Reckless remarks highlight immigration panic’s human cost

By Savi Hensman
November 21, 2014

Sitting Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless held on to his seat in a by-election after defecting to the UK Independence Party, though with a much-reduced majority.

In 2010, as the Conservative candidate, he won by 9,953 votes, with Labour in second place. In 2014, on UKIP’s behalf, he was the frontrunner by 2,920 votes, defeating the new Tory candidate Kelly Tolhurst. Labour came third.

While the win bolsters UKIP’s position, the margin was not as great as some had expected. After an election campaign marked by alarming rhetoric on immigration by political parties and sections of the media, the result was perhaps unsurprising.

After being bombarded with scare-stories, British people think on average that immigrants make up 24 per cent of the population when the actual figure is about 13 per cent, Ipsos Mori found.

The party – which tends to be strongest in areas with fewest immigrants – plays on anxieties at a time of austerity. However, its policies would heighten insecurity for many white majority ethnic people, including reducing protection from unfair dismissal and further slashing public services.

In pre-election hustings, Reckless revealingly suggested that, if UKIP came to power, European Union citizens long settled in the UK could be expelled. His remarks, broadcast on ITV Meridian (, sparked heated controversy.

When asked what would happen to a Polish plumber in Rochester after withdrawal from the EU (a key plank of UKIP policy), Reckless replied that those currently here might stay on for a transitional period, with work permits

In response to a follow-up question about what would happen if the plumber had a house, family and children in the local school, Reckless said that those in such situations might be looked at sympathetically.

UKIP leaders quickly distanced themselves from his comments, declaring that it was not the party’s policy to round up migrants and put them on a boat at Dover. He himself backtracked, claiming that his words had been twisted, and said existing EU migrants would be able to stay.

However, in his way he did the immigration debate a service by focusing attention on the human cost of policies aimed at proving how tough parties are on immigration.

Those already affected include not only migrants, immigrants and asylum-seekers but also their families, friends and others who depend on them.

The distress of the wife whose husband faces deportation, the schoolchild whose best friend is being sent away, the frail elderly person at risk of being parted from the care assistant or health professional she relies on and trusts should not be forgotten.

When politicians compete with one another for fear of seeming ‘soft’, stoking up fear and hostility, people of all communities and the values underpinning society are affected.

© Savitri Hensman is a widely published Christian commentator on politics, welfare, religion and more. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.