It’s a shame Alan Johnson became embroiled in the controversy over the sacking of a drugs policy advisor just as he was making an important speech on immigration.
I hope nonetheless that the Home Secretary’s basic message gets through, because it suggests he ‘gets it.’
As I know from my time trying to explain government policy, immigration is always a difficult and contentious issue. It becomes even more so, as history and our own experience tell us, in a time of economic difficulty. It is that which the extremists and bigots seek to exploit.
But if we condemn all who have concerns about immigration as extremists and bigots, or suggest they are wrong to be worried, we play into the hands of the real extremists even more.
I felt that on the Nick Griffin Question Time Jack Straw, in answering the question about whether concerns about Labour’s ‘failure’ on immigration in part explained the BNP’s relative rise in support, he could, while challenging the concept of ‘failure,’ have acknowledged more the concern.
It is true that the European elections took place with the expenses row at its height, but it was not the only issue to explain Labour’s poor showing.
Ministers are understandably frustrated that they believe they now have better immigration policies, but feel there is little understanding of what they are.
We had much the same problem, though admittedly in a better economic climate, in the run up to the 2005 election. So much so that then Tory leader Michael Howard made the gross strategic error of building his woeful campaign around the issue.
Our belief was that provided we explained the benefits of successive waves of immigration, provided we acknowledged concerns over the issue were not wholly owned by racists, admitted that there was a downside as well as an upside to globalisation, and provided we devised polcies that were firm but fair, we could win the argument. Admittedly helped by Howard, we did.
In admitting we did not always get it right, and in admitting concerns were real and understandable, not least because of the pressure on public services, Johnson has reopened the door to getting a fair hearing on the issue. An important first step.
Briefly, on the drugs advisor, I back Johnson there too. Advisors advise. Ministers have to decide. And if every advisor was allowed to campaign openly against any or every piece of policy because any of every piece of their advice was not being followed to the letter, there would be plenty of room for chaos, little for clear policy.
It is a bit like those civil servants, a minority, who confuse independence and impartiality. They are meant to be impartial. That is not the same thing as being independent.
I spoke recently to a conference of senior Home Office civil servants and told them that sometimes, on immigration and anti-social behaviour, Tony Blair felt the advisors did not have the same sense of urgency as the politicians who, ultimately, are the ones who have to make decisions and, rightly, get credit where things go well and blame where they don’t.
But the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is supposed to be independent, not just impartial — at least, that’s what it says on their website.
As an ex-civil servant I’m not having any of this. I’ll throw in a quote from William Armstrong, head of the Civil Service, 1968-74 “The business of the Civil Service is the orderly management of decline” And one of my own which did get me into trouble “I haven’t got a crystal ball”
Mike, I think Alastair was not talking there about Nutt, but Blair’s difficulties with permanent civil servants on the subjects if immigration and ASBOs. I worked for a couple of years in the civil service and I did sometimes feel that my colleagues saw ministers as something of an intrusion into their lives. I also think there are too many people who speak out when it is not really their job to do so. General Dannatt was another recent example. If he had any complaints he should have made them internally, and argued his corner. Joining up with the Tories was a terrible thing to do. And I would say the same had a soldier joined up with LAbour
Totslly agree about Jack on Question Time. Way too complacent. Of course the BNP vote went up because of this issue, and we are making a mistake to pretend otherwise. I hope Johnson’s speech is the first of many because where I campaign for Labour – East Midlands – it is a real problem
I do have a problem with those who blame immigration for their problems. When we discuss “immigration” we risk not understanding one another if we aren’t specific. There are different aspects to immigration and some, or all, may be problematic, but each should be discussed individually and precisely. Legal immigration from the EU and legal immigration from outside the EU are different issues. Non- EU immigrants are screened and chosen for the benefit they will add to Britain. EU immigration: I’ve noticed animosity toward East Europeans flooding to the UK, but such an influx was predictable when membership into the EU was granted.
When people just say “immigration”, they are including Chinese multi-millionaires who move to the UK and pour millions into the British economy. They are talking about scientists from Asia, the Middle-East and Africa, people who find cures and solutions to all kinds of ills.
Refugees are a different kettle of fish, but as with legal immigration, they are subject to processes, rules and policies.
As for illegal immigration, economists disagree on whether or not they help or damage the economy.
