Working with Lib Dem Immigrants, this year I've been helping shape Party policy on migration. Working with Lib Dems for Seekers of Sanctuary and LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, we met with the policy working group and they made a number of changes that we asked for.
But we need to keep fighting back against the illiberal agenda that has made migrants the scapegoats for government failing for many years.
Here is my speech in the Immigration debate at Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference 2018, moving an amendment to the policy, to make sure we can keep pushing back for a more Liberal migration.
The amendment was overwhelming supported by conference and is now part of Party policy.
In fact, I was expect four minutes, as proposer of the amendment, and only got three so I had to trim.
Here is the full speech I prepared:
Who are the real victims here?
SPOILERS: it is the migrants.
The victims of racism, of anti-semitism, of islamophobia.
And we need to be able to say so.
It’s funny, when I quote Vince Cable saying “bigots not welcome”, it’s surprising how many people jump up to say “how dare you call me a bigot”
Thirty years ago only the BNP were using the line about “foreigners coming over here taking our jobs”.
But they kept using it.
And right-wing comedians started using it.
And right-wing papers.
And Tory MPs.
And UKIP, of course. “We’re not allowed to talk about immigration,” said the man who never talked about anything else!
And this year, the Leader of the Labour Party was using that line.
It’s called moving the Overton window – making the unsayable sayable, making extreme positions moderate.
Of course no one could question the blessed Jeremy, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
It is not true.
It is a lie. Created by racists. And we need to be able to say so.
Our country today is deeply divided.
London-centrism, the crash under the last Labour government, austerity under the Coalition and now the Tories.
There’s been a lot of pain for a lot of people for a long time.
And many, egged on by populist politicians, are looking for someone to blame for that: “the elite”, “the EU”, “bankers” – which we know is used by some as code for Jewish people – and just “foreigners”.
When they do that, it’s racist. And we need to be able to say so.
Yes, we need to change people’s lives for the better, with policies which will actually work.
But part and parcel of that is taking on and defeating the false, and – yes – racist narratives which say there’s a simple fix for all this.
Conference, there are good things in this paper.
Many of the great and the good have written and spoken to tell us about them, and they are right.
And the working group did talk to Lib Dem Immigrants, and we are grateful for the constructive response to some of our suggestions. This is a step away from our last, compromised, Coalition-era policy.
But stepping back to 2012 is still less liberal than Michael Howard, or Jack Straw or David Blunkett.
This paper makes the mistake of thinking that people’s feelings about immigration are founded in a detailed appreciation of immigration law.
Most people – who have not experienced the cost and mental anguish of fighting the Home Office to let a loved one come to live in this country – think that when you marry someone, they can come and live here. Your kids can come and live here.
A Liberal migration policy would look like that.
Instead, we… are just tinkering about with the complicated and mean-spirited set of hoops we make people jump through. If we get the hoops just right, maybe all the migration skeptics will suddenly love immigrants!
The only way we win this battle, conference, is to take on, at a gut level, the scapegoating and othering of immigrants.
So let’s start with those good bits. And make a proper Liberal policy paper. That we can really be proud of.
Because we need to be able to say so.
Conference, outright racists are never going to vote for us.
The people who might vote for us are the people who want us to stand up for freedom, for free movement, for the benefits of migration, for being an outward-looking, welcoming Party in an outward-looking, welcoming Liberal society…
But they won’t vote for us either if we seem to be compromising to try and win over the racists.
So let us be honest. Let us be brave. Let us be Liberal. Let us say so.
Please vote for this amendment.