Are we going to be allowed to stay here? How government anti-immigration communications are infiltrating everyday life of British citizens

By Hannah Jones

Studying in the UK Have your papers ready

The summer is often termed the ‘silly season’ for news stories, when a lack of serious political news means frivolity makes the headlines. This summer of course there are plenty of serious international crises being reported.  But there is still space in the news cycle for PR campaigns like yesterday’s visit by the Prime Minister and Home Secretary to watch an immigration raid in action.

It’s also a time when many people are passing through airports on holiday, including some of the researchers on our project. This has given us glimpses of more of the increasing signs of government communications of a ‘tough on migration’ approach when entering the country.

The sign pictured above, which was seen before passport control at arrivals in Gatwick airport, is ostensibly an informative sign for people entering the country to study. But it also makes it clear to anyone else pausing to read it that restrictions and checks on international students are more comprehensive than ever. Never mind the ‘welcome’, where are your papers?

The second sign (below) assumes that people reading it will be concerned about long waits to get through passport control, but more concerned about people entering the UK without proper paperwork, and so willing to wait longer if it helps to tackle that problem. As Will said when he spotted the sign, this seems rather like inefficiency being presented as sovereignty. But it plays on the assumption that by and large people will want to ensure thorough checks on anyone entering Britain.

Tougher checks can take longer

It’s not just at the physical border of passport control that we are seeing border controls being enforced and actively advertised to those who are not immigrants, but assumed to be concerned about immigration. For example, this third sign (below) is a semiotics student’s dream.

NHS hospital treatment is not free for everyone

Ostensibly it tells people who may not be entitled to free hospital treatment to ask for more details at reception. But it is also clearly addressed at the wider public – assuring them that the (white, male, authoritative) doctor at the front of the image is protecting NHS resources from people who are ‘not living here on a lawful or settled basis’, so that the blond woman can receive her healthcare (represented by the smiling – and white and female – nurses) in the background. Not only does the imagery allow us to speculate on the image of the nation, and of who provides and who deserves healthcare, but the presence of this sign raises material questions about the expectations the government has – and assumes the population to share – about the role of health and social care providers. Does the clipboard that doctor is holding contain paperwork to check immigration status, or a patient’s health? Are NHS hospitals expected to be checkpoints concerned with citizenship papers, or places people go to for help and care?

So these are some of the signs we have seen creeping into everyday spaces to signal how tough the government is on migration this summer. But more overtly demonstrating the ‘tough on migration’ message, yesterday one of the main news stories in the UK was the Prime Minister’s announcement of plans to limit further the social security benefits available to citizens of other European countries who are living in the UK. This was launched with a series of photographs of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary accompanying Home Office Immigration Enforcement Officers on an immigration raid on a house in Slough. The Prime Minister’s office stated that the politicians had not been present during the raid, but had visited the house afterwards to have their pictures taken in the rooms formerly inhabited by people who were now in an ‘immigration detention facility pending their removal from the UK’ as they chatted and laughed with the officials who had conducted the raid. The Prime Minister then made a statement on video outside the same house, where he said

‘what we’re doing today is a whole series of changes that says to people if you come here illegally we will make it harder for you to have a home, to get a car, to have a job, to get a bank account, and when we find you, and we will find you, we’ll make sure you’re sent back to the country you came from … It’s really right that the British people know that we have a fair immigration system that says to people: if you’re here illegally, you should go home’.

The Prime Minister made this statement about people in the UK ‘illegally’, and he was present at a raid that was conducted on the home of people who were arrested on suspicion of this. He also mentioned further measures being taken against ‘bogus student colleges’. In fact, measures in the Immigration Act 2014 that come into force in November will apply to all universities and colleges that teach international students. All these educational establishments will be at risk of losing their ‘highly trusted sponsor status’ (which means they may not be allowed to offer the full range of courses to international students) if they do not implement immigration checks with a greater level of accuracy than is currently allowed. This means that not just ‘bogus colleges’, but all public universities and more are employing people to check immigration status rather than academic qualifications before admitting students. It also means that international students are under an intense level of monitoring, and publicity about this monitoring is seen as something that will be popular with the general public.

The photo opportunity and the ethics of attending it have been questioned (though note this is not a publicity tactic invented by the current government). But this fanfare about ‘tough measures’ by the government yesterday was also another indication of how these communication campaigns confuse the discussion of immigration. The raid which the Prime Minister attended was on the home of people suspected of being in the UK ‘illegally’ to work. However the two main points promoted in the Home Office’s own press release were firstly, the ‘tougher rules’ for universities and colleges (which are to do with preventing students from entering the UK rather than removing workers with incorrect paperwork) and secondly plans to reduce the period over which EU migrants can claim benefits to three months.

The second point – about EEA (European Economic Area) citizens’ entitlement to benefits – is only at this point a ‘plan’ (though ‘plans’ to reduce this entitlement already to 6 months, and to institute a qualifying period before which new arrivals are entitled to claim benefits already came into force this year). However, the key issue is that this is what made the headlines from the government announcement. The press releases issued by the Home Office thus directly confused the EEA migrants – who are entitled to live in the UK – with people who would be subject to raids, arrests and deportation.

This type of communication can only contribute to the anxiety described by one of our interviewees, an advice worker and activist in Bradford, where he has been asked by second- and third-generation British Asians – i.e. people who are British, born and bred, and whose parents are too – “Are we going to be allowed to stay here?”

Operation Centurion: The communication of fear and resistance

By Hannah Jones

Operation Centurion was the name given by the Home Office to a two-week programme of immigration raids that ran at the beginning of June 2014, with immigration enforcement officers working alongside other regulation and enforcement agencies (e.g. police, food safety, trading standards officers). Such raids are not unusual, but this operation was notable for three reasons. Firstly, that the plans for the raids were leaked to pro-migrant activists and journalists, including Anti-Raids Network and the Socialist Worker; secondly, that this revealed language which suggested planned raids were not ‘intelligence-led’, but opportunistic and aimed at workplaces to target people of specific nationalities; and thirdly, that the large scale and timing of the raids – just  after the European Parliament elections in which migration controversy had loomed large – suggested to those reading the plans that the operation was intended to show that the Home Office was being ‘tough on immigration’, rather than having been planned as part of routine enforcement work.

Operation Centurion went ahead despite the leaks, but without the fanfare of last summer’s #immigrationoffender tweets from the Home Office Twitter account, or indeed much press coverage at all of the raids and arrests. If you saw any news coverage of Operation Centurion at all, it was likely either the Socialist Worker, Channel 4 or the Daily Mail stories.  Despite their different angles, political perspectives and news values, all of their stories focused not on Operation Centurion per se, but on the leak of its planning documents to activists, and the consequent disruption and campaigning in areas and workplaces which the Home Office was expected to target.

But another way of following the story would have been on Twitter. There were several tweets from RAMFEL, the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London, a partner on our research project and the charity whose users challenged the Go Home Van operation in court. During Operation Centurion, people from RAMFEL and from Anti-Raids Network tailed Immigration Enforcement Officers around London and tweeted about what they saw. Similar publicity and organisation through social media came from London Black Revs, the Unity Centre in Glasgow and others. Organisations and individuals concerned about the actions were encouraged to make contact through Twitter and did so, both sharing sightings of Operation Centurion raids, and organising actions such as arranging to hand out leaflets to people who might be raided about their legal rights. Some of these on-the-ground activities were then covered by Vice magazine, perhaps prompted by twitter contact.

So what is the story behind the story here? Operation Centurion appeared, for the reasons outlined above, to be part of a broader move towards the performance of ‘strong borders’ – that is, a set of actions to demonstrate to voters that the government is being tough on migration, where the number of actual arrests is less important than being seen to be doing something. Keith Vaz, Labour Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, hinted that this might be common practice by the Home Office when he criticised the operation, stating: “judging by what I’ve heard from this document it seems very clear that this is not based on intelligence, but they refer to particular nationalities and particular industries that they are involved in“. The Go Home van and @ukhomeoffice tweets of arrests in 2013 also seem to be examples of this kind of performance, but it seems the emphasis on demonstrating ‘toughness’ of immigration enforcement stretches back at least to under John Reid’s time as Labour Home Secretary, when he brought in a re-branding of the UK Borders and accompanied enforcement officers on dawn raids himself.

The reasons for and wider effects of such an approach are bigger questions for our research and subjects for further posts. But in the case of Operation Centurion, what is notable for now is that  there was very little publicity about it demonstrating ‘toughness’ coming out of the Home Office. The main news story became that the operation had been disrupted by the planning document having been leaked to pro-migrant activists. For the Daily Mail, it became a story about too much bureaucracy when they suggested the Health and Safety Executive was the source of the leak. For our research, this allows us to explore further how traditional and social media are being used both to effect physical actions (immigration raids and their disruption), and to manage debate about migration. The physical actions have real effects, but so does their symbolism, as people hearing about them feel either threatened or protected (whether they are afraid of indiscriminate immigration raids, or of unchecked immigration). As we analyse the online debates in more depth, and link this to our interviews and focus groups with people directly affected by such initiatives, we are beginning to paint a picture of some of the localised effects of the politics of fear and how the power of communication intersects with the material realities of everyday lives. Over the summer we will be commissioning a national survey and hope that the questions we will ask will shed light on whether people feel that the spectacle of programmes like Operation Centurion make people feel reassured – or more fearful.



