Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Usually when I get back on the radio after a two week break, I’m a bit ring-rusty. It takes me a couple of shows to get back into my stride. Not this week.
On Tuesday, I wanted to address the refugee crisis which is affecting many countries in southern and central Europe. Yvette Cooper sparked off a debate when she accused other UK politicians of being ‘cowardly’, and suggested the UK should take 10,000 refugees from Syria. Hear, hear, I thought: it’s about time someone said so [see above]. We of all countries should be showing our compassion and humanity and doing what Britain does best: supporting the underdog.
We took in 10,000 Jewish children during the 1930s. In the 1970s, we took in tens of thousands of Ugandan Asians, ten thousand Vietnamese boat people. We’ve done it before and we should do it again. As Cooper said, if every town in the country took ten families, that would be at least something. And yet all the heavy lifting is being left to Germany. They’ve thrown open their borders to anyone from Syria – no questions asked. They won’t be taking 10,000; they’ve already taken in hundreds of thousands. So well done, Yvette. At least you showed the balls your colleagues and opponents have so far lacked.
I’m not embarrassed to say that when I saw that picture of the four year old Syrian boy who drowned and was washed up on a Turkish beach I shed a tear. It’s both evocative and horrific. It’s pictures like that which shame everyone who says that the refugee crisis is nothing to do with us.
Anyone with an ounce of humanity would want that poor little boy to have had the same chances in life that any four year old in this country would have. What on earth is the EU for if it can’t come to the short term aid of people in need like this? How can David Cameron call himself a ‘compassionate conservative’ if he isn’t prepared to do what Germany has done, and open our doors to Syrian refugees in need?
He is of course right to say that taking in more and more refugees wouldn’t solve the long-term problem. That will only happen when countries like Syria and Somalia are fit for people to want to live in. But in the short term we can’t just restrict our help to funding refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. We need to do much more than that.
So well done to The Independent in publishing this picture – based on the video below. I am glad other papers followed suit. Sometimes people need to be shocked out of their comfort zones.
I am sure a lot of you reading this will think I’ve become a wet lettuce liberal on immigration. Maybe – but this isn’t about immigration, It’s about refugees seeking asylum. It’s about compassion and humanity. Ed West has written a great piece on the Spectator website, in which he suggests a Conservative response to this refugee crisis would be for someone to launch a kind of Kindertransport scheme in which individual Britons could offer shelter to Syrians in the way that we offered the same to Jewish children in the 1930s.
I sense a real shift in public opinion now, which the Prime Minister would do well to stay on the right side of – as he is clearly now trying to do. It’s not just people like me and Tim Montgomerie who have spoken out. Conservative MPs such as David Burrowes have too. You couldn’t exactly say he or Tim Montgomerie were hand-wringing lefties, even if you think I am. I hope any Conservative MPs reading this and who agree with my analysis will make their views known.
One more idea. Apparently the Department for International Development has difficulty in spending its budget. Well, how about taking £1 billion out of it to actually help people in genuine need? It could in part be spent building some refugee camps in this country. It could help build reception centres in north Africa. It could be spent in so many different ways, but surely this is what an aid budget is for?
It really does come to something when Cameron can’t see the need to take in more genuine refugees, yet Nigel Farage can. He says we should be taking in several thousand. So far we have taken in 216. It’s a record that shames us.
Andy Burnham – no doubt in a desperate bid to outdo Yvette Cooper – has now called for a parliamentary debate on the issue when MPs return to Westminster next week. Whatever his motives for calling for such a debate to take place, he is surely right – although I wonder if he has realised that Yvette Cooper would no doubt lead it for Labour. If Parliament doesn’t debate the biggest issue facing Europe at the moment, what is it for?