My earlier post about immigration in the UK and Labour’s response to it prompted this reply from Rob Ford at the University of Manchester:
What I find strange about articles like this is the refusal to consider *any* reform to imm as part of the solution. https://t.co/9k8NiXLEmt— (((Rob Ford))) (@robfordmancs) November 30, 2016
At one level this is right – my post does not propose any reform of immigration rules as part of the solution. But this then started a lengthy Twitter debate and some more profound reflections on my side about what I write, and why, and how people like Rob Ford react to it.
Why did I write the post the way I did?
First, I see it as my role to defend the EU (and not the UK) in what I write. I see freedom of movement of people as a vital part of what makes the EU a worthwhile political project because it actually is an extension of individual freedom, and that is a good thing and needs to be defended in my view. I am an immigration liberal, and that’s OK in my view. Plus I spent years in the UK as a Labour Party member, and in the Labour Movement for Europe, arguing for pragmatic ways forward on these issues – but by 2013 it was too much and I left to join the German Grüne and have not looked back. So my post should be seen in that light.
Second, I see the ethics that motivate what I write as more important than the issue of how implementable the outcome actually is. Or, to put it another way, I am fine with writing things on this blog that are intentionally one sided. If a Labour MP thinks it is OK to demand assimilation of immigrants (Kinnock’s words yesterday) and demand immigration control, I am fine to put the ideological opposite. It is then I think the role of people like Rob Ford to work out what lies somewhere between Kinnock’s position and mine, and there lies the pragmatic political way forward – indeed Rob sort of says as much in this tweet.
Now I am aware that this kind of shouting from the extremes has its issues. British political commentary, driven by the emotive environment of British political Twitter, is a rather shouty place at the moment. But into that environment I feel some small ethical counterweight to the prevailing UK dynamic on immigration and freedom of movement is worthwhile. Were I too start from the middle ground, pragmatic, policy-orientated position, that is conceding to my opponents at the start. This blog is for commentary, not for think tank style policy proposals. And I am OK with that.
Oh, and do follow Rob Ford if you are on Twitter – it’s precisely because of debates like this that he is a super person to follow.