Can activism be funny?

By Hannah Jones and Kirsten Forkert

Do jokes and parodies change anything?

Is protest-by-Photoshop just ‘clicktivism’ or does it connect with real change?

Parody of Home Office van

A parody of the Home Office van found on

As part of ‘“Go Home”: Mapping the unfolding controversy of Home Office immigration campaigns’, we have been examining some of the online and social media elements of the Home Office’s publicity on migration, and the responses to them. We’re interested in how the government used Twitter to draw attention to their campaign and how responses to it – both political and playful – bloomed online, and particularly in how these online interactions are connected to in-person activities by both the Home Office and protesters.

Something that has really struck us is how much satirical play there has been, particularly with the image of the Government’s ‘Go Home van’. Reworkings ranged from the satirical to the silly to the straightforwardly political. In fact the human rights group Liberty’s response was a van-mounted bill-board displayed in ‘real life’ (like the original van) as well as being pictured online. Although both the original ‘Go Home’ van and the Liberty response only physically drove around a limited route for a few hours, their images circulating through digital networks have had a much longer life and wider resonances.

Liberty response to Home Office van

Liberty’s response to Home Office van

Indeed, the speed with which the van became a meme can make the Home Office’s intervention seem ridiculous and laughable in itself – unless you are alive to the very real personal and political consequences of having an echo of a National Front taunt driven around your neighbourhood on a government-sponsored van while raids and arrests are tweeted out with the slogan ‘no hiding place’.

Some responses highlighted the absurdity of the Government campaign by taking it at its word. On Twitter, Pukkah Punjabi wrote about how she had called the Freephone number advertised and asked for the advertised help to go home – to her home in Willesden Green, North London. Hundreds of people followed suit, and the Home Office’s own evaluation of the van initiative (Operation Vaken) found that 1034 (66%) of the texts and 13 (14%) of the calls received in response to the van were classified as ‘hoax’; added to this, 123 (8%) of the texts and 21 (23%) of the calls they received were complaints.


So some civil servants’ time was wasted – but the Home Office still judged the initiative a success as 18 people received assisted voluntarily deportation apparently as a result of the van (or seeing it indirectly through media coverage), and 42 people as the result of other Operation Vaken communications. And the message of Government hostility to ‘illegal immigrants’ was clearly received. What difference, then, does a campaign of satirical tweets and humorous disobedience make, particularly beyond those who already ‘get it’? Is it activism, or ‘just a joke’?

Another eye-catching response to the Home Office initiatives of high-profile immigration raids was the action by Southall Black Sisters where a group of women intercepted and disrupted an immigration raid near their office, filming the results and putting the video online to inform and inspire others. This was street action interacting with social media, but it wasn’t *funny*. Anger, resistance and solidarity are in the video, but not a lot of laughs.

The SBS action did the rounds on social media but did it have the reach that jokier protests have? Do activists need both jokes or stunts and social movement building, humour and collective outrage? Is this something new to ‘social media times’ or simply a different format for the political cartoons, satirists and stand-up comedians of previous centuries?

We’re now looking in detail not just at Twitter responses but at a selection of news coverage of Home Office communications on migration, and the ‘below the line’ comments accompanying these stories. A notable case is the number of raids on suspected ‘sham marriages’ which immigration officers conduct at wedding venues, in the company of local journalists. Coverage of these raids are appearing from Blackburn to Maidstone, but one that really attracted our attention was a case in Camden last year where despite raiding the wedding, officers concluded the relationship in question was not ‘a sham’. The Camden New Journal reporter wrote it up nonetheless, noting how she had been invited along by the immigration enforcement officers; how they raided the ceremony dressed in flak jackets, dragging the couple apart to be questioned separately; how one reason the officers had been convinced of the genuine nature of the relationship was because the pair were ‘extremely good-looking’. This incident, like the van, easily lent itself to parody and many (though not all) of the online comments from readers of the coverage were sympathetic to the couple, and either joking or outraged (or both) about the incompetence or insensitivity of the immigration officials. But is it possible to joke in the same way about any of the other stories gleaned by local reporters accompanying Home Office staff on raids that lead to arrest and deportation? What does it mean that it was the Camden story – with a happy ending – that provoked mirth?

