In this regular column, the Refugee Council’s Mark Davies reflects on the challenges to shifting attitudes about refugees in a time of domestic crisis and misinformation.
I was in a meeting the other day where we kept getting knocked off track. I was in a town in the north of England, one of those many places struggling to find its way in a post-industrial world.
It was an introduction to some of the issues we in the refugee sector work on every day. It was a willing audience too, a couple of business leaders with an interest in asylum and how it works. Or doesn’t work.
We’d got on to issues around the latest government legislation but I could tell that minds had wandered. “Can we just go back to what you said before?”, I was asked. “The bit about asylum seeking and not being able to work.”
I happily agreed. There are thousands and thousands of people living in hotels who are not allowed to work, I said, for maybe the fourth time.
“That can’t be right”, was the response. Not right, I said, but government policy. He raised his eyes to the ceiling.
“So you are saying I need workers and there’s a load of people down the road who want to work, but can’t?”. I confirmed that I was indeed saying that. Now he shook his head.
We’d covered this ground four or five times but understandably he felt it was incomprehensible. “People need to know this stuff”, he said.
I really agree with that. They do need to know. And not enough do. I doubt that’s true in the world of the Progressive Activist, the term used by pollsters and strategists at the organisation More in Common to describe many of the people who campaign on refugee issues. I come out as one of them, or an Established Liberal, when I do the test on the More in Common website.
I think if the person I was talking to took the test they’d probably be what More in Common call a Disengaged Traditionalist or a Loyal National. The former are said to value self-reliance and take pride in their work. They want a sense of order and care particularly about crime and justice, and place onus on social rules they associate with Britishness.
Unless we do more to reach beyond our own lane, we won’t be able to help deliver the change we so desperately need for those who come here to seek safety and support.
According to More in Common (and you can find all this fascinating stuff on their site), Disengaged Traditionalists are similar to Loyal Nationals, one of the differences being that the latter tend to think in terms of groups rather than individual values.
Loyal Nationals are proud to be British and patriotic about it, and they worry about perceptions of threats to Britain. They also feel excluded by London and the way decisions are made, and disrespected by elites. They tend to read the Mail and the Sun.
It’s not an exact science, of course. The man I was chatting to might have elements of all these personas and more, a touch of the Civic Pragmatist, a hint of Disengaged Battler. But whatever, he is a thoroughly decent human being who is appalled by the way we treat people seeking asylum, and shocked to his core about the rules on work.
We need to do better here. When people like this man are so in the dark about the fact of life for people seeking asylum, and when he is open to support their cause, we need to examine how it is that we’ve not managed to get the message across.
It’s really important of course that Progressive Activists talk to other Progressive Activists, build campaigns and days of actions. But too many of us are swimming in the same lane. It’s too crowded, we keep crashing into each other and we are leaving all that space to the side of us for others to happily splash about in.
And when those enjoying the clear blue water that we won’t enter are happy to peddle misinformation, disinformation and plain old lies, we can hardly blame the decent Loyal Nationals and Disengaged Traditionalists for being at best confused and worst lured into falsehoods.
I’m a terrible swimmer so I think I will end the metaphor there. But I do know that unless we do more to reach beyond our own lane, we won’t be able to help deliver the change we so desperately need for those who come here to seek safety and support. ■
Mark Davies is the Head of Communications and Campaigns at the Refugee Council.