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Immigration Street, Poverty Porn and The New Far Right

Reckless. Irresponsible. It is sensationalist televisual porn. It creates havoc in communities and leaves a trail of hate and prejudice in its wake. One episode of Immigration Street by Love Productions, is one too many.

When I moved to Southampton over twenty years ago, it was an odd experience. I moved to Alfred Street off Derby Road and experienced things which were reassuringly familiar: Asian shops, halal meat counters, mosques, temples and gurdwareh, diverse communities, the smell of spices wafting in the air, kids playing in the streets. Then there were some things a little less familiar, a drive-by shooting outside the pub on Exmoor Road, drug-dealers on bikes riding through the area, and perhaps the biggest cultural shock for me, prostitution. Little did I know but Derby Road was notorious as one of the most infamous red-light districts in the country. We would regularly see three or four working girls on street corners, some walking up and down Derby Road, or hanging out of balconies with the comings and goings of their punters.

Over the next decade, we saw local communities become stronger and more organised. Local third sector groups became established, representing young people and women, faith communities and residents, clearer in voice and mission. Elders from within the communities, predominantly older Sikh and Muslim men, regularly went for gentle evening strolls around the streets, and with the deftest of touches that only gentlemen of a bygone era could accomplish, their mere presence seemed enough to usher some of the more salubrious figures away. St Mary’s stadium over the rail tracks in the Northam estate was built. Things seemed to be on a more positive footing. Over time, we saw employment rise, self employment and community organising improve, we saw schools improve (albeit they still face huge challenges) and we saw street crime, drug-dealing and prostitution forced out of the area – not by a great crack-down from the local police service but through the consensus and will of the local communities. They stood up and said, in a polite but firm voice: ‘no thank you, no more’.

As a community organiser and activist in this area for many years, I have come to love our communities here, despite our imperfections and our flaws. Southampton sees a fifth of its 240,000 residents born outside of the UK and the last decade saw numbers of the “other white” population as termed by the census, primarily Polish and Eastern Europeans, increase by 200%. By and large, its been a great success story of integration and social renewal. One Sunday evening I was called up by someone about the impending doom of our local advice centre which in a familiar story, the Tory incumbents had run into the ground and were due to sell-off the next day under cover of darkness. As it turned out the plot for the development of flats was being granted to a housing provider that had just been slammed by the Audit Commission for discriminatory conduct against ethnic minorities, and the sale was being facilitated by way of dodgy adjustments to grant schemes and accounting systems. The advice centre was situated in the only green space in the middle of Derby Road and adjacent to the local mosque. There was little choice but to respond to the call and for us to stand tall and make our case. Having stayed up all night drafting a briefing document, I presented our case, haggard and bleary eyed, to the full council meeting the next afternoon. With a united voice, we forced a hiatus in proceedings and for the next few months I chaired meetings of our local groups and we rallied stakeholders, a force du jour made up of residents, community trusts, activists, the mosque and broader communities who had come together for the benefit of local people, to oppose the closure of the advice centre and building of flats over our green space. We managed to save the advice centre and gardens and ding dong, the secret deal was dead. That place is now home to local community groups and is a valuable asset for our local residents. It’s a credit to the tenacity of the local people – they are really not to be messed with. Love Productions might have done their homework before setting foot on Derby Road.

We have seen the impact of what I hope is going to be a short-lived era of sensationalist and unethical documentary making exploiting local communities. The residents of James Turner Street featured in Benefits Street, may have seen the likes of White Dee raised to celebrity status, but for those that remained, trying to get on with their lives and carry on with the humdrum of routine and struggle; they have faced hate, hostility, prejudice, attacks on school children and threats. It was dubbed poverty porn by Charlie Brooker. The contributors to Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, misrepresented and maligned, brought about legal action. The thing is this: its easy to swoop in with cameras and a production team, to dangle the tantalising prospect of “being on the tele” to locals, ethnic minorities and people on benefits. To the poor and vulnerable. To people without a voice. And producers know it. They so know it. This abuse of process and gratuitous exploitation cares not one jot, tittle or iota for the consequences of its superficial aggrandisement. What remains is division, prejudice and scorn poured on people ill-equipped to deal with it. And for what, you may ask?

Ratings.

Any argument that this is about elevated and education television, is sheer nonsense. If this was a case of good faith engagement, we would see production companies and commissioners investing into the community; into cohesion programs to improve resilience, for education and to empower the communities who will face the backlash. We haven’t seen this. I’m not sure its even crossed their mind despite our calls for it. Corporate social responsibility aside, there may have been even sharper practices going on.