Parody, satire and jokes, including photoshopped memes mirroring the Go Home examples, have been reappearing in the run-up to the European Elections, especially aimed at UKIP. As they do the rounds on social media, do they act to convince people to change their mind about the issues and which way they will vote, or do they act more to reinforce bonds between people who already agree with one another, a phenomenon that Eli Pariser has termed the “filter bubble”? Thinking about the parodies of Government communications, do they convince anyone to look at the world differently, or again are they about solidifying bonds between people who already share political viewpoints? Do they work to confirm stereotypes that critics of government immigration policies are a sophisticated, media-savvy, but out-of-touch metropolitan elite? Do these jokes encourage further social activism, or are they a release valve that defuses anger?

George Orwell said every joke is a tiny revolution. Do you think jokes are revolutionary?

Part of our research involves taking part in social media debates and we would love to hear what you think about the questions raised in this blog. Please join us to debate on Twitter – we will be active on @MICresearch all day on Tuesday 27th May 2014 and we would love to hear your views about the role of humour in social protest #joketivism

MP expenses van spoof

A spoof of the Home Office van from campaign group BritCits

Falafel, flat bread and fingerprinting: The spectacle of immigration raids and protest

By Yasmin Gunaratnam

no hiding place

Tuesday 29th April. It’s around 2pm in swanky SW1. In a Middle Eastern restaurant the air is thick with spices, convivial chatter and the clinking of plates and cutlery. Two gleaming white vans park in a nearby lane. Ten men and women of varied ethnicities and age make their way to the restaurant, equipped with a strange assortment of mundane and exotic paraphernalia. Smart phones. Clipboards. Black biros. Walkie-talkies. Mobile fingerprint scanners.

Over their short-sleeved navy-blue shirts they are wearing padded bulletproof vests.

This is an immigration raid.

Some customers leave the restaurant. The Immigration Enforcement officers go about their business. “When did you get your British passport?” a young woman officer with a vibrant pink wristwatch asks a restaurant worker, as two of her colleagues gather around her, encircling a small table.

All the paperwork seems to be in order this time. No one from the restaurant is detained.

This is my first close-up view of an immigration raid. It’s a surreal experience, simultaneously menacing and business like.

I was nowhere near the restaurant on Tuesday but I was able to see and hear some of what happened because allies of the Anti-Raids Network intervened in the raid and posted a short film of the events on YouTube. As well as informing the restaurant staff about their right not to answer questions or to show their passports, the vocal protesters followed the Immigration Enforcement officers back to their vans, chanting ‘Racist scum off our streets’. They continued filming while one of the officers filmed them on his mobile phone, walking backwards at times and panning the camera from side- to-side to ensure full coverage of the protestors.

The Anti-Raids Network is one of an increasing number of pro-immigrant activist groups that have developed in Europe and across the globe over the past ten years. The Network is a coalition of London based groups. According to its website, the Network

‘…believes in free movement, and does not differentiate according to nationality, race, or immigration status. We therefore aim to make people aware of their rights in the context of an immigration check, and to support those who are being questioned, raided or arrested by the authorities purely because of the colour of their skin.’

The methods and tactics used by the Network and similar protest groups are varied. Its activities include workshops and ‘bust cards’ that inform people of their rights during an immigration raid. Their use of photographs, film and social media is something more recent, mimicking and subverting the strategies used by UK immigration enforcement that last year included tweeting images of those detained as part of last year’s high profile publicity campaign. One image tweeted from the UK Home Office was of a man being led into the back of a van where another detainee was already seated. The photograph was accompanied by the message “There will be no hiding place for illegal immigrants with the new #ImmigrationBill


In a recent editorial, for a special issue of the journal Citizenship Studies on immigrant protest, Imogen Tyler and Katarzyna Marciniak suggest that:

New media, such as the Internet, 3G mobile video phones, weblogs, social media, and instant messaging, have inordinately strengthened migrant politics. These technologies are employed to co-ordinate the swarming of bodies on the streets, to capture and upload videos of protests and police violence, and to generate publicity for struggles. The advent of these digital communication systems means that protests staged in one physical place are now transmitted across borders so that even smaller scale protests, such as riots, fires, and hunger strikes by immigration detainees, and individual anti-deportation campaigns have the potential to resonate internationally.’ (p.143-44)

The audio-visual recording and archiving of immigration raids by protesters in the UK marks a new visual economy and aesthetics of global immigration politics that is producing rather than simply preserving history. For years immigration raids have been brought into the public eye through stories based upon competing and fallible memories. Many have been forgotten or lie hidden in the folds of bureaucratic files or feelings of shame. These newer practices may hold greater potential for eliciting transnational connections and coverage but they are by no means free of their own challenging questions and paradoxes. Does the reassurance of a virtual online archive help us to forget rather than remember? Or more prosaically, what is the layered geo-social politics and potential that inheres in the calling of immigration officers of colour ‘racist scum’?

