What has happened to David Blunkett?

Once upon a time, in the early 1980s, David Blunkett, the home
secretary, was leader of Sheffield City Council. He demonstrated an
impressive ability to think laterally. For instance, as I recall,
he imposed a flat two pence bus fare in the city. Why? To ease the
consequences of chronic unemployment.

Cheap fares meant people could escape the prison of home; visit
friends and family; reach job interviews – all of which helped to
reduce the price that joblessness often exacts in depression,
isolation and loss of confidence. What has happened to the

His policies at times appear cruel, harsh, ineffectual and
ridiculously costly. They seem to be informed by panic and

The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill has just scraped
through parliament. The Home Office now has the right to confine
asylum seekers, like 21st century lepers, to four special centres
in which families will be denied access to the NHS and mainstream
schooling. Britain received 71,700 applications for asylum last
year. The centres will house fewer than 4,000 at any one

Many of the Home Office’s initiatives receive maximum publicity but
deliver little except encouragement to xenophobes to aim more
racist abuse at “foreigners”. Dispersal? A disaster. Vouchers?
Shameful and abandoned.

Regulation of immigration, illegal entrants and asylum seekers is a
mess. Instead of addressing each of the three strands efficiently
and properly, the easy option for politicians is to penalise those
coming into the UK who do go by the rules. This distracts from the
extent of official incompetence and placates some of the

Last year, more than 30,000 people who had sought asylum were
allowed to remain permanently. Think laterally, Mr Blunkett. If you
send individuals, many of whom will one day become British
citizens, into internal exile in centres, they are immediately
marked as a burden and a drain. It makes sense to allow asylum
seekers to work from their arrival, pay tax, enter mainstream
schooling, establish roots even if only for a period while
government provides extra support to teachers, GPs and local
authorities. All of which cannot amount to the £565 it costs
weekly to keep a person in a detention centre (£1,620 in a
closed reception centre).

Mr Blunkett treats immigration as if tells only one tale: the
scrounger’s charter. What he needs is to reread his socialist
tracts, and have more faith in the human condition.

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