Have you seen this van in Redbridge?

You work when there’s work to be had. You can’t afford a new outfit for your brother’s wedding – let alone a present. Let alone a stag do. You’re angry and two things make you even angrier. One is people on benefits who look like they shouldn’t be. Another is people who don’t come from this country who live 5 to a room, work for their uncles, price your employer out of the market and you out of a job.

The Conservative-led coalition government is pretty sure you’ll fall into line behind their latest initiative.

Exacerbating community relations, by van

Exacerbating community relations, by van

The initiative is led by Mark Harper, Minister of State for Immigration and Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean – he’s @mark_j_harper on Twitter. The Government says:

“Over the next week, two vans will be driven around Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge and will show residents how many illegal migrants have recently been arrested in their area. They will also show a text number that migrants can message to arrange their return.”

Sometimes I’m afraid of the Conservatives and this is one of those times. Why would migrants abandon everything that is familiar, make a long, arduous and often treacherous journey to the UK only to then live in frankly dreadful conditions and work without rights or proper pay? Because they have nothing to lose where they were before. Perhaps their lives were under threat back home. Perhaps there was no work and no social security. Perhaps there was a war, or a mafia.

Make no mistake, you would do the same. That’s not to say that you have to put up with the situation. Like everybody else I want a working NHS and working public services – and those things depend on maintaining the proportion of taxpayers to service users. But nevertheless, you would do the same – and you would deserve compassion and assistance. Not for your neighbours to start associating you with images of handcuffs.

The trouble for me is that these poor, desperate people, who have moved here to become poor, lonely, exploited, desperate people, are the last people who should be targeted by the government. They are being treated as culprits when in fact they are victims. In some ways they are being treated as vermin to be cleared away.

The first question is, who is profiting from these people? Who is selling – and buying – goods and services at a price so low that the people working to deliver them cannot be paid a decent wage? Who is transporting the migrants, who is employing them, who are their slum landlords? These are the ones who need to be brought into line with the law. And if they keep within the law and there is still a problem, then the next question to ask is, why do migrants feel it would be better to nearly destitute themselves in Britain rather than remain where they were born? And then you will discover stories which make your heart heavy, which bring out the generosity of spirit that this government has given up on. And you will realise why the International Development budget exists.

It may well be that these vans form only part of wider government initiatives to make it hard for undocumented migrants to set up home here. As it is, though, these vans are on the streets of Redbridge and other London boroughs and they are the only part of the action that most people will ever see or hear about. And the message these vans are sending out is potentially a very damaging one. They make it seem as if the people who are here without permission are culprits and criminals who need to be taken away in handcuffs. The mixed message of the handcuffs and the “Let us help you” will bring out the worst fears of most migrants, I’d imagine – because my hunch is that the picture will speak louder than the words. And for the rest of us, whose right to be here isn’t under question, what are we supposed to think? To me, this is somewhere further along the line to official incitement against migrants than this country has seen for a long time.

This government thinks it is appropriate to try to gain support by turning us against some of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us. I think the Conservatives are trying to make fools of us.

Preliminary thoughts about what to do next:

  • Ramfel (Refugee and Migrant Forum for East London – their Facebook page seems to be most recently updated) is concerned with community relations. If you spot the van, contact them so that they can take action to monitor the repercussions, and counter any misinformation about illegal immigrants. If you don’t use Facebook, then try info@ramfel.org.uk – there you can also offer help leafleting.
  • Write you your MP
  • Write to Mark Harper.
  • As usual keep your criticism sharp and grounded, don’t rant, don’t exaggerate, don’t insult our public servants, and don’t forget that there is a massive fight for the scraps at the bottom of this society which is ripe for exploitation. Just make the best arguments possible.

