Leading Article: Mr Blunkett Only Mars His Case by Excessive Nods to the Anti-Immigration Lobby

The Independent (London, England), November 24, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Leading Article: Mr Blunkett Only Mars His Case by Excessive Nods to the Anti-Immigration Lobby


"EVERYBODY WILL be excited" by the Queen's Speech to be read out on Wednesday, says Peter Hain, the Leader of the House of Commons. The children of asylum seekers will no doubt be thrilled at the prospect of being taken into care should their parents' applications for refugee status fail. The Iraqis, that David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, says in his interview with us today he wants to force back to northern Iraq, will be exhilarated. The world's persecuted and desperate will be unable to contain themselves at the prospect of a further tightening of our catch- 22 asylum law.

Even those not directly affected by such mean-spirited legislation may be able to hold their enthusiasm in check when a self-proclaimed radical, reforming government that has been in office for six-and-a-half years makes the stricter control of immigration and asylum such a central part of its legislative programme for the coming year.

Surprisingly, perhaps, The Independent does not regard Mr Blunkett's overall policy on immigration as mere focus-group driven authoritarian populism. We credit the Home Secretary both with more compassion and with more intelligence than that. Especially in recent weeks, he has set out a positive and liberal case for welcoming the contribution that immigrants have made and could make to this country's economic and cultural well- being.

Politically - and there is nothing wrong with this - his strategy is to reassure people that the Government is in control of the immigration and asylum system and then to persuade them to support a policy that is towards the liberal end of the possible. "I want to stay in touch with the roots I came from," he says, "but I want to be able to persuade and carry them much further than they would instinctively go on some of the very big issues of our day." This newspaper's disagreement with him has been over how far it is necessary to go to convince the voters that he will protect them from the dishonest and ill-intentioned, in order to make the liberal case.

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