Is our altruistic response to Syria masking bigger public doubts?

by Kevin Meagher

As politicians, Bob Geldof and the Catholic Church compete to entreat the British public to give up their spare room for a Syrian family, are we in danger of misreading where the real centre of gravity of British public opinion actually lies?

There’s a strong hint in the Survation poll in last Sunday’s Mail on Sunday that we are. Beneath the headline finding that 51 per cent of Brits would now vote to leave the EU, were a series of, what are, in the current climate, counter-intuitive findings about the migrant crisis.

Presented with a sliding scale of numbers from 0 to 300,000 and asked: ‘How many Syrian refugees should the UK accept’, the biggest response – 29 per cent – said ‘none’.

Half that amount – 15 per cent – said they thought Britain should take up to 10,000 (roughly the ministers are proposing over the next couple of years). Just four per cent were willing to see 30,000 or more.

And only a third of respondents (34 per cent) approved of Yvette Cooper’s plan ‘for each town to take in ten refugee families.’ 42 percent disapproved.

Meanwhile, a fifth (22 per cent) of those who believe we should remain in the EU changed their minds and opted to leave, ‘[i]f the migrant crisis gets worse’.

64 per cent of respondents thought David Cameron was ‘right to refuse to sign up to the EU’s migrant-sharing plan’. Just 22 per cent agreed.

What conclusion do we draw from these figures?

First, it seems apparent that political and media reaction is way ahead of public opinion. This isn’t to say voters aren’t moved by refugees’ plight, but they are experiencing ‘cognitive dissonance’ – holding two mutually exclusive opinions at the same time.

Or, to put it another way, they are responding with their hearts to individual tales of suffering relayed to them on the television news, but they think with their heads on the general issue.

There is no doubting that the public’s outpouring of sadness at the heart-rending pictures of tiny Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach was utterly genuine, but that doesn’t mean voters have dropped their guard when it comes to worrying about immigration.

Second, it’s clear that the prospect of further mass migration will send voters towards the EU exit in next year’s referendum.

Third, liberal politicians should beware thinking they can transpose individual tales into wider trends.

On the basis of this poll, they can’t.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut 

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14 Responses to “Is our altruistic response to Syria masking bigger public doubts?”

  1. Tafia says:

    The legal status of what is a refugee and how they get the status of refugee is defined by UNHCR. They are not refugees unless they go to a refugee processing centre and register – and from then on where they end up is where the UNHCR say they do – not where they want. Hence Cameron saying we will only take refugees from the camps such as those in Turkey & Jordon, and on the understanding they are refugees tand as such return once conditions are safe

    That has been the problem with the 10,000 currently entering Germany – they did not want to be refugees because they would have been moved back to the UNHCR refugee camps in southern Turkey. So they have never declared themselves refugees nor sought to be classed as refugees – quite the opposite. Because if they had have done, they wouldn’t be allowed to go to Germany. It is UNHCR policy that refugees are kept as close to the country of origin as possible until it is safe enough for them to return because experience shows that the further they move away, the less likely they are to return.

    This is not the refugee crisis. That hasn’t started yet. There are over 5 million people on the move in the middle east alone. And even more in eastern and northern Africa.

    Some ‘Devils Advocate’ questions for you to consider:-

    1. Have a look at the people moving into Germany. Notice how many are males of fighting age. If they are so concerned about their country and the security of their families then why are they not fighting for it. What would you have thought of British young men of fighting age if they had run away in 1939. And if they aren’t prepared to fight for their country then why should anyone else bother and why should we risk our soldiers doing a job they can’t be arsed to do.

    2. There are over 95,000 children in local authority care awaiting adoption or fostering in the UK. Suddenly, hundreds of people who have shown no interest in adoption want to adopt a Syrian orphan. Do you not think it is fairer that they all wait their turn, and these people adopt a child already in the queue and in turn a Syrian orphan takes the local authority place.

    3. There are thousands of families in Bed & Breakfasts because Local Authorities cannot house them yet suddenly these same local authorities have hundreds of houses across the UK to offer Syrian displaced persons. Do you not think it is fairer that these ‘suddenly available’ houses and flats are given to UK families currently in B&Bs and in turn the Syrian families take their place in the B&B and await their turn.

    4. Given that there are 5 million displaced peoples in the Middle East all slowly moving north to Europe, and millions more in east and north Africa doing likewise, and Germany has now given the green light, do you think that we should accept anyone who wants to come here or should we have a limit and what do you think that limit should be. And once we reach that limit – which we will and quite rapidly once the big movement starts, what do you think we should do then.

    Of the three warring factions, Assads regime is the only one that is multi-ethnic, non-extremist. It is covertly favoured by Isael and has Christians, Kurds, sunnis and shia fighting for it. It also enjoys the most domestic support. Next most powerful and widely supported is Daesh (ISIS) – who are wahabi sunni fanatics who hate Christians, Jews and Shia muslims. Trailing in a poor third place are the western backed shattered remnants of what was the FSA – who are in a loose ‘coalition of survival’ with al Queada.

