Eyes to the Right
Journalists can’t do maths – or, at least, that is the simple insight that underlies the success of Migration Watch, the anti-immigration think-tank that crunches the numbers for Fleet Street’s anti-immigrant lobby.
Migration Watch first hit the headlines in May 2002, when the Sun reported its prediction that one million immigrants would arrive in the UK in the next five years. But the story quickly died, prompting the organisation to rejig its statistics until they were taken up again by the Daily Mail, Express, and Telegraph in the form of front-page lead stories proclaiming immigration at the rate of ‘a city the size of Cambridge every six months’. Such soundbites are Migration Watch’s stock in trade, with its press releases and reports spawning xenophobic scare stories that mix a selective reading of official statistics with heavy lashings of innuendo to claim that ‘One in Ten Londoners is an Immigrant’, or that ‘400 New Schools Are Needed for Asylum Seekers’.
Underlying the headlines is the assumption that immigration threatens national coherence and is, therefore, a bad thing. Migration Watch provides the figures, which are rarely scrutinised, and news angles – which, without being straightforwardly racist, nevertheless play upon racist fantasies and associations linking immigrants to the spread of disease, exploitation of welfare services and sham marriages. Since 2002, it has argued that asylum seekers with HIV or hepatitis should be removed from the country; that immigration checks should be a routine requirement before medical treatment is given; that foreign students and overseas visitors should pay a financial bond before coming the UK; and that marriage between British citizens and foreigners should only be recognised where both partners are aged 24 or over. It is not surprising that a rightwing think-tank should draw such conclusions. But it is surprising that such credence is given to its claim to be promoting evidencebased research, given the web of evangelical conservative and corporate vested interests that lie behind it.
The founding figure behind Migration Watch is Andrew Green, formerly British ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia. The way Green tells it, his interest in asylum questions stems from a frustrated attempt to deport the Saudi dissident Mohammed al- Massari from Britain: ‘We wanted him out, the Saudis wanted him out and we spent 18 months trying to get him out. When we failed I realised the asylum system was in chaos.’ Green fails to mention that he was a non-executive director of Vickers Military Systems, an arms company with links to Saudi Arabia, on his appointment as ambassador in 1996. Or that a failure to deport al- Massari was seen as a threat to a proposed Vickers contract to supply that country with 200 Challenger tanks. Or that leaked correspondence showed direct contact between Green and Sir Colin Chandler, then chief executive of Vickers, and senior executives at two other arms companies, British Aerospace and GKN, to update them on the progress of official attempts to silence al-Massari to appease the Saudis. Green’s main collaborator in Migration Watch is David Coleman, professor of demography at Oxford University. Coleman has made a career of telling governments that immigration restrictions are necessary. He served as a special advisor to Tory ministers Leon Brittan and William Waldegrave in the mid-1980s, and remains a close friend of disgraced former minister Jonathan Aitken. He is also a member of the Galton Institute (formerly the Eugenics Society – until that name was dropped due to the racist associations), having once served as its honorary secretary.
The Migration Watch advisory council also has leanings towards the Thatcherite right. Its members include Baroness Cox, a Eurosceptic cross-bench peer appointed to the Lords as a Conservative by Margaret Thatcher in 1982. The evangelical baroness, who is president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (on whose board Andrew Green has also served), has long used her position there to rail against Britain’s moral decline. This has included supporting the anti-gay section 28 legislation, and using her position to promote a book, Great Britain has Fallen, which equated abortion with the Holocaust and blamed multiculturalism for the import of ‘foreign practices’, such as ‘destructive’ homosexuality. More recently she can be found emphasising the dangerous demographic reality, as she puts it, that several MPs are becoming ‘deferential’ to their Muslim constituents and warning of the ‘Islamist’ threat at home and abroad. Cox is joined on the Migration Watch council by James Duguid, a retired professor who recently used his local Inverness paper to rail against the ‘madness’ of increasing the immigrant population, blaming it for everything from energy shortages to traffic congestion. Mervyn Stone, a University College London statistician whose work Migration Watch used to quote as an independent verification of their own, is also now an adviser for the organisation.