Author & columnist on immigration, UKIP, scapegoating and the role of the media
By using unrepresentative examples they (the media) have totally poisoned the debate - it means we don’t have a rational, balanced debate about immigration
Owen Jones, Writers Against Racism
As part of the Writers Against Racism movement, Show Racism the Red Card spoke to columnist & author Owen Jones. Sheffield-born Jones is a prominent political writer and commentator, and currently Policy and Media Advisor for the Centre of Labour and Social Studies (CLASS). Jones is a formerIndependent columnist, who now writes for the Guardian. He has also had work published in New Statesman, the Sunday Mirror.
In the second instalment a three part interview, Owen discusses the immigration 'debate', the influence of UKIP, the current 'scapegoating' climate and the role of the media.
What do you think is driving the current political rhetoric around Immigration, what do you think the driving force is there?
There has clearly been a very concerted drive to trap peoples anger, justifiable anger, at their falling living standards from anyone but those responsible - anyone but those at the top - as we have all seen ‘be angry at unemployed people’, ‘be angry at public sector workers’, ‘be angry at trade unions’, with this the anti-immigration backlash has been absolutely key and that’s involved the sense that ‘there is not enough council housing to go around, so you should be prioritising me’ rather than saying ‘hang on a minute, the Government not building council housing that is why there is not enough council houses’.
Whether it be the fall in living standards, which would be to do with things like, weak trade unions, the form of globalisation we have, a minimum wage that has fallen in real terms over the last few years, instead they go ‘no, blame immigrants’.
If they wanted to prevent that you would have a living wage to ensure that all workers were employed on the same terms and conditions to prevent any possible race to the bottom, and it’s the same with the lack of secure jobs, stripped back in the economy by the actions of successive governments and yet they blame Immigrants for them.
So Immigrants are a very useful way of turning people against anyone but those responsible, but letting the real people off the hook who are really responsible for the mess that this country is in and I think that has helped people’s social and economic insecurities in a way that deflects attention from the real villains of the piece.
UKIP recently blamed Immigrants for low wages and high house prices, how do we counteract that kind of nonsense?
The reality - and I think that means partly addressing people’s underlying issues - is that we think we just have to tell the people the facts until you are blue in the face and that often doesn’t work.
I think the less we deal with people’s very genuine social and economic concerns, which I think, as I say, drive the intensity of the anti-immigration backlash, it won’t go away. That means dealing with the housing crisis, getting councils to build housing, which would create jobs and stimulate the economy. Lets deal with the 5 million strong on social housing waiting lists, because if you have got so many people on the social housing waiting list they will feel like they are in competition with each other plus they’ll start competing for scarce resources and they’ll start looking at each other and think ‘oh hang on they are less deserving than me’ and that again fuels anti-immigration backlash.
It’s the same with a lack of secure jobs, if there are not enough jobs to go around, people will feel this sense of grievance that can be picked on, which is ‘well they are getting jobs and I’m not’ and again that needs an industrial strategy to create jobs, looking at places like Germany; you let the market decide so that the state doesn’t pick winners or losers.
We need an active state industrial policy to create hundreds of houses and renewable energy jobs like they have done in Germany for example, which will take on the environmental and the jobs crisis and then with the low wages issue, we need a living wage and we need to make sure everyone is employed on the same terms and conditions in particular sectors.
I think those are the sorts of policies we have to fight for and that is a positive agenda, it’s an agenda of hope rather than this agenda of fear which is what anti-immigration backlash is, and that deals with peoples underlying and justified social and economic insecurities and focuses attention on actual solutions so that those responsible rather than those who have nothing to do with these problems.
What role do you think the media has played around the current so-called ‘debate’ around immigration, particularly if you look back to the Bulgarian and Romanian farce at the beginning of this year and the end of last year?
The media has just obviously whipped up as much hysteria as they can, to make sure we don’t have a debate about Immigration, instead what they do is they’ll hunt down the most extreme, unrepresentive and unsympathetic examples and they’ll try and find immigrants with x number of kids who have been put in a nice house or something, examples that are just totally unrepresentative, that are designed to make people’s blood boil and say ‘hang on a minute, why are they getting these things, why do we not get them?’
It’s a politics of envy almost; make struggling people envy each other and so they do that and then as you saw earlier this year this huge scare about Bulgarians and Romanians coming and they never came at all, which they kept very quiet about I noticed but the level of hysteria they were pushing was absurd.
So I think what they have done is try to pick on peoples fears and insecurities and they’ve tried to make people feel angry. By using unrepresentative examples they have totally poisoned the debate - it means we don’t have a rational, balanced debate about immigration, again there is this myth, people like us don’t want to talk about immigration and any talk about immigration is racist, it’s not true but we can’t have a sensible and rational debate about immigration when we’ve got the sort of leader we have who is totally irresponsible and leaves the public badly informed about what is going on around them, which I think is not what a leader should be doing at all.
How big an influence do you think it is going to have over the European elections and also the next general election? How big an issue do you think it is going to be?
Well it will be a very huge issue because UKIP are determined to ensure that it is at the very top of the agenda and we’ll have a mainstream media which will continue to fan prejudice over immigration so you will have this constant divide and rule and that is why we need to do everything we can to organise to tell the truth and to give proper answers to people’s fears and insecurities.
That is what it is about - being honest and showing the reality and coming up with hope, but they are going to make it as big a deal as they can in an effort to deflect attention from those who are responsible for the mess in this country.