The push and pull of the world’s most dangerous migration route – what’s really behind the flock of thousands to Europe these days?
The Mediterranean Sea is today’s most dangerous border between countries not at war with each other. Just last week, 300 persons departing Libya on four rubber dinghies have gone missing at sea, after drifting for days without food and water. News reports in the past six months have regularly commented upon the rising number of persons disembarking on Italy’s coastline – benefiting from its search and rescue operation Mare Nostrum. Despite the increase in new arrivals from 33,000 to 200,000, the life-saving mission has now been discarded. Italian policy makers believe Mare Nostrum is as responsible for overcrowded reception centres as it is for the rising number of persons risking their lives at sea. But is it truly to blame for the surge? Because more than 50 per cent of arrivals are either Syrian or Eritrean, news commentators have provided some other potential explanations. Some point to the protracted conflict in the Middle East, whilst others highlight the strain on neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq in continuing to receive thousands of Syrian refugees. “Poverty in Africa” is mentioned occasionally, and for the better informed, an oppressive military regime and indefinite conscription in Eritrea are to blame. Yet these supposed ‘causes’ of the latest wave in irregular migration to Europe are speculative at most and have in fact been ongoing for many years now. The irregular and mixed movement of persons across borders is arguably the most pressing international issue of our time, second perhaps only to terrorism. Yet the response of nations is too often reactionary and punitive towards individuals making the move, causing policies like Mare Nostrum to be cut short. By pinpointing the multiple ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ factors at play in the regions concerned it is possible to generate fresh insight on the debate on South- North migration. ‘Push Factors’ For Syrians and Eritreans on the move, the situation at home is the key reason for flight. In Syria, there are immediate threats to life, regardless of which side of the conflict you are on. In Eritrea, an oppressive military regime and a lifeless economy force several thousand to walk across its land borders every month. Ruthless and indiscriminate conscription waves can also augment departures, as can changes in border surveillance, including the reported end to the notorious ‘shoot to kill’ policy.
Over the last decades, populism and technocracy have attracted a great deal of public attention and generated a lively scholarly debate. As it has recently been argued, they have emerged as the two dominant discourses on the European political scene. As the 2014 European elections clearly showed, even traditional, mainstream political parties increasingly rely on either or both these narratives. One insightful example is the discursive practices of Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party during the Italian electoral campaign. After his rise as party leader and then Italy’s youngest ever Prime Minister, Renzi has become a favourite of the international press. As early as 2010, when he was still mayor of Florence, the Tuscan politician proved himself an extremely skilled communicator. His idea of ‘rottamare’ (‘scrapping’) the entire political class had an extremely wide impact on public opinion and soon became a slogan for all those who wanted to contest the status quo in Italian politics. The growing support he received from the public convinced him to run for his party’s leadership primaries in 2012 and then, successfully, in 2013. Nowadays, Renzi’s PD embodies an arguably renewed organisation. The internal opposition has been gradually marginalised and the re-compacted majority has developed a political discourse based on pragmatism, hope for the future and the need for change. In particular, one can observe how the PD has gradually assimilated populist and technocratic discursive strategies by examining the ways in which it deals with a key issue such as the European Union. The populist mode. According to a growing body of literature, typical examples of populist discursive practices include the reliance upon Manichean oppositions, romanticised and essentialist visions of the people, appeals to the multitude whilst excluding others and extreme simplification and moralisation (Wodak 2003).
