New Asylum Seekers Scandal: A Comprehensive Political Stitch-Up

Misleading images: Not all migrants are asylum seekers

 

In these days of the unthinkable being normalised, it was still shocking to see the results of a new survey on where and how asylum seekers to the UK are dispersed. In case you missed it the stand-out points are:

  • Most refugees are sent to the poorest parts of the country
  • Labour-controlled local authorities house more than 20 times more of these people than Conservative ones
  • There is no extra funding for this
  • Councils volunteer to house asylum seekers but then “get very little control over how it works

There was strongly worded reaction from many commentators and politicians.  The unfairness is self-evident, and the impact on housing, education, social services and social cohesion were all name-checked.

But hang on.  Yes, hats off to the Guardian for splashing this on their front page, and to Yvette Cooper, chair of the Commons Home Affairs committee for calling for a complete review of the system. But I am sure I cannot be alone in thinking that this is nowhere near enough.

This car crash of issues and policies is not merely a political spectacle affecting others. This directly and dangerously affects almost every one. The fact that even the Sun précised the Guardian’s article should ring bells here.

Yes – no critical comment in the Sun, but a stock picture straight out of the “Oh God, they’re going to swamp us” portfolio.  So we are straight in at the heart of the big toxic migration debate, including the asylum seekers we are talking about here.  This group – around 39,000 – are the people who are waiting for their application to be processed.  The total number of migrants is of course much larger.  And sadly I bet not many people will differentiate.  So there is a massive scaling-up – all migrants are perceived as caught up in this unfair distribution, so many more people are going to feel they are or will be affected by already scarce resources being spread ever more thinly.

Where does this lead us?  Middlesboro’s apparent and accidental flirtation with red doors for the accommodation of all asylum seekers was quickly remedied. But the stigma and misunderstanding  cannot always be controlled. In the wake of the attack in Croydon on Reker Ahmed, Aditya Chakrabortty eloquently poses the key question: “If Theresa May really wants to protect refugees why does she fuel such hatred?”

This impact on social cohesion is one of the fall-outs from the flawed asylum dispersal policy in a sensitised/traumatised Britain. Another is potentially on our politics.

This is a hypothesis that has yet to be tested, but the uneven burden of the cost of accommodating asylum seekers could well impact on elections in those council areas most affected. It’s not rocket science to anticipate that stretched-to-breaking-point resources will encourage a xenophobic “blame game” to the detriment of incumbent local politicians.  The correlation between low average household incomes, Labour-led councils and asylum seeker population is strong.

The third stand-out element in this mess are the policy decisions that led us to this point.  Cooper is dead right to say this is so bust it can’t be fixed without revisiting these. In 2012 the contracts for housing asylum seekers were privatized, with predictable and disastrous profits-before-people consequences. So arguably we have another illustration of a sell-off that has not benefited service users or the general public (And a well-deserved plug here for the excellent work of We Own It in making the case for public ownership)

Take these three elements together (and I readily acknowledge each merits a book of their own) and just look at who benefits from such an incoherent, unfair, damaging scenario.  I would argue that it is political chicanery of the highest order.

More than 20 years ago, the Conservative leader of Westminster Council scraped the bottom of the barrel with a breathtaking vote-rigging policy. With no pun intended, is Theresa May just about to trump that?

 

Good News Fightback?

Thank heavens for that. How many times this year have we woken up, checked the news and wished we hadn’t ? So thank you Sarah Olney for breaking that pattern this morning.

And  you know,  I wonder if we are experiencing, in a small way,  a sort of Good News Fightback? Love, peace and goodwill now seems to be cool – and it’s nothing to do with the looming festivities.

It feels like  “I’m a Celeb” is fresh and new and streets ahead of a tired and tawdry “X Factor”, with contestants enjoying each other’s company,  displaying  generousity of spirit and deed, rather than combative dog-eat-dog gotta-get-to-top-of-the-pile.

But this isn’t a one-off. Look at “Bake Off” and “Strictly”. And look at the distaste when GBBO was sold – both from the public and many of those who made the show so popular.

In he acceptance speech last night,  Olney said “Well, today we have said no. We will defend the Britain we love. We will stand up for the open, tolerant, united Britain we believe in.

The reassertion  of these values, and their endorsement  either in TV votes and by-elections is truly to be welcomed – but let us not get too carried away.

These are  rarefied environments.  Richmond is a very well off constituency.  The participants are largely self-selecting.  Politicians – especially LibDems – do not have particularly high public credibility,  and those TV programmes are made to entertain. This has still been the year of the rant, the bile, the untimely sometimes murderous deaths.

And yet…..whatever the limitations on  the spread of a Good News Fightback,  these events give us something that often has felt in short supply of late: Hope.