Local resident ANDREW FISHER this week challenged a Conservative MP to justify his public claims about immigration. He was unsurprised when he did not get an answer
Much of the debate about race in the Croydon North by-election has stemmed from the polemic prose of George Galloway and his party’s candidate Lee Jasper. Galloway chastised Labour for choosing “white guy” Steve Reed – which some might find odd given fellow “white guy” Galloway represents the ethnically diverse constituency of Bradford West: perhaps the first ever case of the pot calling the kettle white.
On Twitter, Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell has been accused – by me – of playing the race card in the more traditional Tory way. In debate with Croydon Labour councillor Sean Fitzsimons, Barwell tweeted “more Croydon North residents would have jobs if you’d had a better immigration policy eg accession controls on new EU members”.
“Come over here and take our jobs”. It’s a familiar refrain from the far right likes of the BNP and the National Front – the latter of which is also standing in Croydon North. I accused Barwell of playing the race card. I stand by that. And I’m even more sure of it having seen Croydon North Tory candidate Andy Stranack’s blog, which states “we inherited an economy based on banking, immigration and debt”.
Why is that “playing the race card”? Barwell was indignant, tweeting in response: “The idea that anyone who criticises the last Government’s migration policy must be a racist is ridiculous”. I never accused Barwell of being a racist, and have no problem with debating migration. But debate – especially political debate by an MP and a parliamentary candidate – should be based on evidence.
Despite asking twice for evidence to back Barwell’s assertion about Croydon North’s unemployment being due to migration – and Stranack’s assertion in his blog – none has been forthcoming.
So Gavin, if you want a public debate about immigration and employment, I’m willing. But when you say people are unemployed because of immigration you should back up what you say with evidence – and when Stranack says the economy was based on “banking, immigration and debt” he should explain what he means by that. His blog then says nothing more on immigration.
The ward where I live, Woodside in Croydon Central, has the highest percentage in the borough (5.4 per cent) of people identifying as mixed race, according to 2001 census. The 2011 data will no doubt reveal that it’s much higher now. Croydon is integrated, our streets have black, white, Asian and mixed race people living not only side by side but often in the same households.
Thornton Heath councillor Louisa Woodley says, “Galloway talking about getting the Muslim vote and helping Lee Jasper to get the black vote gives the impression this isn’t a cohesive community, that it’s in sections. That’s not the reality.”
My mixed race partner is Croydon-born, while I’m an economic migrant. I moved to London to go to university and more than 10 years after graduating I’m working here because this is where the job I love is based. Perhaps Barwell thinks I’m stealing the job of a Croydon-born person? If I am, then so are tens of thousands of Croydon residents who weren’t born in the borough – including Barwell himself.
But let’s be clear, the reason we have high unemployment is due to the recession, not immigration. The reason we had a recession is due to the collapse of the largely unregulated banking and finance sector, and its fall-out. The reason we had a double-dip recession, and are likely to re-enter recession for a third time, is because of George Osborne’s inept austerity policies.
Scapegoating migrants is dangerous for our community, and reveals how little the Tories have changed. But there’s also something old-fashioned and patronising about the “painting by numbers” politics espoused by Galloway – which treats people as homogenous communities based on ethnicity.
Respect’s candidate, Lee Jasper, is a longstanding race equality campaigner and will rightly raise issues of racism in the campaign. He pledges, “Our campaign will not be divisive. It will unify the community and point out what they have in common rather than their differences.”
Indeed it should. Croydon residents should reject both the divide-and-rule of the Tories, and the communalist approach of Galloway.
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