    If we bomb Assad then ISIS will be in Damascus within days and you will have a refugee crisis the like of which has not been seen since 1945 as millions of Syrians flee northwards to Turkey and then Europe and across the sea to Cyprus.

    So that means that to achieve our stated aims of the last couple of years we have to bomb both Assads forces and ISIS at the same time – but the FSA/Al Queada alliance are despised by most of the population, cannot defeat either Assad or ISIS and the country will totally collapse because the majority of Syrians do not support them.

    The Russian airforce has been active in Syria for the past fortnight – something that has been reported very quietly in the media along with photos of Russian marked aorcraft in action.. In addition and entire Russian Motor Rifle Regiment (the equivalent of one of our armoured infantry brigades) is currently in the process of disembarkation in Syria. It is equipped with the latest BTR 82a APCs and T90 tanks. Putin is not going to let the Assad regime fall.

    The only answer to this is to back Assad for the forseeable future.

  2. Richard says:

    Self evidently workers (potential labour voters if you’d prefer) are worried about immigration, they were worried before the crisis became political and now they will, like as not, become more worried. The question is, what are they worried about, why are the largest percentage saying no refugees should come to Britain?
    Its obvious really, and this is supported by as much research as you’d care to read, they are worried on one level about the effect on “the British way of life” but more about services such as healthcare, education, housing, benefits and so on. If these things are already not to their satisfaction, which for many they are not, it appears logical that what will be perceived as additional pressure on those stretched services will concern them.
    So, what to do?
    The options are either we pander to their feelings and refuse entry to refugees, and at the moment the political classes are seemingly unwilling to do that, or we decide, as they have in Germany, to fund the crisis.
    Germany has already stated that it will put up 6 billion euros and no doubt this will go some way to allay the fears of the doubtful.
    The problem with the British political classes is that they have spent so long persuading people that austerity is the only way forward that were they to find £4 billion pounds to fund refugees this would immediately create another political crisis as people ask the question, where will the money come from and are there not better things to spend it on?
    The outcome?
    They won’t find any money, or at least won’t find enough money, and the empathy and sympathy people feel at the moment will turn to resentment for the poor services Labour voters receive and that will be exploited by the right wing and transform itself into racism.
    I suggest that we on the left face the bigger danger full on that this potential outcome represents and suggest to the government ways in which we can find the money that doesn’t alienate our supporters.
    How about a tax on the arms manufactures who have benefited so much from the wars fought in our name as a starting point as this would also bring to political discourse the question of who benefits from wars, it certainly isn’t our armed forces personell who are treated so lamentably when their services are no longer required.
    I suggest this as a starting point, perhaps others have ideas on how we can fund the crisis in a politically acceptable manner, but please, come up with ideas or we will play straight into the hands of UKIP and those to their right.

  3. Bob says:

    The 29% are not wrong, we should be keeping migrants as close to their home country as possible. Looking at the comments via the media and the parents of the child who drowned, they had been in Turkey for a considerable period of time. By leaving they had become economic migrants not asylum seekers.

    Many of the ‘migrants’ appear to be lone males, where are their families such as parents, brothers sister and even children and wives.

    Cameron is right to take them from the refugee camps in Turkey, you have control of who enters the country.

    But the main question to the politicians at all levels, is how many people will they accommodate in their houses, even their second and third ones. These migrants will not be living in their streets will they. More importantly why have they and ‘celebrities’ like Geldof not offered to take people in who are waiting on local council housing lists. This is all political hypocritical cant.

  4. Bob says:

    Richard, redirect the aid budget, maintain refugees with that money in Turkey Jodan and Lebanon, but in no circumstances take any here.

  5. Union Jock says:

    Britons beiieve our country is already full to near-bursting; that public services and schools are under strain in many places; that English cities are becoming Third World enclaves; and that some of those being let in may turn out to be bad guys– intent on linking up with similar types born here to do us harm.

    It is the ‘thin end of the wedge’ argument that drives what might otherwise seem callousness. Charity begins at home. We British should no more have to apologise for not wanting our homeland to be squatted than Palestinians on the West Bank.

    Labour should have learned the lessons of Brown’s encounter with Gillan Duffy, but we still get finger-wagging sermons about compassion from privileged types such as Yvette Cooper.

  6. David Walker says:

    A month from now, the photo of the white toddler wearing western clothes faced-down on the beach will be largely forgotten. Most people will go back to thinking the way they used to think about middle-eastern refugees moving into their town.

    If Labour wants to help these people, they are going to have to do it on the quiet. Cooper will soon regret her comments. The sort of voters she would need to target as leader will just think she’s happy to spend their taxes on bringing more migrants in, putting them to the top of housing queues, buying more future Labour voters, etc, etc.

    Corbyn would be chasing the votes of different people and all this sort of stuff is already priced-in with him.

  7. Michael Worcester says:

    Taking the most vulnerable from the camps is the right thing to do. Mostly these are single mothers, and persecuted minorities like Christians and Yazidis who are often driven out of the camps.

