Birmingham Pre-election debate on Immigration co-hosted by The Guardian

On Tuesday 27 April 2015, POLSIS and the School of Government and Society hosted a debate in conjunction with The Guardiannewspaper on the subject of immigration organised by Dr Richard North. The debate, 'You talk, they listen: immigration', was aimed at students and other first time voters and addressed the subject of immigration. The event, which attracted over 200 students and staff, was chaired by Rick Edwards of Channel 4 and The Guardian. Speakers on the panel included Sonia Sodha (The Guardian), Professor Colin Thain (POLSIS), Professor Jenny Phillimore (Applied Social Studies) and Dr Chris Allen (Applied Social Studies).  A number of prospective parliamentary candidates standing for election in Birmingham also attended the debate.

The debate was opened by second year POLSIS student, D'arcy Ritchie, who criticized the record of successive governments on immigration and questioned the quality and truthfulness of public debate on the effects of immigration.  D'arcy ended her statement by asking the panel whether it was time for political parties to stop fueling public fears about immigration and to instead provide proper support for immigrants.

Each member of the panel agreed that Britain has a problem with the way it deals with immigration and that much of the rhetoric on the subject is misleading and functions to scapegoat immigrants and mask failures in social and welfare policy.  All members of the panel argued that rather than being a threat to social and economic prosperity that the evidence shows that immigration brings positive social, economic, educational and cultural benefits to Britain. This, it was pointed out time and again, is in complete contrast to the account of immigration given by the main political parties and much of the media and illustrates just how distorted the debate about immigration has become. The student audience was largely in agreement with the panel on these points, though there were one or two dissenting voices in the audience who suggested that the panel was under-estimating the challenges that immigration poses for the country.

guardian-event-immigration

One of the most interesting points that arose throughout the course of the evening was the extent to which Britain has a special responsibility to accept and support immigrants given its imperial past and its interventionist foreign policy over the last twenty years or so. Some members of panel suggested that this was indeed the case and that the question of immigration could not easily be separated from British foreign policy.  If there was one lesson that came of the debate is that the subject of immigration is immeasurably complex and to be understood properly has to be examined in the context of both foreign and domestic political policy in Britain.

The debate ended with each of the prospective parliamentary candidates being invited to respond to what had been said over the course of the evening and to give their views on the subject of immigration.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the parliamentary candidates from the main parties erred on the side of caution when expressing their views on immigration, though each did seem to suggest that the panel under-estimated some of the problems caused by high levels of immigration.  The UKIP candidate declined an invitation to attend the debate.

A full write up by The Guardian can be found on: www.theguardian.com.