The smell of racism and the Mail

I have been pulling together a post about the Mail's most recent flurry of anti-immigration stories, reflecting on the reliability of MigrationWatch's stats that have been used to back up a couple of the stories and the paper's own shoddy stats that I'll post when it's ready - but I have to say that something sailed almost completely past my radar.

This story 'One in nine people living in Britain now born overseas as 300,000 more foreigners settle in the UK' stood out initially because of the awful maths. Headline says one in nine are born overseas, opening says more than one in eight, later on the figure is back to one in nine, and in between we're given raw numbers that work out as being closer to one in ten. Pretty much what we've come to expect, right? But I was probably only going to mention this bit in passing:
However although the figures from the Government's Office for National Statistics show an increase in numbers of foreign born people they still fail to record the true impact of immigration because they record their children as British rather than second or third generation immigrants.
This would have been a massive mistake, and Sunder Katwala demonstrates exactly why in an absolutely fantastic open letter to Paul Dacre, which you can read at Liberal Conspiracy. Here's a nugget:
Perhaps you could let us know who the Daily Mail thinks is truly British. I can see you probably think it is too late for my children - as “third generation immigrants”, currently aged under 3 - but perhaps there might be a tip or two they could pass on to their descendants.
Get over there and read the whole thing. I'm not going anywhere. Click to read the rest below the fold when you get back. Only if you want to. No pressure.

The Mail used to be excellent at dog-whistling. Really subtle. There's a recurring story that appears pretty much every summer as annual immigration figures are published, in which the paper tries to scare us about the number of Brits emigrating (a tradition the paper has turned on its head in the last couple of weeks with stories that try to make us angry because emigration isn't high enough - but more on that in a later post). In the past, the paper has given the reader cues as to what it wants us to think this means by juxtaposing pictures of nice, smiley white families sitting in parks with ones of crowds of swarthy men standing around on street corners smoking and looking shifty, but last year it eschewed the dog whistle in favour of an ordinary one. Instead of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink picture stuff, we were treated to a headlines about 'white flight' that explicitly drew attention to the number of white people leaving the country (exaggerating along the way in the manner we've come to expect from the paper). While it was pretty clear before that the paper meant 'white people' when it mentioned British people in these stories, that can't be in much doubt any more.

One notable feature of the 'white flight' coverage was the inclusion of Irish people as 'established British' in order to be able to claim that the exodus of white British people is the highest ever. Of course, the inclusion was probably an opportunistic insertion to allow the use of the 'highest ever' tag, but the ease with which the paper could do that is contrasted clearly against the assumption so expertly lanced by Sunder. The paper tells us that Irish people might as well be British despite coming from another country in one story, but in another tells us that immigrants' children, and their children's children, should be counted as immigrants even though they have not immigrated from anywhere. What could be the difference between Irish people and these other immigrants? Might the pictures in the earlier emigration scare stories provide a clue?

I'm taking the Mickey here of course. The pictures of swarthy men definitely give us a clue. We can find another in some of the paper's past immigration coverage. Back in October 2007, the paper covered co-founder of MigrationWatch Professor David Coleman's contribution to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee that attempted to put a price on how much immigrants cost the country. It wasn't a particularly good contribution, since the costs it contained came with a disclaimer that pointed out they were unreliable and shouldn't be added together since some costs overlapped and it was unclear how much was attributable to immigrants and how much wasn't. The Mail, however, added the costs together and based an entire article around them, including a table that was supposed to be based on Professor Coleman's.

Of course, the Mail exaggerated the costs further by adding almost a billion pounds to the total, but that's what you should expect from the paper. The thing that might come as a surprise is that some of the labels used for groups of people were changed. Where Professor Coleman had flagged up some costs as being attributable to ethnic minorities, the Mail changed these to being attributable to immigrants where it could. So, ethnic minorities=immigrants, and so do other people born overseas along with their children and grandchildren, unless they're Irish and the paper specifically wants to worry us about the number of white people leaving the country.

There's a smell to the Mail's coverage of immigration. Like when you're talking to someone and something wafts up your nostrils, leaving you to wonder, is that...did they just fart? through the rest of what they say. I have a horrible nagging suspicion about the Mail's output. Is the paper being racist when it bemoans the number of white people leaving the country? How about when it reports that the majority of knife crime perpetrators are black, while most victims are white when in fact the majority of victims' ethnicity is unknown? What if it added an explanation to say that the victims whose ethnicity was unknows were probably black gang members? Or what about when it switches the words 'ethnic minority' to 'immigrant' in a table it has already dishonestly included and exaggerated? How about when it suggests that people actually born in the UK should be counted as immigrants? If there were an episode of Eastenders that featured only black cast members, and the paper disapproved of that? Would it be right to wonder if there were a certain amount of racism behind the objection? There is a sort of plausible deniability behind some of this stuff, but that is steadily shrinking with slips like these recent ones.

It's like you're standing there as that suspected farter talks to you, and you've just noticed them lift their leg almost imperceptibly and heard a phut!


Akela said...

Just a thought. My mum and my maternal grandparents emigrated from UK to Cannada in 1946. They came back in 1950. Does the Mail's logic make me a foreigner?

Cyburn said...

The Mail made people originally think 400,000 white Britons left britain a year but it was only 70,000 actually. So what were the other 330,000 leaving Britain that the Daily Mail has left to "calcaute"?

Probably British born ethnics, immigrants and temporary visitors.