Updates

  • The Twitter hashtag (shared with a bunch of random stuff) is #GoHome
  • The leader of Brent Council has made short statement of protest.
  • More from him on the BBC.
  • And here’s a video of Minister Mark Harper misrepresenting undocumented migration as a kind of anti-social petty crime, cut with shots of that nasty van.
  • @The_UK_Migrant points or that this new policy is likely to amount to stop and search.
  • Why shouldn’t London be less like Operation Wetback and more like New York?
  • Even the Daily Mail – bastion of anti-immigration sentiment – thinks the Go Home vans are ridiculous.
  • PICUM – the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants – is a good resource.
  • Nigel Farage is crowing about the Go Home Vans, rightly assuming that this is the Conservative response to the UKIP threat. When he then proceeds to call the campaign ‘nasty’ he fails to grasp the irony of this recognition.
  • It’s Saturday night and via Barkingside21 on Twitter I know of two reported sightings. Just two, in Kilburn and Willesden Green. Not a very busy or comprehensive tour, then. Perhaps the Go Home Van is feeling a little outlandish? Good.
  • The campaign has united leaders from all parties on Redbridge Council. They have sent Teresa May a unanimous message. It goes: 1) not about us without us and 2) fuck off with your rabble rousing.
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Central Line commuters #1

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If I die prematurely it’s as likely to be on the Central Line as anywhere else. It may be heat, overcrowding, a bomb, a fight, or spleen.

Perhaps trying to get off the westbound platform at Holborn in the morning rush hour. The day before yesterday the queue backed up all the way into the train. Mostly we’re exposed to this risk by London Transport. But as I grimly held the doors apart, I noticed again the way people look at fruit ninja on their phones when they should be watching the person in front, and the way young fit women hobble themselves with footwear they should be ashamed to wear.

And norms are changing. Last week nobody would offer a pregnant woman with an eye patch a seat. Something like this happens most days. Young men and women of Asian background are most likely to give up their seats – I don’t think the EDL has noticed this yet. Maybe when they do they’ll disband. Earlier in the week I had to ask another man in a priority seat to give it to a woman with a crying baby in a sling. Once I gave somebody my seat and then moved the man in the priority seat and sat on it myself. It hadn’t even been busy when he got on. If you take that seat, you have to stay alert. Unless you’re the ill one – which he wasn’t. He was young, fit and healthy like all the worst gits.

There was a young plump man sleeping in the priority seat when I got on on Tuesday. He looked done in – it was sweltering but he had folded his arms inside his hoody. He turned this way and that trying to find a place to lean. Finally he gave up and lolled with his legs stretched out across the aisle. For half an hour he didn’t move. I think he was a rough sleeper. As I got out I brushed his bare leg with mine. He was alive.

And people are going deaf because of personal stereos, occupation, and the dangerous levels of noise on the Central Line. Yesterday three construction workers shouted to each other in Polish even after I moved them into adjacent seats. The day before that I had to tell the couple next to me to stop shouting. And it’s a rare week I don’t have to tell somebody that their headphones are too loud. The week before last I had a set to with a man who was playing his phone out loud and wouldn’t stop. He called me names. I called him lovely, a real charmer and laughed in his face. But mostly they stop because they know it’s wrong – but at the same time they don’t stop unless somebody makes a point of asking them. It’s hardly ever not me. Why is that?

Last night a man was playing fruit ninja so hard on his iPad that his entire body was jerking and knocking the man next to him. I think it’s very rude to fidget and flap in public space cf the women who cover the upholstery in face powder every morning. It makes it impossible to relax with your eyes open.

And the litter that gets dropped. This week a tub so large had been left on an airvent that the man in front of it couldn’t lean back. And you know what – even though it wasn’t his, he took it away with him. Imagine if everybody did that.

Earlier in the week I found myself between two selfish men squeezed from both sides. One of them was spreading his legs so I put my bag on his knee. The other was spilling out of his seat for no good reason, so I leaned on him as I read. He looked as if he felt the heat more than me. When life serves you lemons.

And this is how it is. It didn’t used to be this inconsiderate and disrespectful, I think. It’s our culture now, on the Central Line.

There’s so much more.

Crutch – and yet stiletto sandals. In the priority seat. Not a good look.

Central Line commuters #1

Nothing to hide.

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