In 1940, Ralph Miliband fled occupied Europe for the relative safety of Britain. He learned English and served for three years in the Royal Navy. Following the war he went on to be one of the most widely respected political theorists of his generation. Whatever you might think about his academic work and political outlook, it’s impossible to argue that Miliband didn’t contribute to British life. He gave more than he received, and was certainly not a “constant drain” on the UK.
In the 1950s his future wife Marion Kozak came to the UK – again after a terrifying wartime experience – and went on to become an academic and campaigner. She hosted Joe Slovo, the future South African Housing Minister, during the apartheid years. She remains something of a campaigning force today.
That Britain took in Jewish refugees at a time when anti-semitic innuendo was rife in the press – and budgets were incredibly constrained – shows how brave the politicians of that period were.
Together they raised two sons, both of whom have gone on to play an important role in British public life and who – I hope – will go on to achieve greater things in future. The Milibands are British, and their story is that of British immigration. It is repeated across the country in all different shapes and forms, with immigrants hailing from all of the different nations of the world. And while few families will produce a Foreign Secretary or a party leader (nevermind both), all contribute, in their own way, to what makes Britain great today.
Indeed it’s not even a year since the country rejoiced at the successes of Mo Farah, his Somali-born face beaming from the front pages of even the most xenophobic newspaper. Joy too came from the sustained success of Sir Bradley Wiggins (born in Belgium) and has been followed by his teammate and fellow Tour de France winner Chris Froome (born in Kenya).
But if you thought we’d turned the corner, think again.
Whether it’s government funded vans telling immigrants to “Go Home” or the Prime Minister agreeing that immigrants are a “constant drain” on Britain, the anti-immigrant rhetoric is slowly but surely being ramped up again. The media gleefully join in too. Some classic recent examples include
- The Sun saying that “foreigners” will be the majority of Londoners by 2031. By “foreigner” they mean anyone born abroad, so that’s several of our sporting greats – oh – and the Duke of Edinburgh
- The Mail claimed that “Second and third generation migrants struggle to understand even basic instructions in English“. Read that headline again. It doesn’t say “some”, it appears to suggest – ludicrously – that a lack of English is a widespread problem amongst people who were born and schooled here, which is spectacularly untrue. That piece was written by “Daily Mail Reporter” – no surprise then that no-one was willing to put their name to such garbage.
- The Sun claimed that the EU is deluged with “fake gay” claims from Africa. Again, this is hardly evidenced, based on unnamed quotes and innuendo. The very work kind of fear-mongering scare journalism. Again, no-one put their name to it.
And over the coming years, this kind of thing is going to get worse. Lynton Crosby has largely been attracting attention for his extensive range of clients, his campaigning in Australia – where he made his name – has been largely overlooked. The Australian Liberal Party under John Howard was responsible for some of the deeply reprehensible anti-immigrant smears in recent political history, including claiming that asylum seekers had threatened to throw their children into the sea in 2001. As the Guardian reports:
Australian authorities intercepted a boatload of distressed people bound for the northern shores. Howard and two of his senior ministers inflamed already high emotions within the electorate by claiming that, on this boat, asylum seekers had threatened to throw their children overboard. A subsequent Senate inquiry found that this was not true, but in the meantime, Howard snatched the election from a hopeful Labor’s grasp.
Lynton Crosby was the director of the 2001 Liberal Party election effort. His methods are clearly having an impact on the Prime Minister’s approach to immigration already, but perhaps they always have done. In 2005 Crosby ran the Tory election campaign and Cameron wrote their manifesto. Their slogan was “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” - an over-riding campaign theme was immigration.
So in this climate of rising political and media attacks on immigrants, where is the politician that will step forward and extol the benefits of immigration? Who will stand up for the hard working immigrants who come from abroad, become British and work for the betterment of themselves and their new nation? Because at the moment British politics seems utterly bereft of such a figure. Ed Miliband is doing his best, but for a party leader to swim against the tide on his own would be electoral suicide.
So who will step up? Because someone must be brave enough.