Immigration and popular attitudes
Categories: Latest News
Wednesday February 11 2015
The Bolton News relates a political row that appears to have been sparked in the constituency of Bolton West after the local Labour MP, Julie Hilling, took part in a BBC North West programme on Sunday discussing the rise in anti-Semitism over the last year and was understood to have blamed UKIP for a shift in attitudes on immigration.
Hilling, speaking on the programme said “I also think we have got an increase in hate crimes across the board, so actually there’s an increase in Islamophobia, there’s an increase in attacks on disabled people — so actually we’re in a situation I think where those crimes continue,”
“But I also think the rise of UKIP has unleashed racism in this country again. I think that we’re not doing enough to educate people.”
She was asked to clarify the comment about UKIP, to which she replied: “I’m not saying that UKIP is racist at all, but I think we are now having a much wider conversation about immigration and about blaming people, incomers to this country, and blaming them for the deficit and blaming them for the things that are bad happening in the country.”
Hilling’s opponents in the constituency, the Conservative and UKIP prospective parliamentary candidates, have both rounded on her criticising her choice of words.
UKIP party leader, Nigel Farage, has gone to some lengths to present the party’s anti-immigration stance as in tune with the wishes of the wider public. In this he is not wrong given the results of the British Social Attitudes survey of 2012 which found that 77% of those polled wanted a reduction in levels of immigration to the UK.
But the results of the BSA need to be seen in the context of messages disseminated to audiences and their perceptions of immigration as a social and economic good or bad. The BSA does suggest that immigration is viewed differently depending on the socio-economic and educational background of individuals with those of graduate level education employed in the professional classes more open to the idea of immigration and those of low levels of education and employment more closed to the idea of immigration.
UKIP party leader, Nigel Farage, has further attempted to argue the party is “not racist”. Yet, the evidence suggests that the party certainly attracts a good many individuals who do support racist organisations, like the English Defence League and Britain First, as well as a good many candidates who have in recent elections espoused egregiously prejudicial and Islamophobic remarks (see here, here, here, here, here and here).
This is perhaps unsurprising given the outpourings of former UKIP leader, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, whose platform issue for the party’s 2010 election manifesto was to ban the burqa.
Lord Pearson has in the past claimed that Muslims were “breeding ten times fast than us”; one UKIP parliamentary candidate spoke of the “uncontrolled practice” of Islam in the UK and a further member denounced “Muslims nutters who want to kill us and put us under medieval Sharia Law”.
Professor Alan Sked, founder and another former leader of UKIP, criticised the party for “creating a fuss, via Islam and immigrants.”
In a report last year by the NSPCC and Childline, about the rise in racist and Islamophobic bullying in schools, the toxic public debate about immigration was singled out as one of the factors influencing negative attitudes towards race and immigration in classrooms across the country.
When Hilling said, “I think we are now having a much wider conversation about immigration and about blaming people, incomers to this country, and blaming them for the deficit and blaming them for the things that are bad happening in the country,” she was not far off the mark.