Immigration The ‘Silent’ Election Issue

Immigration: the 'silent' election issue

Tom Baldwin
From The Times
April 12, 2010

A walk along the River Nene provided many picture postcard delights yesterday. There were views of Peterboroughs gothic cathedral, weeping willows, and swans gliding by as a family moored their boat to picnic.

From a coppice, however, the smell of woodsmoke could be detected. Further investigation, down a muddy track barricaded with branches, revealed a squalid scene reminiscent of a shanty town. Plastic sheets covered makeshift shelters surrounded by litter and burnt-out fires while five East European migrants, clearly drunk on cheap cider, prepared a meal with food they claimed had been retrieved from skips.

Ervin Stanke, from Latvia, said he was in England to work, and apologised for despoiling this beauty spot. In two or three weeks, I will have a job and we will be gone, he promised. We dont want to live like this. How long had he been here? He shrugged.

There have been widely reported complaints that migrants in riverside camps such as these are eating swans and hunting other wildlife. Mr Stanke, 36, said: No way is that true. We dont kill, we dont do anything like that. We know there is no fishing allowed until June 15. Both he and another migrant had black eyes that, he said, were the result of an unprovoked attack from local teenagers. All we do is try to survive, he said. We want no trouble.

There is little doubt that across large swaths of the country, feelings about immigration are running high at this election. On Saturday the Daily Mail devoted its front page to a story about two independent councillors from the migrant city whose anguished letter sent to party leaders three times this year had been ignored.

Keith Sharp and Charles Swift claimed that Peterborough had been transformed from a community of peace and harmony into one where schools, health services, police, housing and the environment were unable to cope. The newspaper cited the silence of Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg as evidence of a conspiracy to sweep the issue of immigration under the carpet.

An apparent reluctance by the Conservatives to engage baffles and frustrates many on the Right. The last election was marked by dog whistle Tory posters on the issue, asking: Are you thinking what were thinking? Yet in recent months Mr Cameron has devoted only one big speech to immigration, making a vague promise to cut the number entering Britain from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands.

Analysts are uncertain how he would achieve this goal: banning people coming in from other European Union countries would contravene treaty obligations. Reducing the number of skilled workers arriving from outside the EU would risk upsetting the Tories new friends in business or damaging public services.

Labour claims that there is little difference between the two main parties on the subject. It insists that the Government has got on top of the problem, with better border security reducing the number of asylum seekers, while figures indicate that net migration is also falling possibly because of the recession and a points system identifying those from outside the EU who have skills that Britain needs. Labours manifesto is expected to address concerns that many immigrants are taking Britain for a ride by setting out plans for earned citizenship, as well as requiring those employed by the public sector to pass a basic English language test.

In Peterborough the Home Office has begun a project to round up and deport migrant workers who are homeless or cannot support themselves.

This is welcome, if belated, news for Ian Treasure, who struggled for months to remove a Czech immigrant discovered living in his coal shed. Yesterday he was enjoying the sunshine in the back garden as he reflected on how he had taken matters into his own hands last week by burning the mattress and bedding used by Jozsef Szabo.

He had not had much help from the local authority or the police. But when Mr Treasure lit his bonfire, he was threatened by Peterborough council with an antisocial behaviour order.

Mr Treasure describes himself as easygoing and quite enjoys the diversity and food in this multicultural neighbourhood. I consider myself a socialist and Ill still probably vote Labour but this business has got me thinking. Immigration will be a big issue here and I dont think any party has much to say about it. He said that other houses in his street had migrants living in sheds, including one who had been seen defecating in the garden. Jozsef used to tell me I was lucky I didnt have someone worse than him and maybe he was right, he added, with a slight shake of his head. He was in tears after I burnt his mattress. I havent seen him since.

Stewart Jackson, who won Peterborough for the Conservatives at the last election, acknowledged yesterday that many constituents feel angry and resentful about immigration.

In a sign of his partys sensitivity on the issue, Mr Jackson would not be interviewed by The Times but instead replied only in a series of text messages. The Labour Government has ignored the legitimate concerns I and others have raised, he wrote. The situation is now critical and unacceptable.

Tory candidates who have sought to exploit anger over immigration have often been slapped down by a high command fearful of rekindling a reputation for being the nasty party.

Andrew Rosindell, who has held Romford for the Tories since 2001, swiftly dissociated himself from a leaflet issued in his name that accused the Government of having opened the floodgates to mass immigration and being responsible for a population explosion.

Angela Smith, who is defending a wafer-thin Labour majority in Basildon South & Thurrock East, said yesterday: I get the sense that what Cameron says nationally may not be quite the same as some Tories say on the doorstep.


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GRAPHIC: EU migration