No doubt Frank Field was nodding his head in agreement as he read the coverage of the letter to Brown, Cameron and Clegg from the Peterborough councillors bemoaning the fact that 'Migration is ruining our peaceful city'. The yellow press certainly salivated over the story, and none more so than the Daily Mail. But if one actually looks at what the two councillors are really communicating is nostalgia for a lost halcyon age:
Bobbies on bicycles; a community which "lived in peace and harmony", where "there was parental choice in education with school places. There was no homelessness. There were no problems with registering at the local doctors for health services."
"We had four police houses in the ward years ago. Everyone knew and respected the local constable. Now we have muggings, robberies, burglaries and neighbour disputes. We have prostitutes, drug dealers and an ever-increasing number of people who drive without road tax or insurance." There are towns and villages up and down the country where there is not a 'black' face to be seen or where the only Pole is the one danced around in May, yet their police houses closed down decades ago.
These problems have absolutely nothing to do with immigration and for the councillors to try and link all these problems to the people lured to their area as cheap farm labour is totally disingenuous to put it mildly. To blame the fact that local "housing waiting lists have rocketed and our homeless hostels are full" on migrants rather than the Tory and Labour schemes to sell off almost all council housing is delusional. But hey, it's not a vote winner to do otherwise.
The letter of course gave the Mail and the rest of the yellow press the (unneeded) opportunity to run all the usual vile racist myths and caricatures:
Czech mothers "who arrived in Peterborough two weeks ago" with her seven children and who speaks "in broken English" jumping the housing queue. "Outside the kitchen door there are grubby children's clothes and some beer cans." A husband who "is claiming the Jobseekers' allowance. Back in our country he was a school cleaner, but in Peterborough they say there are no vacancies."
"14, 15 and 16-year-old girls who have arrived from Slovakia and Lithuania to come in pregnant or wanting fertility advice." The staff at a local doctors surgery "suspect they want babies because they know it will lead to a house and child benefits."
The myth of immigrants "killing swans to eat and are also preying illegally on fish" - "Local anglers claimed ' legally-protected swans' were being 'butchered' by immigrants who are 'raping' the city's waterways by snaring the birds, battering them to death with iron bars and roasting them on open fires on the bank of the River Nene."*
"People sleep rough in derelict houses, alleyways, garden sheds or under crude shelters made of wood and plastic sheeting in the parks - anywhere they can find a place to rest their weary heads at night."
Really, the hypocrisy just gets worse and worse: "While it should be stressed that many of the new arrivals work very hard for low wages - doing jobs local people are not prepared to do - there are many who have quickly learned how to work the benefits system. Each day at 1pm, when the Inland Revenue Office at Hereward House opens, a queue of girls speaking foreign tongues snakes down the road. Their buggies and prams crowd the pavement as they wait to sign on for tax credits and child benefits - as they are entitled to under EU law."
The Mail reporter (Sue Reid) on the trail of all these dirty foreigners (over here stealing our houses, jobs and women) even had the audacity to try and intervene with her own form of citizen's arrest (to no avail):
"This week, I saw two uniformed UK Border Agency officers (plus a policeman and two Peterborough Council staff) search three empty properties in Thistlemoor Road. They found no one. Yet the stench of urine inside, the abandoned bed clothes on the floor and a pile of unwashed cups in the kitchen sinks was proof someone had been staying there until very recently. When I pointed out that three penniless and jobless Slovakians were living in a property just along the street, the officers got in their cars and drove away. As a result, Ivan, 37, Monica, 30, and Vadim, 42, managed to escape detection. Inside a shabby, boarded up house, they have made a home. There are two single beds and a couple of dirty rugs on the concrete floor downstairs. Through the rotting roof you can see the sky. "We came here 20 days ago," says Monica, with tears in her eyes. "I worked yesterday for the first time - getting £10 for doing cleaning at a house." "We have nothing apart from what we have found on rubbish tips. We try to keep clean and have bought a few bars of soap. The only thing I have eaten today is a bag of grapes.""
So the three people she tried to grass up she had already interviewed and knew how badly off they were but you can bet your bottom dollar that she wasn't turning them in so as to make sure they got a proper roof over their heads and a decent meal inside them.
Her next comment aptly shows up her complete lack of understanding and human solidarity: "Why Ivan, Monica and Vadim have left home and journeyed across Europe to live such a squalid existence is hard to understand." Exactly.
The Mail has really surpassed even their greatest excesses in xenophobic barrel-scraping reportage with this piece of thinly disguised racist vitriol, packing so many ignorant right-wing cliches into one article that it probably manages to even trump the whole of the Express' election campaign anti-immigration carpet-bombing offensive.
* This one even gets the the pro-blood sports Mail hypocritically playing the animal welfare card: "Witnesses say migrants camping in woods are using inhumane methods to kill fish, such as long lines with multiple hooks, which are left in the water overnight and cause a slow and painful death."
That even the Times can come out with the stupidest of this election's clichés 'Immigration: the 'silent' election issue' beggars belief. What planet are these journalists on? Few actual politicians may be spending more than a few passing seconds on the subject of immigration (i.e. as few as they can get away with), the yellow press have been talking about little else.*
The big problem is that when the main parties do talk about immigration they inevitably play into the hands of the overtly-racist right, and especially the BNP, and a number of voices are being raised questioning this policy.
* Frank Field article was even titled 'Why is there no talk about immigration?' What he really meant is 'Why is nobody agreeing with my views on immigration?'
Interestingly, the Times printed the day before what has probably been the most useful piece of coverage of immigration in the whole of the election campaign. It was entitled: 'Q&A: the facts about immigration.' Check it out.