Alien Attitudes?

Gavin Schaffer argues that the British have always been ambivalent in their attitude towards refugees, especially at times of war.

In the summer of 2005 the Daily Mail gave over its front page to a robust criticism of the British government’s plans to force the deportation of failed Zimbabwean asylum seekers. Under the headline ‘For pity’s sake let them stay’, it attacked ‘the wretched pretence of the Home Office … that these people will be in no real danger if they are sent home,’ concluding, ‘What planet are ministers on?’

It was surprising to see the Mail defend failed asylum seekers. Over the past seventy years, the Daily Mail, along with most popular British newspapers, has been a consistent campaigner for strict immigration limits and has railed tirelessly against perceived abuses of Britain’s asylum policies. Even in the previous year, the Daily Mail and Daily Express had run nearly three hundred stories on asylum, few of which echoed the sentiments of its report on Zimbabwe. 

Earlier in 2005 the Conservative Party had appointed as their general election campaign director Lynton Crosby, a man who had delivered improbable election victories for John Howard’s (conservative) Liberal Party of Australia, and a believer in the efficacy of playing a hard asylum-immigration stance. The  promise of ‘controlled immigration’ was one of the banners under which the Tories fought the election. 

Whilst it is tempting to ascribe the Conservatives’ decision to fight on asylum and immigration to Crosby’s ‘Aussie rules’ approach, a deeper investigation reveals a long history of concern with the topic in British politics. In recent years these issues have time and again been the subjects of substantial legislative attention. Since 1993 there have been no less than four Asylum and Immigration Acts as well as a Race Relations Amendment Act in 2000. In the wake of the horrific attacks on London this summer it seems certain that more legislation is to follow.

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