There is another important facet of the interventions that these online activist archives make that is more challenging to name and to research. This stems from the ways in which audio-visual media create and evoke something of the sensory drama of the reconfiguring of our ordinary spaces during immigration raids. They gesture towards what the anthropologist Kathleen Stewart sees as the emotional ephemera of ‘atmospheres’ that can open up new ‘small worlds’ (p.511).

Later the restaurant returns to some appearance of normality. The kitchen will resume its temporal rhythms. Customers will dither over which delicacies to choose from the menu. Friends and families will exchange intimacies. Few, if any, will have a sense of what happened earlier. For those of us who witnessed the raid and who might see similar events caught on camera in the future, I wonder how the experience of eating out might change. If only fleetingly.

“Swamped” by anti-immigrant communications? – new article in Discover Society

This piece was published in Discover Society, Issue 8 on 6th May 2014. By Hannah JonesGargi Bhattacharyya, Kirsten Forkert, Will Davies, Sukhwant Dhaliwal, Yasmin Gunaratnam, Emma Jackson and Roiyah Saltus.

In July 2013, the UK Home Office launched an advertising campaign with the slogan ‘In the UK illegally? Go Home or face arrest,’ mounted on a billboard and driven around ethnically and nationally diverse areas of London. A few weeks later, the @ukhomeoffice Twitter account began to publish tweets about arrests at locations around London, with the hashtag #immigrationoffenders  and with some photographs of arrests, drawing attention to increasingly visible stop-and-check operations by immigration officers at tube stations and elsewhere in the capital. Later in August, further posters were displayed inside immigration reporting centres in Glasgow and Hounslow, where asylum seekers were faced with images of aeroplanes with the slogan ‘This plane can take you home. We can book the tickets’.

What are the effects of this kind of intervention? Home Office ministers insisted that the van campaign had been a pilot project, and that, in terms of their evaluation, it had been a success since it cost only £9,740 and appeared to have directly or indirectly encouraged 60 people to leave the country through voluntary repatriatio]. But what of the other costs, less easily accounted for financially?

Reactions to these interventions were notable, producing national newspaper headlines, local street protests, and a wave of online outrage, debate, and satire. After legal action by clients of Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London (RAMFEL), the Home Office conceded that it had not met its duties under the Equality Act 2010 in planning the advertising vans, and undertook to consult more broadly with those who may be affected before any similar activities in future. The Advertising Standards Authority received 224 complaintsabout the advertising van, and upheld the complaints that the number of arrests stated was misleading, though they disregarded complaints that the van was distressing and harmful.

It is worth noting that each of the examples given above are of government communications on migration; that is, not party political electioneering, but paid for through public taxation and carried out through the auspices of public employees. What this set of actions and more  seem to indicate is a shift towards an overtly hostile communications campaign by publicly funded institutions, which, in the words of the Commons Home Affairs Committee commenting on the failure to provide research on migration flows from Bulgaria and Romania, increased anti-immigrant prejudice.

But just as there appears to be a hardening of government tone on migration, and an engagement with new tools of communication to get this across through social media and viral advertising, the activists mobilising in opposition to these messages are also engaging in ways that bring together old and new forms of organising and protest that counter official narratives and policy.

Southall Black Sisters, for example, an organisation with a long and proud history of anti-racist and feminist organising, conducted a street protest at a series of Immigration Enforcement actions in Southall. They filmed the altercation on mobile phones and posted the footage on YouTube, from where it circulated on social media alerting others to the Home Office actions and to the possibilities of protest.

Others took the ‘Go Home’ posters at their word, and called the helpline number with requests for help getting back to neighbourhoods in London, pointing to the absurdity as well as the threat of the message. This form of protest grew through Twitter, reaching hundreds of thousands of people by engaging humour as well as anger. A different form of public engagement to the physical street interventions of Southall Black Sisters, this nonetheless was something to which the Home Office was forced to pay at least some attention – noting in their evaluation of ‘Operation Vaken’ (the van advertising) that 1034 of the calls to the helpline number – 66% of the total calls – were classified as ‘hoax’. A further 123 calls were ‘complaint’ and 161 ‘curiousity’ (rather than ‘genuine’). This means that at least 74%, and perhaps as many of 84%, of the calls to the helpline were, in effect, in protest.

