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Don't let New Labour divide and rule

If you can’t beat them, you can always imitate them. That was the message yesterday from prime minister Gordon Brown when he returned to his “British Jobs for British workers” theme in a speech on immigration.

New Labour is clearly intending to oppose the neo-fascist British National Party by stealing some of their rhetoric and policies. That’s the only explanation for Brown’s “get tough” speech on immigration – his first on the subject since becoming prime minister – and home secretary Alan Johnson’s “admission” that the government has “got it wrong” on the issue.

Not that New Labour has been soft on asylum seekers, refugees and people wanting to work in Britain. Since 1997 there have been no fewer than seven major pieces of legislation that one way or another target immigrants, legal or otherwise.

Only last month the government implemented significant cuts to the amount of money it currently gives to asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their claim. Rates were set at 70% of income support. But from October 5, single destitute asylum seekers over 25, received even less, with rates falling from £42.16 to £35.13 per week. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work, so are restricted to the amount set by the government.

Yesterday Brown announced that more than 250,000 skilled engineering, care and catering jobs are to be closed to non-European overseas workers next year and that local vacancies should as far as possible go to local recruits. Foreign students will also find it tougher to get into Britain.

A draft immigration bill published after Brown’s speech included proposals to replace the deportation process with a general power to expel failed asylum seekers and illegal migrants. Families who have been told to leave but who are unable to be returned will have cash welfare payments replaced with a plastic pre-paid card while others will lose benefits altogether.

Refuge and Migrant Justice said that buried in the bill was provision to give ministers the power to overrule bail decisions made by judges in immigration and asylum cases.

Donna Covey, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council and Chair of the Asylum Support Partnership said:

We are appalled that the government has moved to cut support to asylum seekers, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Of course, these are hard times for everybody and no-one should receive preferential treatment, but we must remember that many of these people have experienced torture, persecution, war and human rights abuses and most live in already deeply impoverished circumstances.

Unlike bankers, asylum seekers and refugees have no clout and are easy targets for unscrupulous politicians who are queuing up to play the race card during the run-up to the general election. The money the state will save is miniscule compared to the vast sums spent on bail-outs. Cynically, New Labour is playing to the right-wing press and trying to win voters away from the BNP by showing it can “get tough” on the most vulnerable. This is nothing but scapegoating in search of votes.

Meanwhile, thousands of people continue to lose their jobs in the banking sector while BT is axing 15,000 from its payroll. The merger between British Airways and Iberia will undoubtedly lead to a jobs massacre. Millions have been forced into part-time working or taken pay cuts to avoid joining the dole queue. None of this is to do with immigration and everything to do with the global crisis of capitalism. The old trick of divide and rule is being used by New Labour to divert attention away from our common enemy – the bankers and corporations who between them have produced the greatest economic disaster in history.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
13 November 2009

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