As was said in the opening paragraph of this series, a well-rehearsed interpretation of UKIP is that they are a grouping to the right of the current Conservative party, dissatisfied with the old party’s failure to stand up to Europe and its perceived leftwards shift under Cameron. In this view, UKIP are, to quote a recent Labour party campaign, “more Tory than the Tories”. There is certainly something to be said for this claim. Leading figures in the party, as well as party activists, are former members of the Conservative party, not least Nigel Farage himself. While we await their 2015 election manifesto, a number of policies that have been proposed recently also seem to point in the direction of an ultra-Tory agenda, such as plans to abolish inheritance tax. But UKIP’s own constitution brands it as a “democratic, libertarian party”, while its most famous recent acquisition, Douglas Carswell, describes himself on his own twitter account as a “free trade Gladstonian liberal”. What are we to make then of UKIP’s ideology and identity? Firstly, it is only right to point out that UKIP, like almost all political parties, represents a coalition of different views. In particular, it displays a similar kind of mix of conservatism, liberalism and libertarianism that we find in the Conservative party. It is probably fair to say that libertarianism is a term less familiar to British political culture than to that of the United States, but British conservatives (including members of the Conservative party) often like to claim the mantle of liberalism and individual liberty, usually relating these ideas to the promotion of free enterprise, reduced state intervention in the economy and individual responsibility. That Mrs. Thatcher was an ardent admirer of Gladstone is no secret, and Simon Heffer has gone as far as to argue that she is best understood as a latter-day champion of Gladstonian liberalism, rejecting many of the values that had come to be associated with Toryism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as paternalism and protectionism. It is worth noting that Gladstone himself began life as a Tory. But once again, it might be argued that this merely attempts to reduce modern conservatism—encompassing UKIP—to free-market liberalism, when in fact it can be clearly distinguished from liberalism in other crucial respects. First of all, patriotism and nationhood are clearly central to both the contemporary Tory party and to UKIP. While both express outward-looking views on free trade, they also wrap themselves unashamedly in the flag and bang the drum for British values and virtues wherever possible. On the issue of mass immigration, while the Tory party are more divided, UKIP are, of course, vociferously opposed, pointing to the need to withdraw from the EU as the only way to guarantee full control over migrant entry into the country. Compare this to the liberal internationalism of Nick Clegg, an economic liberal in key respects, but alone amongst the three main party leaders in his outspoken support for the EU. Other UKIP policies are also suggestive of an ultra-conservative agenda rather than a liberal one, including the promotion of grammar schools and tougher sentences for prisoners. Then there are those amongst the party’s rank-and-file who occasionally crop up to embarrass the leadership, like councillor David Silvester, who, earlier this year, claimed that recent flooding had been the result of the government’s legalisation of gay marriage. While there is no suggestion that this particular view is widespread within the party, it nonetheless hints at an undercurrent of extreme, evangelical social conservatism that feels quite alien in secular Britain, but is perhaps not quite as distant as we like to think.
It is clear that debates about ‘who’ citizens are (as well as normative claims about who they ‘should’ be) are important to understanding the politics of citizenship. However, reflecting on the remit of this special series on ‘Migration and Citizenship’, another fundamental question occurred to me: what do citizens do? Describing the kinds of actions and activities in which citizens—however we may define them—reportedly engage could open further discussion about the nature of citizenship itself. In my current work with the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society (COMPAS), I focus on the ways that British newspapers talk about migration issues and relate these narratives to public perceptions and migration policy changes. Using techniques from corpus and computational linguistics, which enables researchers to analyse large amounts of text, I look for (ir)regularities and significant patterns of words. These contextual patterns, called ‘collocations’, can provide insight into a concept: one of the major contributors to linguistics, John Firth, famously expressed this feature of language when he said ‘you shall know a word by the company it keeps’. Applying Firth’s guiding principle to study of UK press portrayal of migrant groups reveals that, in the case of immigrants and asylum seekers, their company is relatively negative. Dr Scott Blinder and I showed that from 2010-2012, the British national press most often described ‘immigrants’ as ‘illegal’ while portraying ‘asylum seekers’ as ‘failed’. But what about citizens? What does this group of people reportedly do in the context of migration coverage?
On Friday 10th October 2014, Britain woke up to the news that the voters of Clacton-on-Sea had elected a UKIP Member of Parliament. To some, no doubt, this marked the inevitable culmination of the fracturing of the British right that began over twenty years earlier with the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, under the auspices of the then Conservative Prime Minister, John Major. It was this episode that led first to the formation of the Anti-Federalist League and then to its successor organisation, the United Kingdom Independence Party, in 1993, which has since attracted significant numbers of disaffected Tories, angry at the Conservative’s apparent acquiescence to further European integration. UKIP has grown now to a membership of over 35,000 and seems to be finally breaking out of its single issue, single personality mould, to become a real electoral challenge to the Tories. The recent defection of two sitting Conservative MPs, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless, to UKIP, confirms for some people what they have been thinking for a long time: that the Conservative Party no longer does what it says on the tin, that it is, to quote the journalist Simon Heffer, “insufficiently conservative”, the torch of conservatism having now passed to Farage and co. In this post, the first of three on conservatism in Britain, I want to consider the plausibility of this claim, as part of a broader attempt to determine which political party in Britain today has the most convincing claim to the mantle of conservatism. The answers are by no means clear-cut (they rarely are in politics) and may even seem counter-intuitive. It must be stated at the outset that conservatism is not, by any means, a single, coherent or homogenous ideology. It consists of various branches and traditions and shares similarities with other, nominally distinct, philosophies—notably liberalism. This undoubtedly complicates the task in hand, but it is important to recognise the complexity of the object of study before embarking on the analysis.
