Leicester is already British and we’re proud of who we are

** Scroll down for updated comments following the Make Leicester British broadcast **

I first found out about Channel 4’s ‘Make Leicester British’ documentary when I saw the trailer a few weeks ago. Many Leicester people including me have serious concerns about the way in which this programme will portray community relations in our city when it is aired on Monday night.

For one thing the trailer begins with the following statement: “In one of Britain’s most diverse cities immigration polarises opinion.” Most of us in Leicester know this is a lie. ‘Polarises’ is a very strong word. It implies there are major disagreements in our city and that immigration is a huge issue for local people. This is simply untrue.

The trailer then cuts to further statements from two different individuals: a man says “English society is losing its identity”; and a woman is then seen to say “I do not want any more people coming into this country; enough is enough!”

These are clearly very provocative statements, although I’m advised the programme will not be as inflammatory as the trailer would seem to suggest. Indeed it appears the trailer has been specifically designed to cause a reaction (and it worked) as well as to whip up a frenzy of viewers on Monday night.

It’s disappointing but unsurprising that Channel 4 regularly broadcasts controversial programmes such as this. ‘Benefits Street’ is another example.

Channel 4 would have us believe they are a bastion of liberal media and a guardian of social justice and equality in Britain. In reality Channel 4 is a commercial organisation and in the end it all comes down to profits and advertising revenues. The higher the viewing figures; the greater the income stream.

Immigration is one of many important issues we care about here in Leicester. But our people and our politicians do not talk irresponsibly about immigration or seek to blame immigrants for the ills of society. Leicester people by and large know that societal problems tend to stem from Tory policies, both past and present, which have always disproportionately favoured very rich people and big corporations.

visitleicesterIn any event I think it’s a disgrace that the programme is called “Make Leicester British”. As my friend and Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth tweeted recently “Leicester, proud of our rich diversity, already is British.”

It is extremely offensive for the programme makers and for Channel 4 to suggest our city is not British, or that our ‘Britishness’ has somehow been diluted by the arrival of immigrants, be it from Poland, Somalia, or anywhere else. We also don’t appreciate having some middle class, middle aged, middle management types from London defining what Britishness means to our people and our city.

In regards to the programme I think it’s highly unlikely a bunch of journalists from London visiting Leicester for a couple of weeks – who handpicked participants for an edited 90-minute broadcast – will have gained a sufficient understanding or experience of our beautiful city, our rich heritage, our cultural diversity, and the unity of our people. But let’s wait and see what kind of footage they put out on Monday night.

‘Make Leicester British’ will be shown on 3 November 2014 at 9pm on Channel 4

UPDATE

Having now watched ‘Make Leicester British’ I can make the following observations.

Just a few minutes into the broadcast I knew it would be utter garbage. The narrator referred to Leicester as a divided city, which is an outright lie. In-fact the programme was full of lies, i.e. claiming there were 53 mosques in Leicester when there are actually around 30.

I feel vindicated for having serious concerns about the way in which the programme would portray Leicester people. But I also knew the documentary was produced by the same people who gave us ‘Benefits Street’.

This was manufactured gutter television of the lowest order, designed to create controversy, boost ratings and advertising revenues, and advance the interests of the programme makers – not the political issues or the participants.

The show was sensationalist drivel passed off as a documentary. It entirely failed to reflect the true face of Leicester people. To top it off these visiting London journalists had the audacity to try to define what Britishness should mean to our city and our people.

Ultimately 8 days of footage was edited into 90 minutes of viewing to paint a particular narrative. Specifically, the programme makers wanted us to believe Leicester is divided and that immigration is a major issue in our city; neither of which is true.

The producers handpicked the participants and seemingly opted for people who held extreme views. Whilst this may have made good television – in the eyes of the programme makers – sadly all it demonstrated was that this was never meant to be a sensible, thought-provoking or reasonable documentary about immigration and its associated issues.