There are entire classes of immigrants, investors, scientists, artists, business people who pay more into the public services. Those who tax the system are part of the margin of error all rich countries have to pay for. We live in such comfort and luxury compared to and at the expense or the rest of the world, is it really the end of the world if a poor guy from Romania or Jamaica uses the NHS?
Personally, I can’t afford clothes that are hand sown by Milanese seamstresses and I’m sure many of my garments were made by quasi-slaves. Should I balk if that person emigrates, seeking a better life here and uses our social services? I think not.
I’m not sure sacking Nutt was wrong but he may turn out becoming a hero whistleblower. I’m behind any other scientist who resigns over this. Governments which disregard science when classifying drugs are not much better than school boards who want Creationism to be taught in science class. Science shouldn’t rule policy in all things, but surely it should direct policy when it comes to drug classification.
Just a brief comment on this.We live on the outskirts of Derby, and in the local press there seems to be a perception by many bloggers that far right party referred to should have a right to free speech, and that the protestors at Denby are the aggressors, and from the “loony left.” The party and its supporters are portrayed as victims!
I had mixed feelings about NG appearing on Question Time- but at least it portrayed ordinary people from the local community as outraged by the ideology, rather than extremists!I think some from our local area need to understand that.
I’m also intersted in what you say about Michael Howard’s campaign, Alistair.Possibly it was he who whipped up all this fear abous so called “assylum seekers?” -aided by the media. (Has now become an homgeneous catch phrase for all foreigners and immigrants…)
Since then, it seems impossible to find out about any real facts- there is so much hysteria.
I hope Alan Johnson is successful in raising the quality of this debate- I think he is an able politician.
2.3 million immigrants since 1991, >90% of which have settled in England.
Not getting it right is the understatement of the century.
Drugs? I shit ’em. H/T – some plumber type bloke
Six days shalt thou Consume and on the seventh shalt thou apply for a loan from Ocean Finance – an End, verily, to Boom and Bust. The fucked-up, snot-eating, nail-biting, blackmailing, warmongering misbegotten sonofafuckingbitch who sold us this desolate mantra now wants to police our thoughts and how we arrive at them, just in case, his stooges bleat, we become shizophrenic, lunatics, like them. And furthermore, as I travel round the country behind a regiment of sharpshooters in my armoured Jaguar preaching to selected Labour prospective parliamenary candidates, they all say to me, prime minister, you were right to save the world’s economy and concentrate on getting the banks lending again and you are right that every joint smoked means an AK 47 to the Alley-kah-ah-eda terrorists which British troops are doing so much to subdue and are being so successful that many of them are coming home in boxes, or bits of them are, anyway, the troops that is and not our Muslim brothers upon the votes of whom so many of our seats depend, Allah Akhbar. It is the right thing to do, prime minister, stamping-down on drugs, that’s what they tell me and it doesn’t matter, now, does it, what people say to Alan Johnson, even if they know what they are talking about and he, well, he doesn’t know his arse from a hole in the ground but is doing an excellent job as home secretary. Other people might know what they are talking about but that is no reason for government to pay them any mind. What people don’t understand but I do as I am the cleverest boy in the Manse, is that the more of our troops get killed, the more we are winning in Mr Karzai’s Afghanistan. I do wish people would concentrate on real facts like this instead of on soundbites. And the more drugs there are, the more people take drugs, the more drug crime there is, the more people die, the more families are devastated the more money the drug barons siphon-off from the economy, then obviously the more we are winning the War on Drugs.
The Nutt issue is a special case because the Government is deliberately ignoring sensible scientific consensus for purely political purposes. There are no shades of grey – they made Nutt’s position untenable. Witness Jacqui Smith on Question Time last week trying to ridicule Nutt for saying that Ecstasy was less dangerous than horseriding… when that is self-evidently true. None of the proscribed drugs are terribly dangerous when taken in social doses or unless mixed with something awful for profit purposes.
Darn it – failed to get past the censor again! Gaddzooks!
One of the problems here is that ministers like to wheel out experts to support them when it suits, but reject them when it doesn’t
Alan Johnson should be back at the CWU sorting out the strike. Both sides as bad as each other. Agree with what you said on immigration. But I agreee with most of the things you say. Except I support Derby