- Created: Wednesday, 20 May 2009 15:45
- Written by Nicki Jameson
Following hard on the heels of his attacks on asylum-seeker children, arranged marriages and immigrants who fail to adopt British ‘norms of acceptability’, Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett has now lashed out at, among others, those sentenced for participating in last summer’s Bradford uprising, anyone who thinks their sentences are too harsh, immigrants who do not speak English at home and charities that support asylum seekers. Blunkett’s latest attacks only serve to underline his own deep chauvinism and that of the party he represents. Meanwhile, in a bizarre twist, Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin has departed from years of Tory racist ranting and, in comparison to Blunkett, manages to present himself to interviewers as the sympathetic voice of reason. Nicki Jameson reports.
Between April and June this year 20,400 asylum seekers arrived in Britain, a rise of 4% on the previous three months. The largest group are from Iraq (3,420), followed by Afghanistan (2,130), Somalia (1,455) and Zimbabwe (1,345). These are all countries where there is clear political turmoil, presenting the government with a difficulty in continuing to maintain that most refugees’ claims are ‘unfounded’ and that they can easily be sent back again.
In fact, the task of smoothly returning asylum applicants from most countries is so difficult that Blunkett has been forced to backtrack on his earlier boast that 30,000 ‘failed’ asylum seekers would be ‘removed’ each year. Instead, he is being forced to maintain his tough reputation through individual displays of force against soft targets, such as the 80 Czech Roma forcibly deported in a televised stunt on 20 September, or the Ahmadi family from Afghanistan, who were dragged out of a mosque where they had sought sanctuary, and forced onto a plane to Germany.
A month after the Ahmadi family’s deportation, the High Court ruled that it was illegal, but the judge decided they would not be allowed back into Britain. Instead, lawyers and medical experts would be flown to Germany at public expense, and an immigration appeal hearing would take place by videolink.
Blunkett then made it very clear that despite any government drive to recruit middle class economic migrants, he will continue trying to send asylum seekers ‘home’, no matter what their educational qualifications and work abilities are. With the breathtaking chauvinism that he is becoming notorious for, Blunkett told a Home Affairs Select Committee, which asked why it was not feasible for newly-arrived asylum seekers to be allowed to work while awaiting the processing of their claims:
‘If these people are dynamic and well-qualified, and I don’t dispute that they are, they should get back home and recreate their countries that we freed from tyranny, whether it be Kosovo or now Afghanistan.
‘We are freeing countries of different religions and cultural backgrounds and making it possible for them to get back home and rebuild their countries.
‘I have no sympathy whatsoever with young people in their 20s who do not get back home and rebuild their country and their families.’
The ‘freeing’ of Kosovo and Afghanistan involved reducing them to rubble. Next year, when the US and Britain have dropped yet more bombs on Iraq, Blunkett will no doubt tell the Iraqis and Iraqi Kurds who have recently arrived in Britain the same thing – we, the crusading and benevolent imperialists have now imposed our order on your country, which must mean it is ‘safe’, so get out of ours and go and rebuild the damage we caused while we were doing it.
And at the same time as insisting that asylum seekers cannot work, Blunkett plans to use the new ‘entitlement cards’ to deny the very same people access to public services on the grounds that: ‘The basis of a civilised society is that if you put something in, you get something out.’
The attack on NCADC
It is not only asylum seekers who are vilified by this government, but anyone who supports them and in any way confronts government policy in so doing. Following in the fine tradition of another ‘populist’ Home Secretary, Michael Howard, Blunkett showed by his actions that the voice he most heeds is that of the gutter press.
Howard stopped all home leave for prisoners following scare stories in tabloid papers and illegally increased the ‘tariff’ period of the two boys sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of James Bulger, because the Sun thought he should.
In August this year, the Daily Mail responded to a routine press release from the Community Fund (National Lottery), listing the grants it was currently giving, by attacking the donation to the National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns. Blunkett immediately joined in the scaremongering, issued a series of provocative statements and asked the Fund to review the grant award. This interference was well beyond his remit, as the Community Fund is an independent body.
Not content with vicious attacks on new immigrants and their supporters, Blunkett has also repeatedly criticised and slandered second and third generation immigrants, focusing very specifically on those from south Asia.
In an attempt to replace John Prescott as the Labour Party’s voice of the ‘man in the pub’, Blunkett launched a scathing attack on the ‘maniacs’ who had fought the police on the streets of Bradford, and should now stop ‘whining’ about the harshness of their sentences, and on the ‘bleeding heart liberals’ who support them. Appropriately, the setting for this diatribe was the regional conference of the Federation of Small Businesses in Blunkett’s Sheffield constituency.
To date, 113 people – the overwhelming majority young, male and Asian – have been convicted of involvement in the uprising in Bradford last July. Punitive prison sentences have been handed out with little or no leniency shown to those who pleaded guilty or had no previous convictions.
