Sayeeda Warsi, given a peerage by David Cameron to enable her to join his front bench as spokesman on cohesion, has taken on the issue head on, volunteering her view that immigration has been “out of control” and that people feel “uneasy” about the pace of immigration into Britain. Her intervention has outraged black groups who say she is using the language of the BNP. It also threatens to derail Mr Cameron’s attempts to shake off the Conservatives’ “nasty-party” image, while exposing divisions between left and right.
“What this country has a problem with is not people of different kinds coming into this country and making a contribution, but the problem that nobody knows who is coming in, who is going out â€“ the fact that we don’t have a border police; we don’t have proper checks; we don’t have any idea how many people are here, who are unaccounted for,” she says. “It’s that lack of control and not knowing that makes people feel uneasy, not the fact that somebody of a different colour or a different religion or a different origin is coming into our country.” As her press officer squirms in his chair, she continues: “The control of immigration impacts upon a cohesive Britain.”
Warming to her theme, she declares that the decision to house large groups of migrants on estates in the north of England “overnight” has led to tension in local communities. Similar tensions have been found in the London in Barking and Dagenham, where the far right has been making political in-roads. “The pace of change unsettles communities,” she says.
Lady Warsi’s outspoken intervention is somewhat surprising as she is the daughter of immigrants herself [bold mine-DL]. Her father is a former Labour-supporting mill-worker from Pakistan who, after making a fortune in the bed and mattress trade, switched his allegiance to the Tories. The lawyer, 36, who is married with a nine-year-old daughter, devoted her early career to improving race relations, helping to launch Operation Black Vote in Yorkshire and sitting on various racial justice committees. So her analysis of race relations on the eve of the Tory conference cannot be dismissed as a right-wing rant [bold mine-DL].
In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, Lady Warsi claims that the conspiracy of silence on the subject of immigration plays into the hands of the far-right British National Party.
“The BNP will look at what issue it is locally that they can exploit and the other political parties are not seen to be dealing with and they will play to that,” she says. Far from ignoring the issue of immigration, she thinks it should be confronted head on. “I think we need to have the debate. One of the problems why the BNP has been allowed to grow is sometimes certainly the Labour Party took the view that if we ignore them they will just go away,” she says.
But while BNP supporters, including the English National Ballet dancer Simone Clarke, have been sharply criticised for backing a racist party, Lady Warsi says that BNP voters should be listened to. “The BNP and what they represent, they clearly have a race agenda; they clearly have a hate agenda. But there are a lot of people out there who are voting for the British National Party and it’s those people that we mustn’t just write off and say ‘well, we won’t bother because they are voting BNP or we won’t engage with them’,” she says.
Indeed, she says, people who back the extreme-right party, criticised for its racist and homophobic agenda, may even have a point. “They have some very legitimate views. People who say ‘we are concerned about crime and justice in our communities â€“ we are concerned about immigration in our communities’,” she said. ~The Independent
This has apparently annoyed many people in Britain (not least of which was probably David Cameron, who wanted his conference week to be blissfully free of anything remotely interesting). What could the shadow community cohesion minister be thinking, talking about, well, community cohesion like this? How could someone whose career has been in race relations make statements about, er, race relations? Obviously, it is considered unpardonable to suggest that immigration restriction or even modest reform is legitimate, which is why these remarks are even considered that noteworthy, and it is considered even worse when it is done by the daughter of immigrants, even though it cannot be dismissed as easily when she says it. Not just a “right-wing rant,” you see, because no daughter of immigrants could actually have come intellectually to see any reasonableness in “right-wing” views. (It is the fact that it cannot be dismissed out of hand, as would normally be done, that I think really vexes Baroness Warsi’s critics.) If all immigrantss started assimilating and respecting the opinions of their fellow citizens, where would it lead?