Thursday, May 05, 2005

Plus ca change? 

Today is General Election day in the UK. This is the first national election that I've voted in where my vote will actually influence the result (previously I've been in constituencies with large majorities) and where the party I support actually has a cat in hell's chance of winning the seat. Despite being pretty sure that there was very little in it between the three main parties where I am, I did go and check out the figures in case it was going to be worth be voting tactically rather than by belief, but in a tactical voting situation I'm honestly not sure I could have brought myself to vote for either of the other two anyway.

One of the least edifying aspects of the past few weeks has been the way that race and immigration issues have been played. The British National Party trot out their traditional rant of sending 'immigrants' 'home', thereby emptying the country of everyone,except possibly three people in the depths of west Wales (and at a guess exiling me to somewhere in eleventh century scandinavia), but the stuff from some of the mainstream parties has been worse because it gets taken seriously. My last job was in an organisation working with refugees and asylum seekers. I heard horrific stories of the experiences of clients and colleagues in their home countries, and witnessed the discrimination and abuse they too often met in the UK. Knowing that reality, it disgusts me to see the way the issues are whipped up and distorted by politicians to play on people's fears and prejudices. And it's even worse when the majority of it comes from the Leader of the Opposition, himself the son of refugees who entered the UK illegally to escape Nazi persecution.

Last night, I watched a TV programme about Somaliland. The picture it painted of the of the rebuilding being done in this officially un-recognised state was heartening, but the stories of its recent past and of the past and present of Somalia were some of the worst I've ever heard. Sadly, too few people make the connection between those fleeing such horror and the individuals in their comunities that get portrayed as 'scrounging illegal immigrants'. If there was the political will, there's a lot that could be done to help people make those connections and grasp the realities a bit better. Sadly though, pandering to the scaremongering of some of the popular press seems to be the more attractive option. And whatever government we have tomorrow, I very much doubt that there will be much that changes on this.


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