Saturday, 3 August 2013

Papers please

On Radio 4's Any Questions today, the matter of Government owned vans driving through areas with high levels of recent immigration, displaying messages designed to encourage illegal immigrants to return voluntarily to their countries of origin, was discussed. The vans are bearing posters with the following message on: "In this country illegally? Go home or face arrest." The questioner in the radio show audience compared this message to 1970s style racist graffiti. Some of the panel, such as Independent journalist Owen Jones, agreed, although former Tory Home Office minister Michael Howard expressed the view that to be against illegal immigration did not necessarily make one a racist.
The use of these vans is clearly a stunt on the part of the Conservative Party, aimed at impressing the Daily Mail reading, potential UKIP voting demographic.
However, another aspect of this populist PR campaign which was not even mentioned on Any Questions was the action taken by police at various railway and tube stations throughout London over the last few days, to stop passers by and ask them to produce identification to show they were legally entitled to be in the country. Even where this has been covered on TV and radio news programmes, the main disapproval expressed by commentators has been of the fact that the police have been focussing their attention on non-white members of the public. But while this racial profiling is obviously a very great cause for concern in itself, another worrying aspect is the fact that the police apparently now feel comfortable to stop ordinary law abiding citizens going about their daily business and ask them to produce identification papers. This is something that has always been anathema to the British way of thinking about the role of police; indeed, when the last Labour government attempted to bring in ID cards, they could not even get enough support within their own parliamentary party to get the bill through parliament.
I'm not sure how many of those that the police pulled aside to ask for ID actually obliged them by producing their passports, driving licences, immigration papers or whatever else was being asked for. They were all fully entitled to simply refuse and walk away, and unless the police had sufficient reason to suspect them of an offense, there would have been nothing the police could do to stop them. If people now believe that they are obliged to provide evidence of their right to be on the streets any time some over zealous copper decides they don't look British enough, that is perhaps the most worrying aspect of this whole sorry affair.

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