There was no factual discussion of the positive aspects of immigration, such as the fact immigrants have contributed more than £25 billion to the British economy. There was also no discussion of the welfare payments asylum seekers receive, which is a maximum of £36 per week.

Overall it was a disgraceful distortion of our city and our people. The programme entirely failed to properly debate the important issue of immigration in a mature and rational way. By ending with a few pithy examples of participants learning the error of their ways, this tacky programme tried to harvest some sense of dignity, and justify the need for its production.

It failed miserably on all counts and I’m sure most Leicester people would agree with me.

One Leicester

Speech to Council on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers

My speech to Council can be viewed here.

Still Human Still HereI whole heartedly support Cllr Clarke’s motion and I’m really glad to see my fellow Labour Councillors taking a proactive and compassionate stance on this important humanitarian issue.

I think I might be one of a few people in this room whose parents and grandparents were in-fact refugees, and I’ve spoken previously on my family’s connection to Uganda.

I was having a conversation with my dad recently and he was telling me about how he and his family arrived in this country with £55 in their pockets.

He was also telling me about how the Ugandan military had put up many checkpoints along the route to the airport.

Families were routinely robbed of what little possessions they had. Worse still, women were taken from queues, only to be raped and murdered indiscriminately.

Ugandan Asian refugees arriving in BritainIt’s quite a horrific part of my own family history, but I think it certainly played an important role in my own upbringing, and the values that my parents instilled in me.

However I think it’s also true to say that we don’t necessarily need to have had a personal experience with the plight of refugees, in order to be able to empathise with it, to understand it and to want to see things change.

So I have a lot of time for decent, conscientious people who recognise that we have a moral human duty to try to help refugees.

And it’s one of the many reasons why I’m so proud to be a Labour Party member and activist, because it is the Labour Party that has always stood up, for the rights of the downtrodden and the disadvantaged. It is the Labour Party that has time again campaigned for social justice, and for Britain to play a leading role in the world, when it comes to offering humanitarian assistance.

Contrast this with the way the current government is playing party politics with the lives of refugees, whipping up fear and resentment, and failing to offer genuine help to many asylum seekers who have temporarily settled in Britain.

Visiting the Leicester Zimbabwean AssociationMany of you will be familiar with the case of my former constituent Evenia Mawongera, a grandmother who had fled to Britain some 10 years ago, who late last year was forcibly deported back to Zimbabwe.

Evenia had the support of her local church and Leicester’s strong and vibrant Zimbabwean community, many of whom live in Beaumont Leys. She also had the support of our City Mayor, the city’s 3 MPs, probably every councillor in this chamber, and many other agencies, community groups and even our local press.

And yet despite the best efforts of Leicester people to help one of their own, Home Secretary Theresa May refused to intervene.

After Evenia was deported back to Zimbabwe the Leicester Mercury ran an article in October 2013, reporting on the concerns of Evenia’s friends and family, who said that they had been unable to reach her, and that they feared for her safety.

Of course there are people who have legitimate fears about newcomers, whether they’re refugees or economic migrants; the biggest of which is an understandable concern about the finite resources that we have as a nation and as a city.

It’s right that these fears are addressed with respect and serious debate. But it’s also right that we understand and explain the very big difference between economic migrants and those who come here as refugees and asylum seekers.

I think another thing that people also worry about is the loss of British culture and British identity, almost as if Britishness was a tangible thing, and the more you dilute it, the weaker it becomes.

Britishness is a mindset and a way of lifeHowever I fundamentally disagree with this. In my view Britishness is a mind-set and a way of life. It exists in the hearts and minds of people who value what it is that makes our country great: from our civil liberties and social freedoms, to our respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law; from our sense of humour and our shared history, to our love of quirky things and our compassion for people and animals. And it is this sense of British compassion that we must tap into, to convince those in power and ordinary British people that it is both right and proper that we do our bit, to help refugees and asylum seekers.