Real-time social research

Alarmed by the events in summer 2013 and wary that expressing outrage in publications and on social media might do little other than amplify the ‘Go Home’ message, a group of academics and activists came together primarily through interactions on Twitter, and decided to put our social research skills to some use in the debate. We organised ourselves quickly, informally – and, looking back on it, rather impressively! – to conduct a series of street surveys that would gather the views of people living in the areas affected by the Go Home van and high profile spot checks, on those interventions and the immigration debate more broadly.

This was a direct challenge to a series of YouGov surveys commissioned by The Sun and which purported to find that there was broad support for these interventions, but which interviewed people from across the whole of the UK who may not have seen, heard of, or been affected by the interventions. The YouGov surveys framed their questions around Yes/No answers, or asking respondents to either agree or disagree with a statement about the campaign. Our hypothesis was that responses to this type of government advertising, and to wider issues of immigration and immigration control, might be more nuanced than a yes/no answer, and so within a few days we organised volunteers in London, Birmingham and Leeds to go out on the street with a questionnaire and gather public views.

What we found, from an admittedly small sample of 200, was that 74% of our respondents said the ‘Go home’ phrase was not acceptable, and 63% did not agree with the van campaign. 79% believed that it was wrong to carry out immigration checks on the basis of skin colour, while 75% thought the spot checks had an impact on community relations.

By giving respondents the chance to go beyond simple Yes/No answers and record more complex comments if they wished, we found something quite striking. For example, in response to the question ‘Do you think immigration should be reduced?’, respondents tended to say ‘yes’ more often than ‘no’ (28% said no; 30% were undecided; and 42% said yes). However, a large proportion of the people who said ‘yes’ went on to qualify that answer with additional comments indicating either that they thought immigration should be controlled, but that current policies were too harsh; or that they held more nuanced views about particular groups of migrants (refugees vs workers, or skilled vs unskilled migrants, for example). Breaking the ‘yes’ answers down further then, in our sample we had:

  • a ‘strongly yes’ group with comments like ‘yes, they take our jobs, NHS, housing, benefits’ (5% of the total sample);
  • a ‘simple yes’ group either without any additional comment, or comments like ‘there needs to be controls’ (23% of the total sample); and
  • a ‘yes, but’ group with comments like ‘yes, but not when reasons are genuine’ or ‘Once they are here, not send them back because this breaks families. They should not be allowed to come in the first place but once they are here should be allowed to stay’ (14% of the total sample).

Taking this into account makes it clear that views about immigration go beyond what can be captured by a choice between Yes and No; one interpretation of the results would be that 28% expressed themselves as definitely wanting to reduce immigration, 28% as definitely not wanting to reduce it, while 44% (‘undecided’ and ‘yes, but’) expressed more complex and nuanced views.

That quick turnaround was unlike the slow pace of much academic research, and while it was inspiring and exciting to work in that way it didn’t seem like it could be sustained long-term alongside all the other pressures on community organisations and academic workers. However, that flash research happened at the same time as a call for the Economic and Social Research Council’s pilot scheme for ‘urgent’ research. Alongside the survey work, a few of us were able to put together a detailed bid for a project to investigate these unfolding. We were successful and the resulting research project is now up and running.

Unlike much other research, the grant enables us to follow Home Office initiatives around immigration control (and in anticipation of the General Election) as they emerge. Most social research of this kind is limited necessarily to the analysis of events in the past. We have the luxury of following these events as they unfold before us – allowing a much fuller collection of contemporary commentary and a consideration of how public opinion and government campaigns interact, as each stage of our research informs the next, including engaging publics in an ongoing way, both face-to-face and online.

We understand that the formulation of policy around immigration may be experienced as a distant and unchangeable event for many migrants – and part of this project also seeks to register and map the odd gaps and connections between the world of policy-formation and the worlds where the impacts of policy are lived – but we also want to document the extensive manner in which those subject to the vagaries of immigration policy are political agents in their own right, participating and commenting or withdrawing and expressing cynicism in ways that echo the engagement of other political actors.

Public debates about migration continue – as do Home Office interventions. We will be attempting to map, analyse and engage in these debates as the project progresses. Watch this space.

Acknowledgements: The broader coalition of activists and academics who conducted the original street survey in the guise of AARX (Action Against Racism and Xenophobia) included Paolo Cardullo, Rita Chadha, Dieuwertje Dyi Huijg, Terese Jonsson, Elly Kilroy, Hannah Lewis, Jon Owen, Naaz Rashid, Ala Sirriyeh, Anne Marie Stewart, Walthamstow Migrants’ Action Group, and others, as well as the authors of this article.