  8. Madasafish says:

    Anyone think the Middle East is going to find peace suddenly?

    Anyone think the number of people seeking a better life is going to reduce?
    Anyone think the EU and UK policies on immigrants is workable over the next decade or two?

    Anyone think that the UK is going to continue to welcome increasing# numbers of immigrants every year?
    # factual

    If you are strictly honest with the answers, then the outcome is simple. Either the existing parties which usually form a Government take action to restrict numbers, or voters will vote in a Party which does..

    It would appear Labour want voters to adopt the latter course.

  9. Richard says:

    Interesting post Tafia, here are my responses to your questions.
    1) who do you propose the men of fighting age fight for, who against and with what, stones? Clearly, the very fact that there was a popular uprising against the Assad regime way back during the Arab Spring shows they are not likely to throw their lot in with him. So are you proposing they fight for one of the other two, one weak and the other Islamic extremists? Perhaps we ought to have acted in favour of the uprising way back when, but the British elites are very unlikely back a popular uprising, but too late now? If it were me with my family, I think I’d be on my toes.
    2) Adoption is less a first come first served thing but suitability. There are issues of ethnicity, age, trauma and it’s consequences, location and so on. Most on the list are older kids because those willing to adopt would prefer to adopt younger children, so I am willing to guess that the very young orphans arriving from Syria are the most likely to be adopted first, it’s the nature of the beast.
    3) Housing is very clearly an issue but the solution was found during slum clearances and after the war, it’s called a housebuilding program. Even estate agents are suggesting that local authorities build for rent and if they are desirable properties thence really don’t have a problem other than the London area with the cost of land. Time for some good old compulsory purchase I think, at reasonable compensation rather than development land prices.
    In the short term limits will be hard to impose, there are facts on the ground. The solution will be temporary residence, but more important is some kind of settlement in conflict zones, this was discussed on radio 4 today, difficult, but realistically the only solution.

  10. Landless Peasant says:

    Don’t read the Mail, It’sarse wipe.

  11. Tafia says:

    Clearly, the very fact that there was a popular uprising against the Assad regime way back during the Arab Spring shows they are not likely to throw their lot in with him.
    The uprising in Syria was not ‘widely supported’ . It was externally fostered and largely unsupported on the ground hence why the FSA – despite receiving western backing has all but collapsed and ended up in a loose alliance with al-Queda. Assad and his regime remain the most widely supported of the three warring groups – and being as he is already in power and the country was relatively liberal by middle eastern standards and largely extremist free, then that is who they should initially be fighting for.

    Adoption is less a first come first served thing but suitability. There are issues of ethnicity,
    In which case there is going to be virtually no takers for the largest componant of the orphaned kids as they are muslim and the UK muslim community’s record on coming forward to adopt is well below the UK average across ethnic groups.

    Housing is very clearly an issue but the solution was found during slum clearances and after the war, it’s called a housebuilding program.
    They are need now not in a decade’s time.

    There can be no settlement. Putin is not going to let Assad’s regime fall and he in turn is not going tio cut a deal with either the Caliphate or the battered, no l;onger combat effective remains of the FSA. The only workable settlement is to accommodate Assad, halt Daesh’s advance by air interdiction while he cracks on with finishing the destruction of the FSA/al Queda.

    We backed the wrong pony at the start of this and that’s one of the reasons it’s the mess it is now. Whichever politicians in the west thought the FSA were large enough and with enough popular support to topple Assad isn’t fit to be a politician. The FSA were never in a month of sundays going to bring Assad down and the Americans (and those clinging on their shirt-tails) were still obsessed with their’Axis Of Evil’ bilge and in true American fashion grossly misunderstood a foreign nation with a foreign culture. As per usual.

  12. Union Jock says:

    The whole ”drowned toddler’ sob story is beginning to unravel anyway. Like the ‘Saddam’s men disconnected babies’ incubators in Kuwait’ yarn that decorated the First Gulf War.

    The British are less liable to fall for atrocity hoaxes and tearjerking stunts than when we did not have so many potentially hostile aliens within our borders.

  13. Tafia says:

    Oh and Richard, according to the UNHCR and the agencies it works with, of the refugees at the refugee reception centres, 72% are adult males, more than 60% are adult males of fighting age and only 13% are minors and infants and 15% adult females.

    So, the fit adult males have abandoned the women, the children and the elderly to their fate and done a runner to save their own skins or they contain a high percentage of fifth columnist extremists on long term infiltration.

  14. Josh says:

    Nothing new about fighting men fleeing the conflicts, look at the Spanish Civil War, a lot flee to to France. On battlefields, some of them even took over the ambulances to get away from the Spanish Foreign Legion.

    I honestly doubt the theory of infiltration is plausible. Daesh rely very much on the foreign fighters and they’re fighting on several fronts and several armies at the same time. Although we don’t know the true strength, I do doubt very much they can spare fighting men over to Europe when they are still fighting stretching over several borders over a large area.

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