By-elections, immigration and the United Kingdom In Panic.
by Njoki Mahiaini
The battle for the centre ground is over, certainly for the time being. Indeed it is no longer unusual to hear committed Labourites waxing lyrical about the economic changes necessary to promote SMEs. Similarly, Conservatives who describes their “Passion for social justice” are no longer met with a sardonically raised eyebrow or mouth agape. No, the two parties which formerly represented right and left of centre in British politics have been drawn or, more accurately, dragged closer together by an unlikely third party – The United Kingdom Independence Party.
Six months ago few would have predicted the “political earthquake” UKIP would create in the European elections. Fewer still would have anticipated that, mere months later, they could boast not one but two Members of Parliament, both disillusioned Conservatives, near-evangelical in their fervour for their new political home. Westminster was mortified, the UKIP-ers jubilant, the remainder of the electorate perplexed – and the media have had a field day.
However, far from uniting as relative moderates to stem the tide of UKIP and growing nationalism in all corners of the UK, it appears the Conservatives and, increasingly, Labour are being swept along in their wake. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have become almost extraneous to the debate having lost their by-election deposits (by failing to receive 5% of the vote) a humiliating nine times since 2010.
While critical of the far-right, isolationist sentiments espoused by many grassroots UKIP supporters, Labour have now come out firmly in favour of limiting immigration and are once again “speaking up” for their traditional supporter base - the white working class. This was a bold move given that historically, immigrants have provided a key voting bloc for the party. The Conservatives, eager to assert themselves as the stewards of British values and democratic integrity have reaffirmed their (failed) 2010 manifesto commitment to cut net migration, promising also to hold an In-Out referendum on UK membership of the EU. Even with UKIP’s tiny representation in Westminster it seems ever clearer that mixing blue and red thinking is leaving a conspicuously purple stain on British political discourse.
So what can Christians bring to this shifting political debate? What might a compassionate approach to immigration look like? Firstly it is important to understand that it is not sinful to wonder about the effect of large scale migration on a place or people group. It is neither wrong nor racist unless of course your deliberations are based on assumptions which are themselves wrong or racist.
Arguably, from a Christian perspective the main issue is not about our national borders and immigration policy. It is about how we relate to the ‘strangers in our midst’ – those people who have come from other lands and cultures but now live in our communities, work in our hospitals and offices, pay their taxes and send their children to our schools.
Jesus summarised God’s law as to ‘love God with all your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself’. And when asked who he meant by neighbour, Jesus introduced the good Samaritan as the model for the Jews – even though he was an immigrant!
In the same way if we want to love our neighbour as ourselves, it means seeing our neighbour with fresh eyes. It does not mean walking down our street and reminiscing about it thirty years ago. It does not mean craning our necks past people in need, in pain and in isolation to seek out the neighbour we want to love. It does not mean blaming economic turmoil on the foreign names, accents and faces in our midst. After all, during the boom years of the noughties when migration was highest, we did not credit them with our success. No. Ultimately it means loving the one you are with. Loving them until you start to see them as one of us – part of a human community which existed long before any borders were drawn.
Read more about Jubilee Centre’s biblical thinking on the challenges of migration here.