered if this low level of argument was all I should expect from the Labour Party. To my relief it wasn’t. Anyway, this particular member got his wish. Unfortunately for him, when Corbyn was forced to face a second election in 2016 he won even better.

Another example: Tony Benn liked to point out that people didn’t always fall for the politics of the Tory tabloid newspapers. At one election (I forget which), he said The Sun newspaper sent all the details about him to a psychiatrist in America for examination (an attempt at psychological profiling, I suppose). The results came back and they published them on election day: the front-page headline shouted, “Benn is stark, staring bonkers – official!” “When the results came in the next day,” said Benn, “I found I had increased my majority! So, you see, people don’t necessarily …”

Anyway, I’ve had my gripe. I see that the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica story is turning into a soap opera: An over-excited Kylie Morris announced to Channel 4 News viewers tonight, as Zuckerberg sat in Congress waiting for his grilling: “Mark Zuckerberg is pouring himself a glass of water.” Talk about blow by blow. But Jon Snow went just a little bit too far, signing off with the words, “On this momentous day in Washington, that’s Channel 4 News”! Could he really mean these hearings? Earlier the FBI had raided Trump’s lawyer’s offices and home. People had hinted earlier that that could be momentous, but C4News peremptorily cut short an interview on that after about 30 seconds, and with no apology. Why? In order to cut seamlessly back to Congress and Mark’s now-half-empty glass of water. For the boy had begun to speak. What could be more momentous than that?

“Whatever next?” said Alice

Quote of the day:

On the question of whether the Queen should get the Nobel Peace Prize for keeping the Commonwealth together, the historian Richard Drayton says it is “an absurd idea, but I suppose given that the peace prize has been given to Kissinger after Cambodia and Obama before he did anything, the bar has been set low”.

Well said Richard.

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