Migration, Representation and the European Elections

By Yasmin Gunaratnam

The weary face of a construction worker begging for spare change stares out of a UK Independence Party poster. The builder’s green luminous waistcoat is the only bright colour in the image. The wall and pavement that frame him are dismally muted and grey. The caption floating to the left of the dejected figure asks ‘EU Policy at Work? British workers are hit hard by unlimited cheap labour’.

The light at the end of this depressing scene comes from the right of the image. The yellow script, against a purple background in shouty capitals reads ‘TAKE BACK CONTROL OF OUR COUNTRY – VOTE UKIP 22ND MAY’.

UKIP’s poster campaign was launched at the beginning of last week and will include advertisements in digital media, to be run over the next month. Other posters in the £1.5 million campaign, funded by the multi-millionaire Paul Sykes, use different variations on the theme of the threat posed to British workers and governance by the EU and European migrants. In another poster, a close-up image of a hand with a finger pointing at the viewer states ’26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose jobs are they after?’

The poster campaign has been criticized by politicians, church leaders and activist groups. Writing in the New Statesman, the Labour MP Mike Gapes had no doubts that the posters were racist and xenophobic ‘designed to win votes by whipping up animosity against foreigners living and working and contributing to this country’. The Conservative MP, Nicholas Soames, tweeted ‘At a time when our country really needs to come together, the UKIP advertising campaign is deeply divisive, offensive and ignorant.’

UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage, has defended the posters, denying that they are racist. For Farage the posters are a ‘hard-hitting reflection of reality as it is experienced by millions of British people struggling to earn a living outside the Westminster bubble.’ As the week wore on, UKIP and its campaign were bedevilled by a series of controversies. A woman in one of its campaigns, posing as an ordinary voter turned out to be the Party’s events manager. At the weekend it was revealed that the construction worker in the poster was an Irish migrant.

If we step away from party politics, UKIP’s campaign raises important questions about the changing nature of forms of political representation and communication and what the sociologist Stuart Hall called ‘the politics of representation’; that is how meanings are actively produced and negotiated. For example, in the construction worker poster, the politics of representation would be concerned with how the image of the worker – his skin colour as much as his clothes and the impoverishment connoted by his begging cup – play upon ideas about the threat posed by cultural and racial others, not only to the British worker but to the nation.

What is especially interesting at the this time is how the meanings of one medium of representation can be intensified, challenged and reinterpreted by other mediums, so that meaning becomes distributed, twisting and turning across different channels of communication and audiences.

‘Power is shifting from hierarchies to citizens and networks of citizens. Social media tends to punish moderation and compromise. [It] tends to reward voices at the extreme.’ This was the message delivered to the European Parliament earlier this month by Alec Ross, a social media expert, who warned that mobile connectivity is making it harder for governments to regulate and censor citizens.

Certainly social media are playing an increasing role in British culture and politics. It was via Twitter that some of the shifting nuances of the ‘politics of representation’ played out with regard to UKIP’s poster campaign. Mike Gapes reported receiving several abusive responses to his tweet ‘Hope Ukip racist posters encourage all decent British Commonwealth and EU citizens to ensure on register by May 6 and vote on May 22.’ What struck Gapes was that most of the abuse that he received was not about EU migrants, but related to ethnic minorities and Muslims in particular. For Gapes, the way that the responses extended beyond the original focus of the posters on EU migrants to include other racialised groups showed something of how the design of the campaign was able to indirectly stoke wider prejudices about ethnic minorities and anti-Muslim sentiment. In other words, direct expressions of racism took place at a distance from the original scene of representations.

As governments, political parties, interest and community groups make more use of different media to communicate and discuss their concerns, the questions that we need to ask about how meaning is produced and circulates, become more complex and interesting. In this case, some of the most obvious forms of racism were ignited by responses to the posters and in response to those who critiqued them. The question that animated much of the debate last week was whether the UKIP’s poster campaign was racist. A more searching question to ask about such anti-immigration campaigns is perhaps not simply ‘Are they racist’ but ‘When are they racist?’











The birth of new street protesters: observations from the Stand up to Racism and Fascism demonstration in Cardiff (22 March 2014), part 2

In her last post, Roiyah ended her participant observation at a demonstration on UN Anti-Racism Day 2014 by asking ‘What drives activism? And in terms of immigration, is Wales so very different from other parts of the UK?’ Here, she continues to explore these questions.

