Saturday, April 23, 2005

Lunatics running asylum

On the day the BNP ran their sole party election broadcast of the campaign, blaming asylum seekers for the problems of the homeless, the Tories ran an advert in the Evening Mail telling us that asylum-seekers had cost Birmingham council tax payers almost £25 million since Labour came to power. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Aside from the fact that this figure is tiny compared to the £2 billion raised by council tax in the past eight years and the £16 billion that it has cost to run the City over the same period, the Tories forgot to pass on one little detail. The Refugee Council has researched this and say that councils are reimbursed by central government for 82% of the costs of managing asylum-seekers. Accordingly, supporting people fleeing oppression, war and death has cost my city less than £600,000 a year over the past eight years. That's not too high a price to pay, surely?

Incidentally, nice spot from Dave that the BNP broadcast is a little economical with the truth. Under the Homelessness Act 2002, local authorities are required to treat ex-servicepeople as priorities for housing to reduce the numbers living on the streets. Asylum seekers and immigration have nothing to do with it.

Meanwhile, Caroline Spelman (Tory candidate for Meriden) was whinging about asylum-seekers in Solihull on Channel 4 News on Wednesday. Not just any asylum-seekers, mind you, but unaccompanied minors dispersed under a government scheme to spread the costs. Yup, she was complaining about the costs imposed on this wealthy area by refugee children who are on their own in this country. Caroline - that's just wrong. Shame on you.

There is nothing the Tories won't do to try and collect a few extra votes from the right wing. They feel that Labour has stolen most of their policies from the middle ground, so are veering to the right and pandering to prejudice to try and steal votes from the BNP. There is nothing wrong with having a reasoned debate over immigration, but the Tories are trying to appeal to prejudice and fear. They use weasel words and claim to be brave enough to stand against the tide of political correctness and raise issues over which others are silent, but as the police officer in Nottingham said to Howard this week:

'When you talk about political correctness you are talking about people like me, a black police officer who is basically being told to shut up and deal with racism. Why don’t you stop using that sort of language and deal with the issues?'
Over recent weeks, Howard has mentioned asylum-seeking and immigration in the context of crime, race riots, terrorism and murder and now council tax.

All this in spite of opposition from his own colleagues, the UNHCR, concern from the Commission for Racial Equality, the CBI (how in heaven's name can a Tory leader wind up the CBI?), even Rupert bloody Murdoch thinks you're wrong. Most importantly, while you might be dragging in the BNP vote, the electorate don't seem to see it as the biggest issue. Even the Financial Times doesn't approve.

'Britain is at peace with its neighbours, the economy has enjoyed 12 years of uninterrupted growth and people are better off than ever. This presents the Conservatives with a problem: how to persuade the electorate to turn out and vote for a change of government on May 5. Michael Howard's strategy has been to play on the fears of voters in a manner that has produced short-term returns but will do the party no good in the longer term.'
Boris Johnson has stepped back from the asylum quota - he's stated that he isn't in favour of seeing legitimate refugees turned away. Don't tell the boss, Boris. He's sacked you once and you know what he does to those who don't follow party policy, don't you? Sadly, many of Boris' potential colleagues seem only too happy to play follow the leader and I bet not one will be sacked over it. Enoch would be proud.

And then Micky H sits down for more Paxo stuffing and refuses to give us any clue as to how many immigrants they might decide to let in or where they will locate this fantasy island to process asylum-seekers. (Transcript and link to video) Paxman also points out that not only would we be the first country to withdraw from the 1951 Convention on Refugees, but we'd be joining the elite group of non-signatories - Saudi Arabia, Libya and North Korea. Even the proposed cap on asylum-seekers isn't worked out - Howard reckons that if somebody turned up after all places had been allocated for that year, they'd be asked to wait (don't know where, obviously - perhaps they could wait in the country from which they are desperately trying to escape).

Good to see that the migrant worker running the campaign has sorted out his next job, if he can get that visa and many others are less well rewarded for delivering leaflets for the Tories. You couldn't make it up.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Howard.

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