A Green conversation about migration

Migration is likely to be a significant issue in the next general election. Chris Nash discusses the Green position and the need to remind the public that it is our ‘native British tolerance’ and openness that is being ‘invaded’ by alien ideas of social division.

Signs saying 'Refugees welcome' at a protest.
Signs saying 'Refugees welcome' at a protest.

Image: Ilias Bartolini (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Chris Nash

Is a post-racial world possible, one where the dream of Martin Luther King has finally come true, and people are ‘not judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character’ and migrants are judged not by where they’ve come from but where they are going to with their lives?

Do I sound hopelessly naive if I suggest that something like this world happens every weekend on football pitches all across Europe? Some in our society claim to hate globalisation but have no problem watching modern football teams which integrate players regardless of race, culture or creed. Some sections of society claim to hate migrants and immigration but have no problem with football money enabling players to live happily as economic migrants – selling their skills to the highest bidder, regardless of race, culture or creed.

There would be howls of anger to silence any journalist, commentator or even football fan who said otherwise. We are shocked when ‘our’ players are racially harassed on foreign tours. We are shocked when we see reminders of the racist chanting and intimidation of just a few decades ago.

Of course, we haven’t entered paradise. Every now and again ugly prejudices surface again. But the culture now sees, in MLK terms, the contents of these players’ skills, not the colour of their skin.

My point is that ideas of race and identity change as culture changes. In the past, the culture and conversations around football were subject to the same irrational poison of fear, envy, privilege and prejudice that made racism an acceptable part of other conversations.

And football is not the only area where the culture we all create and are part of, sees the skills the hands bring, rather than the colour of those hands. 20 per cent of NHS employees are of Black, Asian or Mixed ethnicity. We have long lost fears and anxiety about this. As the current strikes show, the British people love their nurses for the skills and care they offer, whoever they are.

Please don’t think I am arguing for colour blindness and cultural homogeneity. We Greens value and celebrate diversity. There are green shoots that we are moving towards a society where everyone can be their own diversity – African and Ghanaian and British and Brummie – free, equal and proud.

We know the history of this. Only a few decades ago Black and Asian Britons were subject to the same brutal fears and violent threats that migrants from Afghanistan, Syria, Iran and Sudan now face. These fears and hates are as much parts of culture as tolerance and respect. They are products of the conversations we have with ourselves. And every conversation can be changed.

Where does the conversation of paranoia and fear come from, telling us that we live under permanent threat? It is manufactured by those who stand to benefit from divided rather than unified societies. In the 90s, the elites in society benefited when the threat was externalised as the axis of evil countries that had to be invaded and ‘cleansed’ – Iraq and Afghanistan. But that failed. It failed so badly that these countries themselves became failed states vulnerable to political control by extremists. It failed so badly that millions of refugees fled these countries desperate to live normal lives. Then when the people who relied on these external threats realised that focusing the threat externally led to unacceptable costs, the current strategy began, moving the focus to less costly enemies within or at the border. Trump was the perfect ‘useful idiot’ to whip up rage and fear in America – his life and career having been built on lies and shameless behaviour towards everyone around him.

So here we are, trapped inside a discourse dominated by ‘culture wars’ which are designed to squeeze out just enough political control through rage and fear. And the problem is, once this virus is out, it infects across society. The centre and the left have been effectively gagged by this ideology of fear and threat. Biden’s policies on the border with Mexico are no more enlightened than Trump’s. Starmer avoids any headlines that suggest he actually opposes the attempts of the Brexit conservatives to rip up the international rule book on migrants and asylum seekers. To keep power, the right needs the discussion to be fact-free, to be emotive, to raise every possible spectre of a threatening ‘other’ arriving at our borders.

But national conversations can be changed, as we saw at the start of this article. And we Greens must use our voice to create a national conversation about migration that sweeps away the ‘swamping’ and ‘invasion’ racist images of the right and replaces them with the natural tolerance of our people, freed from the manufactured hate and rage of politicians and media that sell fear and envy. In fact, we need to be clear that it is our native British tolerance and island openness that is being ‘invaded’ and ‘swamped’ by alien ideas of socially divisive intolerance leaking into our country.