In recent years there has been an increasingly systematic integration of immigration controls into a range of institutions. The ability to access healthcare, social housing, benefits and legal aid, to seek employment, open a bank account, obtain a driving license, and rent a property have each been tied to immigration status. This linkage is mediated by more than a binary between legality and illegality. The regulation of mobility through legal frameworks at the European and international level, as well as the domestic, has generated a range of rights – to reside, of abode, to work, to rent – that are shaped by the interaction of multiple statuses – “EEA national”, “asylum seeker”, “habitual resident”, “jobseeker”, “worker”, “self-sufficient person”. The rights and entitlements of citizens, as well as migrants, are curtailed and impacted by immigration controls. A citizen cannot claim means-tested benefits without proving habitual residence, they cannot marry a non-EEA national without verifying the partnership’s legitimacy in the eyes of the state, and they cannot bring this spouse into the UK without earning over a minimum income threshold. More broadly, citizens cannot avoid immigration controls without first proving that they are not subject to them. It is important to understand and reflect upon the consequences of these controls. However, it is also important to think about where the responsibility for their implementation lies. As immigration controls are integrated in an increasingly systematic way into the workplace, university, school, hospital, jobcentre, letting agency, registry office and bank they are pushed away from the centralised state and into the community. This entails both a diversification and a shift in the actors compelled to put them into practice on the ground. Last week’s European Court of Justice decision on the Dano v Jobcentre Leipzig case brings this into focus. For the individual who cannot be subject to formal immigration controls but who can be excluded from social benefits if economically inactive, immigration enforcement responsibilities fall not to the immigration officer but to the frontline public service worker.
In the 1990s, commentators across the political spectrum observed the rise of civic British national identity in the UK. Both the Major and Blair governments promoted “active citizenship” and rolled out polices such as Citizenship Ceremonies for the naturalised and citizenship education in schools – with the civic republican philosopher Bernard Crick a significant influence over many of these reforms. From a very different angle, the Britpop moment and “cool Britannia” brand made the Union Jack fashionable. A confident multiculturalism and relaxed, mongrel Britishness was part of the zeitgeist. From the vantage point of 2014, that moment seems very distant. In the last decade, we have seen instead a resurgence of the infra-national identities of the UK’s constituent countries: the renaissance of Scottishness in Scotland, the rise of Welshness in Wales, and – much less reflected upon – the return of Englishness in England. The return of the English The 2011 Census included a national identity question. It showed that, in England, Englishness is the predominant national identity, expressed by two thirds of the population (with 58% choosing only English identity), while just 29% identify with Britishness (19% choosing only British identity). For many, this kind of Englishness is probably expressed activities such as cheering on (or moaning at) English sporting teams. But we have also seen its political mobilisation: in resentment at Scottish power in Westminster, in the sinister street theatre of the English Defence League and its offshoots, and in the rise of UKIP. It is important, however, to note the geographical and generational dynamics of this resurgent Englishness.
Unless you are following the story closely, you may not have noticed the worryingly slow progress of the “Modern Slavery” bill through parliament. It faces its third reading in early November, and so far there is no outright opposition. Of course no one is going to speak up for modern slavery. It is a dreadful thing, and no parliamentarian would defend it for a moment. Instead, the delays have come from wrangling over wording, caused by the politics over immigration. The problem is that Home Secretary Theresa May describes the crime as “human beings used as commodities for the personal gain of others” (Hansard, 8 July 2014 col. 166), provoking the question of how this form of exploitation differs from other “everyday” exploitation faced by many (if not most) workers.