Monday, July 29, 2013

Go home, van

Imaged used by Home Office to announce its Go Home campaign
Image used by the Home Office to announce its
Go Home campaign
Last Monday the Home Office announced that Redbridge could expect a visit from a van or two sporting big pictures of handcuffs, the message “Here illegally? Go home or face arrest” and a number to text for ‘help’. Over this week things got even more bizarre.

Affronted citizens started a campaign of civil disobedience in response to the Go Home vans. They texted the Home Office number with tales of needing to get home, then they wasted the time of the people who called them back.

The Councils of the affected boroughs were furious. It turned out that the Home Office hadn’t consulted them about the campaign - or even notified them about it. The vans were just going to come in uninvited. Unaccounted for. Unwanted outsiders causing trouble among decent local people, if you like...

Things got stranger. Realising that the campaign was the Conservative Party’s inept way of trying to out-compete UKIP on anti-migrant votes, UKIP quickly came out in strong condemnation with David Coburn comparing the initiative to the Nazis (silly, diminishes what the Nazis did) and implying that the EU controls Britain’s borders (plain wrong). That said, we do know that the government established something very sinister they called the ‘hostile environment working group’ while cutting jobs at the UK Border Agency even though it has an enormous backlog of claims to process. Perhaps the UKBA would be a good place to start, rather than with the migrants - nobody except the Home Office and the far right appears to hold them responsible. And even the Home Office is just pretending. I hope. Though maybe not.

Meanwhile in Redbridge, leaders of the three parties (including Conservatives) on Redbridge Council put aside other differences and released the following joint statement:

"We were neither informed nor consulted about this Home Office initiative. We have no information from the Home Office about why they have chosen Redbridge to carry out such an unusual scheme, or what the purpose is. It is clearly most unfortunate that the Home Office should take actions which were bound to be controversial, about highly sensitive matters, without very careful discussion with the affected communities.

If we had been consulted, we would have warned strongly that, whatever effect this campaign might be intended to have on people who are in the country unlawfully, that message is far outweighed by the negative message to the great majority of people, from all backgrounds, who live and work together in Redbridge, peacefully, productively and lawfully. We ask the Home Office to withdraw the campaign."

Rita Chadha of RAMFEL (Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London) formally contacted the Home Office with a “letter before claim” and met officials on Friday to discuss the tensions resulting from the campaign. And by the way, if you find yourself targeted by the message on the vans you can contact RAMFEL for free advice.

Over in Feltham Taranjit Chanah, a solicitor from Southall, spotted one of the vans and reported it to the police for inciting racial hatred. I haven’t come across any reports of sightings in Redbridge, though. I like to think that the Go Home Van masterminds realised that they are the main outside threat and have driven themselves away.

Since the Home Office has just scorned community relations it’s probably a good idea to be explicit about why the Go Home campaign is wicked as well as stupid. I could go on at some length but I just noticed that, as always, Rafael Behr has got there first, better and briefer:

There is a delicate balance to be struck when crafting a policy on immigration, appealing to people who don't like foreigners without deploying language that is obviously racist. The point at which maximum xenophobia that can be mobilised with minimum affront to middle-class sensibilities is called May's equilibrium.

A handy case study is provided by a new Home Office plan to drive vans around London urging illegal migrants to return to their native countries. Officially, the message is aimed at migrants. Of course, the target audience is actually people who want reassurance that the government is being tough on migrants. The inference is that there is probably something illicit about many of the foreigners on the capital's streets, which is what racists think but Whitehall departments can't say out loud.

In case of doubt: "Go back where you came from!" – racist slogan shouted by skinheads.

"Contact the Home Office for help going back where you came from" – respectable Tory migration policy.
Commenters below report Redbridge sightings. Please keep us updated here, contact RAMFEL and/or tweet these to the @RAMFELCharity account. They suggest hastags #Racistvan #racistvans or #GoHome.


  1. Apparently they have been sighted in Seven Kings and Goodmayes on the High Road.

  2. A serious probablem handled with gross ineptitude by a department still unfit for purpose.

  3. That and 111. Is there a ministry for daft ideas?

    1. Yes, Anne - it's called the Home Office.

  4. In Wickes carpark at Goodmayes yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately I wasn't, otherwise I would have gone and told them how unwelcome they were.

  5. Wickes carpark? Do you think they were doing a sneaky large item shop with the van?

    1. No - that's what Dedbridge Council vans do in Sainsbury's.

  6. Here's an interesting response: