I recently finished reading Goodwin and Eatwell’s work of political theory ‘National Populism: A Revolt Against Liberal Democracy’ which attempts to breakdown the roots of recent populist movements from Trump’s victory in 2016, to gains made by the likes of Fidesz in Hungary, National Rally in France and of course Brexit and subsequent successes The Brexit Party. Among their observations, they identify four principal causes for the rise of populism deprivation, destruction, de-alignment and distrust. However, when charting a course forward for post-populism they suggest, as indeed some parties have done, adopting certain ideas from populist parties. I, however, identify certain issues with this and would like to offer a slightly different way forward.
Throughout the course of “National Populism” what the authors call “hyper ethnic change” is identified as an important facet of rising concern over people’s way of life which has been seized on by National Populists, however curiously the authors point to the UK ‘liberal’ immigration policy as the cause of this. I say curious because the UK has continually increased the barriers for immigrants for the last few years, with the UK Borders Act in 2007 granting the UK Border force several increased powers such as the ability to detain suspects they believe to have breached the law, expanded search capacities and the ability to seize assets.
Similarly, the Tier 2 General Visa which was the general route to citizenship for non-EU citizens was curtailed to 20,700 places alongside restrictions which stated that job positions must be offered to a UK citizen prior to being offered to international citizens. What I would argue has increased however has been overt messaging around immigration from previous Prime Minister Theresa May’s infamous ‘Go Home’ vans which warned immigrants overstaying their VISAs that they were at immanent risk of deportation. Warnings from William Hague saying the UK was at risk of being turned into a foreign land and Gordon Brown’s infamous “British Jobs for British Workers”.
The report A Decade of immigration in the British Press noted that since 2006 there was a sharp increase in discussion of the scale of immigration, a sharp increase in the frequency of immigration particularly immigrants from the EU/Europe which appears to correlate with migrants from Romania and Bulgaria achieving full access to the UK labour market. There was also an increased tendency for journalists to cast themselves as commentators rather than reporting on analysis from think tanks or politicians.
It appears in summary what perhaps was being responded was not so much immigrants themselves as their coverage with many of the critiques of immigration, such as perceived advantages when accessing public funds not being congruent with the experiences of immigrants, for example, current rules for immigrants applying for a VISA to work require additional NHS surcharges, additionally, for non-EEA migrants there is no recourse at all to public funds for two years. Meanwhile, EEA migrants have no access to public funds unless they are working. In essence, unlike the authors, I do not believe it’s the rate and scale of change but the perception of the changes and more specifically how they are reported on which has lead to immigration and immigrants being viewed in its current light. The supply and demand model of labour often rolled out as a reason to restrict immigration also ignores the fact that immigrants are not just workers, with 17.2 per cent of immigrants starting their own businesses which also employ others workers.
My broader point here is that those who claim, like Michael Gove that the British public has had enough of experts, perhaps ignore how in fact non-experts, have for a considerable amount of time been so instrumental at shaping opinion. Additionally, those who claim that the response is legitimated by the immigration policies themselves perhaps ignore how their coverage has been portrayed by the media. Reconciliation, therefore, could take the form of putting out an alternative message not only through the other media channels but also by pulling the public at large into assemblies where they can actually discuss issues often facing them which have historically been linked to immigration issues such as job precarity and offering concrete solutions such as better routes towards unionization and collective bargaining.
More importantly, such assemblies and deliberative democratic mechanisms provide a way to find common ground when charting a course forward for the country overall, lack of social housing and affordable private rentals could potentially be resolved by community land trusts however securing funding and information regarding the development of these for many requires advice and guidance. Plan C have been doing some great work with their State Of Emergency Assembly which talks about emergency provisioning and networks of solidarity in the event of a No-Deal Brexit, or indeed any brexit which could emerge from a conservative government however I contend such projects should be more widespread in order to develop people-led solutions to leading issues.