We also need to be clear about the impact of de-regulation in our society. Have you noticed that immigration is almost the only area where politicians of all mainstream parties howl for more regulation? Water companies evaderegulationsn to pollute our rivers. Internet service providers and social media platforms evade regulation to pollute our minds. Multinational corporations evade the regulations of taxation to take larger and larger shares of wealth in profit. Compared to this level of social and environmental harm, migrants pose almost no threat, so why does the full force of regulatory power have to be applied to them? What divisive narratives are the powers that be asking us to believe about their authority when this happens?

The reverse is also true. In a well-regulated society and economy, migration would be unproblematic. If the rules allocated the resources of society fairly according to natural justice, then there would be equal opportunities for settled and newly arrived populations. ‘Left behind’ communities are the victims of the unwillingness of the elite in society to apply regulations that would distribute resources fairly. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to manipulate this sense of grievance and inequality against newcomers, rather than against the elite who caused the inequality in the first place. Even easier when client media like the Daily Mail are ready to build walls through hostile and divisive headlines.

But these walls are frail. If a Green government committed to fairer regulation of society and re-distributed resources that are currently monopolised by the privileged of the south-east financial services, then we could remove the source of so much bitterness and anger. Who knows, we could even replace the hostile climate flowing like a poisonous miasma from both Tory and Labour rhetoric with the grassroots decency and tolerance of our island people. On migration, as with so much, it is the Green Party that resonates with the real instincts of the British people.

And only we Greens can be trusted to stand up for the sort of international justice and regulation expressed by organisations such as the United Nations Refugee Agency, that could truly change the migration story. As long ago as 1958, it was proposed that ‘developed countries’ such as ours should commit 1 per cent of GDP to international aid. In 1970 the figure of 0.7 per cent was agreed upon and reinforced by a 2004 agreement that all member states of the EU would reach this figure by 2015. The reality is that only the UK has met this target, since 2013, but in 2021 the Conservative government announced it will be reducing spending on international development to 0.5 per cent of GDP.

Let’s look at the opposite side of the account balance. A recent study found that America has to date spent 6.4 trillion dollars on post-9/11 wars in the Middle East and Asia. To put that in perspective, that’s 2 trillion dollars more than was spent on one fiscal year running America. Does it take a Green government to point out the cruel imbalance between what the West is spending on the wars that drive desperate refugees to flee for safety and the paltry sums given for the education, healthcare and economic development that grow safe and stable futures at home?

Since the 1990’s we have had decades of international politics of instability, led by both Labour and Conservative administrations paid for by us. The desperate and uprooted people landing on Dover beach in flimsy dinghies are quite literally the ‘chickens coming home to roost’ from such short-sighted, quasi-colonial actions. The current politics of nationalist isolationism and building barriers to migration is the consequence of such belligerence, but it is not the solution. The response to the invasion of Ukraine is showing the way to a new internationalism. If Putin had been allowed victory in Ukraine as he was in Crimea, an unprecedented migrant crisis would have followed. The world has worked together to try to restore stability to this region with the sure knowledge that this is the only way to prevent it from joining the war-devastated nations of Syria – 6.8 million refugees – and Afghanistan – 2.8 million refugees (UNHCR figures). We need a Green government to put these failed decades of global mismanagement behind us, to build on the reliable logic of protecting Ukraine and protecting and restoring the areas of the world that our wars have made uninhabitable.

We Greens are always guided by natural wisdom. We know every species will naturally leave environments that no longer support it, to seek new, safer habitats. Climate refugees, economic refugees, and social justice refugees – both animal, plant and human are driven by the same needs. But we Greens also know that with the right thinking and the right investment, environments can be re-wilded so that whoever and whatever once thrived there, can return.

On the doorsteps, as we approach the May local elections, only we Greens can grow back the confidence of our people in their natural decency. We can show how Green regulation for economic, social and environmental justice both at home and abroad is the only authentic solution to the real issues around migration. We Greens are rising to Martin Luther King’s challenge, to empower all the people of our island of migrants to be judged fairly by the content of their characters alone.