A media furore has blown up, and all Labour deputy leadership contenders have joined in, all surrounding a statement by Margaret Hodge MP on the housing situation in Barking, East London. While being attacked for adding grist to the BNP [British National Party] mill, fuelling race hatred and being racist herself; she is widely quoted as stating the following: 'British families had a "legitimate sense of entitlement" over immigrants'. There are two ways of reading this, firstly that Ms Hodge believes that immigrants have no legitimate rights to housing; or there is a problem because this is a common and understandable attitude among her constituents given the context. The media, while highlighting the problems of immigration, an influx of Romanians to Slough being given a lot of both airtime and column inches in recent days, decide that for anyone else to voice these opinions is wrong and so by branding the statement as racist stifle any debate on the issue. On which note see Andrew O'Hagan's article, which seems to condemn Ms Hodge on the same basis that The Telegraph supported Michael Howard on exactly the same issue
The further problem here is that this offers an open goal to the BNP. If a spiral of silence is encouraged that prevents any negative comment being made about immigration policy the BNP are the only contenders for election who will voice the opinions of the people within these areas. A debate on these matters, allowing the voices of immigrants also to be heard, may have a positive impact on intercultural relations; silencing the issue allows discontent to brew under the surface and hence, perhaps, the BNP have won 11 council seats within Barking and Dagenham.
While this may sound like a pro-Conservative position, echoing the line 'it isn't racist to want to limit immigration', this is not party political. It is a question of representation, and if views are not represented in the public arena and not debated properly then they stay fixed and waiting for someone to use the prejudices for political purposes. If the media encourages some level of interaction between the communities there may be a greater understanding and even empathy encouraged; however the controversial story has currency it appears which is in danger of leaving the BNP to gain support through their use of cheap propaganda (see right). Rather than BBC's Question Time debating the rights and wrongs of Ms Hodges statement, the time may have been better spent discussing the issues which lie beneath; but this sadly does not seem to be consistent with the drive for an audience. A personal opinion, and yes a bit of a rant, but there is a serious problem here that needs addressing; and the media need to be very clear about what is racism and what is an issue that needs open discussion and the encouragement of understanding.