A few months ago, I was approached to give a speech at a local pro-immigration, pro-multiculturalism event at the Joiners Arms in Southampton, through my friends at St Mary’s Calling – to oppose Immigration Street and stand with communities and local unions. Afterwards, one of the artists came to me and mentioned in confidence, that his friend, an immigrant struggling with addiction issues, was solicited to appear in the program. It appears that she was told that the program was going to be about “local communities” and was going to show people in a positive light. There was no mention of immigration. No mention of exploitation. And who, we wonder, was there to look out for her interests and to ensure things would be above board. But this, alas, is how too much of television production works. Ratings first. Ethics second. I’ve suffered at the hands of unethical editorialising in my BBC1 documentary When Tommy Met Mo, to see facts entirely misrepresented to fit another agenda and later, PR handlers running around like headless chicken to make sure you play ball. And so yes, perhaps I’m a bit sensitive about this nonsense, especially when its now my communities being affected.

There really is something bigger going on here which puts Southampton and Immigration Street at the centre of our national debate. When we think ‘far right’ we are culturally habituated to think of swastikas, Hitler, Mosely and neo-nazi fascists. The open secret is that the New Far Right and their representatives in Britain, look very different today. They wear smart suits and have shiny shoes; they are media savvy; they are standing in local elections; they are ostensibly ‘anti-politics’ and place the EU and immigration at the top of their agenda; they are here to defend our national identity. They smile, are charismatic, smoke fags and drink pints at the local pub. They are popular. They are trying to engage the youth, the disaffected, the unemployed. All the whilst, they are allied to neo-nazi groups in Europe, white supremacists and those that think Anders Breivik was correct and we are in the midst of a civilisational struggle between Islam and the West. They are the door to a frightening future of intolerance. They are very much part of a dark cloud which once again rises over Europe. They are fuelling a post-liberalism agenda, rife with intolerance, inhumanity and heartlessness. UKIP’s skill to turn moderate English towns with no immigration problem like Eastleigh, into seething hotbeds of racism and xenophobia, is nothing short of remarkable. This is the real face of radicalisation. For the record, any immigration policy which would exclude a low scoring eight year old Somali kid who couldn’t speak English, is a policy we have to reject entirely – The Mo Farah Test. Notwithstanding UKIP’s public mea culpa to ready them as virginal blushing bride for Tory defilement; don’t you dare fall for it. Not for a moment.

If you want a program about immigration, let it be one which is balanced and informative. Educate the people. Explain how we have a record structural deficit and immigration adds £6bn to output growth according to a 2007 government study, or according to other estimates between £2bn and £10bn to the exchequer. Explain how we desperately need immigration as an ageing society with a increasing social welfare bill. Explain how our nation is 94% undeveloped but that the elite are paid to keep their land undeveloped which is why we keep creating urban jungles, buildings on top of buildings, people crammed into increasingly small houses and Tokyo-esque tiny spaces. Explain how The Empty Homes Agency says the UK has over 870,000 empty homes and there are more than 400,000 convertible commercial properties. Explain how there is lots of space, lots of food, lots of jobs. Explain how the UK is helping France with its immigration challenge by sending it a big fence to keep out undesirables; we also funded walls in South Africa and Palestine. How about we stop with these bloody walls. Tear them down. Explain how Paddington Bear would probably be detained in one of our immigration industrial complex concentration camps… excuse me, I mean detention centres. Explain how, whilst 250,000 were massacred in Syria, a xenophobia-ridden Britain has only taken 90 Syrian refugees (counted against asylum figures) whilst Sweden has taken in no less than 15,000 refugees, fleeing the greatest humanitarian crisis in modern history. Explain how only the most ignorant and misguided of people would cap immigration when immigration is a net fiscal benefit to our economy, let alone cultural life, and that we have a record deficit to tackle because we bailed out the bankers to the tune of £1.5 trillion pounds effectively rendering you and your children and theirs, into indentured servitude.

And so whilst UKIP and the far right continue to make gains in most parts of Europe (what price a British Syriza, you cry), they are founded on an unholy trinity of policies: anti-immigrant, Euroscepticism and anti-Islam.

Southampton has become the point of the sword and so find ourselves here, united, raging against the dying of the light, opposed to the rising tide of hate and intolerance. Southampton has a fabulously rich history of immigration over 500 years, from the Huguenots in the 17th century, to the West Indians and Asians over the last decades. It is a largely cohesive place, with a great deal of social challenges around poverty, education and health outcomes. We have our share of headaches. We’re doing our best to tackle them. Give us some space to get the job done. We don’t want Immigration Street.

We will not go quietly into the night.

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3 comments on “Immigration Street, Poverty Porn and The New Far Right

  1. armourae
    23/02/2015

    Haven't seen it. I did see 'Meet the Ukippers' which was entertaining & damaged UKIP.

    If the comments in these programmes were treated as fiction, which a questioning person should do, their threats are neutralised.

    The problem people do gullibly listen to the poison from the speakers.

    The producers are irresponsible & are making 'media porn'

    Like

  2. Mich Abing
    27/02/2015

    Well said.

    Like

  3. Anonymous
    01/03/2015

    nice article ,like to read your blog
    agen judi bola

    Like

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This entry was posted on 23/02/2015 by in Activism, Arts, Media, UK Politics and tagged , , , , , , .

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Musician | Lead singer with Solomon | Broadcaster | Political Commentator | Activist

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