Yes: in terms of immigration figures, it is evident that international migration to Wales is considerably lower than the UK average (Plaid Cymru, 2014). The demographic changes linked to international migration and to the rise of non-UK nationalities are less pronounced in Wales than in Scotland; the difference is even greater when comparing Wales with England. However, I do not think that this makes the issues any less vexed. Why should a slow rate of demographic change make it any easier to address the rising levels of anti-immigration sentiment? Should it weaken anti-immigration sentiment? The fact that this is not the case is borne out in part in the findings of a recent study, ‘Public Sentiments Towards Immigrants and Minorities: The Difference Wales Makes?’ (Welsh Government, 2012). The study captured data from the European Social Survey and the Citizenship Survey to explore sentiments towards immigrants and minorities in Wales, and how these sentiments relate to national identifications and bilingualism, as well as how sentiments in Wales compare to those in other nations and regions of the UK.

The study found that in many cases, though not always, people in the North and Midlands of England showed less favourable attitudes to immigrants than those in Scotland, London and the South East; the data on Wales revealed a pattern similar to that in the North and Midlands of England. The study also found that when Scotland and Wales (as devolved nations) are compared, the pattern is characterised more by difference than by similarity. Also evident (when comparing the 2008 and 2010 waves of the Citizenship Survey) was an overall increasing tendency for less positive views towards immigrants. However, the regional differences between Wales and other regions were less – or at least less clear – in 2010 than in 2008.

Another study conducted a year earlier to explore public opinion on immigration in Scotland in the context of the Referendum debates (Migration Observatory, 2011) reported results from a survey of 1,000 British adults. This also found that opposition to immigration was lowest in London and Scotland, with more negative attitudes towards different types of immigrants (asylum seekers, extended family, low-skilled workers, students and immediate family) in the North, South, Midlands and Wales than in either Scotland or London.

Rising migration has combined with heightened public debates around the impacts to make immigration and asylum among the most important political issues in the UK. Of equal importance is the national context in which such debates take place and policy is implemented. In terms of how racist, anti-immigrant or xenophobic attitudes interact with nationalism, this is likely to be different in Wales (and no doubt Scotland) than in England. In Wales, the discourse of tolerance towards others claimed through the experience of national oppression (by England) and through the framing of England as the ‘significant other’ (Williams and DeLima, 2006) has shaped political discourse. It is within this pervasive national narrative – which was clearly evident from the speeches made at the demonstration – that race and racism, immigration, and notions of belonging and inclusivity are most often articulated. However, therein lies the rub. Such sentiments need to be reined in, because the sentiment of tolerance in terms of minority ethnic groups can be seen to underpin the ‘hyper (in)visibility’ of minoritised groups: the awareness and acceptance in Wales of the long-established presence of diverse ethnic groups that exists alongside a lack of attention to the impact of such diversity on Welsh society works to render invisible those marked by racialisation. How will this play out within the context of immigration? How does this narrative sit with the findings from surveys on the individual attitudes of people in Wales? Indeed how does it sit with a much longer history of incidents of violence and evidence of conflicts and intolerance in Wales such as the race riots of 1919 and 1920 and more recently, the anti-immigration riots in North Wales in 2003?

This is not the whole picture. Of equal importance is the fact that immigration is not devolved; in this, as in other areas, policy is driven from Westminster. However, the long-standing political might of the Labour Party in Wales, the clear lines of distinction between the philosophical underpinnings of the parties in Westminster and in Cardiff Bay, and the competing immigration policy agenda emerging from political parties such as Plaid Cymru are all working to shaping the Welsh Government’s response to immigration in Wales, pushing forward the need to respond differently to the immigration policies and techniques employed by Westminster. Of equal if not greater importance are the ongoing commitment and campaigning of key anti-fascist and anti-racist organisations and campaigns – many with international links – which have long worked across a range of issues (e.g., immigration, the bedroom tax and Islamophobia) to challenge rising anti-immigration sentiment – within Wales and beyond.

This is still not the whole picture, but it is a start.



He wants to know what racism is

I am still left with a burning question: what does it take to make people march? Although deeply aware of the impact of the immigration policies on people, and having spent my whole academic life seeking to lay bare the impact of structural inequalities on population groups, I had never attended a march. Passionate – yes. Passionately active – no. Looking at the people gathered for the demonstration, I could sense both those for whom activism was a part of their lives, and those for whom such activity was new and unknown. Time and time again, people told me they came because they wanted to show their support, because it was important to stand with others around the UK and the world to protest against racism, and because they needed to feel they were doing something. I think I have subconsciously thought that my research activities were enough; they have been my contribution. Perhaps it is time for a re-think. My husband is active and so was happy with the event. It was my son’s first demonstration; listening to the speakers, he wanted to know ‘why people get killed because of how they look … that is not right’. I did not know what to say.  The loss of innocence – for him.  The birth of new street protesters – him and me.