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Anyone with an ounce of brain in their head knew the Home Office was going to be banned from using its advertising vans again – the ones telling illegal immigrants to “go home”, in the language of “knuckle-dragging racists”, as Owen Jones so memorably phrased it.
That is, anyone except everyone working at the Home Office, including the Secretary of State – Theresa May.
The Advertising Standards Authority ordered the Home Secretary not to put the vans on the streets again, saying the phrase “go home” was indeed a reminder of a racist slogan and “clearly carries baggage”.
The authority also said the posters on the vans referred to inaccurate arrest statistics, claiming there had been 106 arrests in the area in the past week. The ASA said this was misleading as it did not relate to accurate arrest statistics for the specific areas where people would have seen the vans.
They were out in Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Barnet, Brent, Ealing and Hounslow – areas the Home Office believe many illegal immigrants live and work.
The report stated: “The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told the Home Office to ensure that in future they held adequate substantiation for their advertising claims and that qualifications were presented clearly.”
The ASA had received 224 complaints about the vans from individuals, campaign groups, legal academics and the Labour peer Lord Lipsey, who is from Vox Political‘s home constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire, we’re proud to say.
But in an impressive display of tightrope-walking the ASA said the van campaign was not offensive or irresponsible. While the “Go home” slogan had been used in the past to attack immigrants, its report said, the Home Office was now using it in a different context.
Oh! Well, that makes it perfectly acceptable, doesn’t it? Never mind the possibility that nobody seeing those vans in the street was ever likely to consider such a nuance, it was “unlikely to incite or exacerbate racial hatred and tensions in multi-cultural communities” because the intention was different!
What about the message implied by these vans – a message that was clearly pointed out by commentators at the time – that Conservative-leaning voters should treat with hatred, suspicion and contempt anybody who is not a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant?
What about the way they encouraged suspicion that another person may be an illegal immigrant?
What about the way the Home Office Twitter account spent the week-long pilot period in which the vans were traipsing round London tweeting messages about the number of illegal immigrants it wanted us to believe had been detected or turned themselves in? Can we believe those figures, if the number on the vans themselves was fake?
What about the photographs transmitted by the same Twitter account, of suspects who had been arrested, before they had been charged? Does anybody remember if any of these people were the white Anglo Saxons mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago?
What about the spot-checks at railway stations, where anybody who was not clearly white could be stopped by immigration officers wearing stab vests who demanded to see identification proving they were in the UK legally? How galling was it for British citizens – people who were born and raised in this country – to be faced by a flak-jacketed fiend who (it is claimed) became unreasonably aggressive when challenged over their right to behave in this manner without direct cause for suspicion?
What about the fact that the Home Office undermined its own arguments by being unable to reveal the different ethnicities of the people who were stopped – information that was vital in determining whether they had been breaking the law?
What about the fact that all of this effort was hugely out of proportion when considering the number of illegal immigrants it was likely to net? Forget forced labourers who are brought into the country but kept hidden by criminal organisations – these are not responsible for what happened to them and their cases are likely to be part of criminal investigations into the people holding them captive. Who does that leave?
And what about the possibility that this was not about illegal immigrants at all, but a sop to all those people – many of them Daily Mail readers, we expect – who believe that immigration of any kind is out of control? These are people who need to get to grips with the facts. As reported by this blog and others back in August, the UK has a lower immigrant population than almost any ‘developed’ nation; they are assessed via a points-based system, only seven per cent are asylum-seekers and only a third of asylum claims are accepted. They do not have access to most of the benefits available to UK citizens and what they do receive are nowhere near the same value. They are one-third less likely to claim those benefits, meagre as they are, than UK citizens.
The Unite union has been seeking legal advice over this matter, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission has also been investigating this. It will be interesting to see what they say.
But a rap on the knuckles over bad information is a good start. Naughty, naughty, Theresa May!
On the same day, the Home Secretary – along with Justice Secretary Chris Grayling – faced questions from two Lords committees on the UK’s 2014 opt-out from EU police and criminal justice measures, as part of a reopened inquiry.
If this opt-out is exercised, the Coalition government has listed 35 measures that it would seek to rejoin, and it is these that prompted the Lords to reopen their inquiries.
Parliament’s own website said they were likely to face questions on how they defined the national interest in selecting the 35 measures the UK would seek to rejoin, and whether the changes will break the UK’s obligations to European arrest treaties.
And there were questions to be answered on whether non-participation on measures dealing with xenophobia and racism (the issues at the heart of the matter with the advertising vans) sent an “unfortunate” signal to other EU member states that the UK, under a Conservative-led government, no longer regards those issues as important.
Fortunately for Theresa May, these proceedings do not appear to have been made public.