Persecution abroad should not lead to destitution here, and those who arrive in Britain fearing for their lives, should be given sanctuary, shelter and support, so that they – just like my parents and grandparents – can work hard and contribute, to enriching this great nation of ours.

Speech to Council: motion to recognise the contribution of Ugandan Asians

Click here to watch my speech on the Leicester City Council webcast video archive.

Speech delivered at a Leicester City Council meeting on 13 September 2012

As the son and grandson of Ugandan Asian immigrants who came to this city with virtually nothing, it gives me great pride to bring this motion before Council tonight.

In August 1972 the entire Asian population of Uganda was expelled by the dictator Idi Amin. They were given 90 days to leave the country or face being put into concentration camps. Some 80,000 men, women and children were stripped of all their possessions and forced to leave the only home they had ever known.

Around a third of the Ugandan Asian population held British passports. The Tory Government at the time initially tried to avoid letting them come here, but after weeks of wrangling the Government relented, and a huge resettlement effort began. In the end more than 25,000 Ugandan Asians came to the UK and around 10,000 moved to Leicester.

Here in Britain 1972 was a difficult year. With an oil crisis, a three-day week and crippling strikes; the economy was stagnating and times were tough for almost everyone. In addition there were widespread anti-immigration protests throughout Britain, spurred on by the likes of Enoch Powell and the National Front.

The people of Leicester and the Council at the time were reluctant to see a huge influx of new arrivals. But 40 years on Leicester is a very different place; a much better place. By living together, working together and going to school together, communities in Leicester have become more integrated and multiculturalism is part of everyday life.

When the Ugandan Asians came to Leicester they settled mainly in Highfields and Belgrave where housing was cheap. Despite an ailing economy there were plenty of manual jobs and Ugandan Asians ended up working in factories and businesses such as Imperial Typewriters, Thorn Lighting, Leicester Garments, Wilkinson’s and the British United Shoe Machinery Company to name a few.

It was in the factories and on the shop floors that barriers began to break down between the native British population and the newcomers from Uganda. If discrimination did occur, Ugandan Asians found solidarity with those in the trade union movement; a strong and vital link that remains just as important today as it was back then.

And on the subject of discrimination let me say categorically that we in the Labour Party have always and will always stand for core values of equality and fairness. And that is why we condemn today those, particularly on the far right, who seek to discourage people who are fleeing persecution, from coming here. Yesterday’s National Front are today’s BNP and EDL, and we must never be complacent about the threat they pose or the damage they do, even from a brief visit to our city.

In theory the Ugandan Asians who came here fleeing persecution were refugees, but in practise they lived and behaved like economic migrants; not seeking hand outs but working hard, not taking from society but contributing to it. And – as the Prime Minister said in the Commons yesterday – the contribution that Ugandan Asians have made to the United Kingdom has been ‘extraordinary’.

Those who came to Leicester were strong-willed, hardworking and entrepreneurial. They brought with them an excellent work ethic, core family values, a respect for others and an appreciation of the need to obtain a good education – values that all of us can identify with.

Some of those who were expelled ran successful businesses in Uganda. Here in Britain many had to start again from scratch – which they did – building multi-million pound businesses, and working to help their children become the doctors, lawyers and accountants of tomorrow.

40 years ago the people of Leicester accepted – albeit reluctantly – an unprecedented amount of change. Today our city is not only at peace with its diversity but proud of it. Asian culture imported from East Africa has influenced everything from our food to our fashion, from our festivals to our friendships.

My Lord Mayor, it is right and proper that we acknowledge the contribution that all communities have made and that we thank all the people of Leicester for making our city what it is.

But tonight we pause to reflect on the 40th anniversary of the arrival of Ugandan Asians fleeing persecution and formally recognise the contribution that they have made to the fabric of our city.

I hope that the inter-cultural harmony and social cohesion that we enjoy here in Leicester continues to go from strength-to-strength, and I pay tribute to the values and achievements of the Ugandan Asian community in Britain, and the awesome impact they have had on this great city of ours.

Thank you.