The sentencing judges have made their political position abundantly clear from the outset. Passing the very first prison sentence, of five years, on 19-year-old Shazad Ashraf, Judge Stephen Gullick stated that:
‘It must be made crystal clear to everyone that on such tumultuous and riotous occasions, each individual who takes an active part by deed or by encouragement, is guilty of an extremely grave offence, simply by being in a public place and being engaged in a crime against the peace...It would be wholly unreal, therefore, for me to have regard to the specific acts which you committed, as if they had been committed in isolation...Those who choose to take part in activities of this type must understand that they do so at their peril.’
At the same time, Gullick emphasised that although he would be handing out collective punishment in response to what he saw as concerted, deliberate and organised violence, he was not interested in the origins of, or reasons behind, that violence. So, the facts that the racist National Front had marched through Bradford on the afternoon of 7 July and that drunken racists had begun the violence would not be relevant, while the fact that those who responded to them did not act alone would.
A year on from this speech, Gullick and his cohorts in the Yorkshire judiciary are continuing to hand out harsh sentences, despite sustained criticism from many different quarters (including some Bradford Tories) and some successful appeals against the sentences of the youngest ‘rioters’. They do this secure in the knowledge that they are supported in government at the highest level.
Speaking English at home
Ten days after his attack on the ‘whining maniacs’, Blunkett lashed out again. This time, however, he was tilting for the intellectual audience, as opposed to the man in the pub. His great thoughts appeared in the form of an essay in a collection entitled ‘Renewing Britishness’, published by the ‘Foreign Policy Centre’, a think-tank whose patron is Tony Blair.
Aside from a retrospective justification of his Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, and a gratuitous attack on those who voted for Trotskyist presidential candidates in France, effectively blaming them for the success of Le Pen, Blunkett’s essay contains little that is interesting and nothing that is new. Media attention has therefore focused on the ridiculous suggestion that bilingualism is akin to schizophrenia (implying among other things a serious lack of understanding of schizophrenia) and that the immigrant parents of children born here should not speak their mother tongue to their children, but should strive to speak English at home.
While generations of immigrants from all parts of the world have spoken their own language at home and English at work, school and in all realms of public life, Blunkett is clearly talking about the Asian community. Even Blunkett’s greatest apologists find it hard to avoid the fact that, notwithstanding the thin veneer of anti-racist rhetoric, his targets are almost inevitably Asian, Muslim, or both. Even staunch defenders of Labour were forced to complain, with the disgraced Keith Vaz sticking his head above the parapet to defend bilingualism, and NEC member Shahid Malik quoted in The Guardian as saying; ‘David has been targeting the Asian community, saying where they should marry, now it’s what they should speak – tomorrow it will be what they can eat.’
Blunkett has now made so many inflammatory statements that no-one can be in any doubt as to where he stands. These are not ‘gaffes’ and cannot be dismissed. Blunkett is a powerful man, a member of the Cabinet which went to war on Afghanistan and is planning renewed war on Iraq. His repeated verbal abuse towards foreigners is nothing less than incitement to racial hatred and racist violence. When asylum seekers are murdered on the streets or Asian prisoners killed by their racist cell mates, the perpetrators are not the only guilty ones. David Blunkett and his colleagues in the Labour government have blood on their hands.
Racist murder in Sunderland
There were emotional scenes at a demonstration in Sunderland on 30 August as flowers and tributes were left near to the spot where Iranian refugee Tayman Bahmani was stabbed to death two days earlier. Friends and families wept openly as the police struggled to prevent the 200-plus crowd from actually entering the crime scene, which remained cordoned off.
Around the same time, the police announced they had arrested another man, over 150 miles away in Edinburgh, in connection with the murder, taking the total in custody to three men and one woman. Bahmani was 30 years of age, had been living in Britain for two and a half years and was due to move to Brighton to open a restaurant with his partner.
The setting for the start of the march was appropriate, the Norfolk Hotel is home to 40 refugees and asylum seekers, some of whom have been living there for over two years. A brief glance inside shows it to be shabby and in need of a good lick of paint.
The majority on the march were asylum seekers and refugees, but there were also some local trade unionists and socialists.
Mohammed, also from Iran, has been in Britain for three years. He admits; ‘I am the lucky one’, because he has been given refugee status, but ‘we are not sure what will happen with the rest of our friends. We are waiting to hear from the government’. Asked why he came here, he was blunt; ‘I had no alternative’.
Mustafa Sano, from Sierra Leone, came to Britain because ‘my government wants to kill me’. He arrived at Heathrow on 4 January this year and was sent to Sunderland as part of the government’s dispersal programme. He said that Tayman Bahmani was ‘a fellow asylum seeker, he was my brother’.
FRFI 169 October / November 2002