Okay, everyone’s sick of UKIP stuff and I shouldn’t be inflicting this on you any more. But the Queen’s Speech today has got me thinking. A few days ago I speculated on the possibility of a UKIP ‘Knesset scenario’ where Farage would effectively get a rolling veto over national policy due to the real or imagined threat that his party poses to the Tory led coalition. Then: a Queen’s Speech designed for the silo nation.
The centrepiece of today was a new Immigration Bill designed to ‘ensure that this country attracts people who will contribute and deters those who will not.’ But, says the Guardian’s home affairs editor Alan Travis, ‘the Downing Street briefing on the contents of the immigration bill is very sketchy on any actual detailed measures.’ In fact, ‘There were only two specific measures mentioned by Downing Street that will be in the new immigration bill.’ There are plans to limit immigrants’ access to JSA (which was tight anyway) and residency requirements for council properties (when local connection is prioritised by most local authorities anyway, if not all). What is new here?
The thing that really made me look up was a duty on private landlords to check migration status of their tenants. It’s news to me that private landlords in this country have a duty to do anything. As Travis points out, ‘the proposal would be unworkable without a register of private landlords’ – exactly the policy, in fact, that the coalition junked within weeks of taking office. The shocking state of the cowboy private rental market was well known in 2010 and has got worse. The Tories are the landowners’ party and they didn’t want to reform private sector housing in a way which would give ripped-off tenants a voice. Now, it appears, the agenda is a big statist HMO hunt for illegal immigrants.
Travis also says that ‘a system of migrants’ residents permits or foreigners’ ID cards is needed to police such restrictions on access to public services based on the time someone has lived in Britain. That is likely to prove unpalatable for two political parties who were elected on a pledge to scrap identity cards.’ Is there anyone left in Britain who still thinks this government knows what it’s doing?
One positive aspect of the immigration debate is that for the first time we are beginning to hear the voices of immigrants. Which brings me to a marvellous piece in the HuffPo by an Indian immigrant in Britain, Balaji Ravichandran, whose article brings the fresh keen air of perspective to this tired and bitter discourse. Highlights:
I, and many others like me, are here for reasons entirely different from the economy. I am here because I wanted to be in a country where being gay is accepted, and sexual minorities are afforded equal rights as straight people. I am here because, it meant something to me when Britain protected Salman Rushdie, after he wrote The Satanic Verses, whereas India was the first country to proscribe it altogether. I am here because my talents, such as they be, were recognised first by people in this country rather than that of my birth and childhood. I am here, most importantly, due to the cultural affinities that bind me to this country and to Western Europe as a whole.
Remember that most of what you take for granted is a privilege, a luxury for the rest of the world, and even then, not everyone wants to come here and settle down permanently. Remember that the choices you make affect the lives of thousands of others like me. Most of all, ask yourself if you’d rather live in a country of cultural monotony and uniformity, or one which welcomed, among others, Handel, Henry James, Sigmund Freud, TS Eliot, Mitsuko Uchida and VS Naipaul, and have made this the most culturally exciting country in Europe.
(Image via @AdamBienkov)