Saturday 29 August 2015


Even by the usual biased standards of Dateline London today's discussion of the migrant crisis was extraordinarily one-sided. 

If you want to watch four people mounting their high horses, saying exactly the same thing and then vigorously nodding in agreement with each other, then this edition is definitely for you. 

Part of the problem was the usual Dateline problem - that the chosen panellists all came from a particular political position. There was Yasmin Alibhai Brown of The Independent (who, famously, never dismounts from her high horse), Rachel Shabi of The Guardian (who's proving quite a keen rider of high horses too), Chinese writer Xue Xinran (who, according to Wikipedia, "frequently contributes to The Guardian and the BBC") and mild-mannered Henry Chu of the Los Angeles Times (who got surprisingly hot under the collar today). 

There wasn't a single note of disagreement between any of this on this issue. Not one. In fact, they ended up repeating each other on several occasions. 

For those who can't bear to watch it, here's a brief flavour of what each of them said:

Rachel Shabi - "People don't risk life, they don't risk death, unless they're desparate for life. And the only possible reaction to this should be, "Hello. Welcome! How can we help?" That shouldn't even be a debate. It's baseline". 
"Not recognise the benefits of an influx of different kinds of people into your country seems horribly short-sighted and narrow." 
"I completely agree with this idea. You don't follow public opinion. You lead it. You create it. You inspire it." 
"You don't hear Lebanon going on about net migration and being "swamped" by migrants, do you? So." 
Henry Chu - "I think in terms of migration and immigration, just look round this table." 
"Now what you're seeing are people who are risking their lives in incredibly dangerous situations in order to do so - and you only do that when you're being pushed. And it's not simply because you want to have a better salary. It's because you want to live". 
Yasmin Alibhai Brown - "Even now white Europeans and those with white ancestries in Europe feel they have the right, the entitlement to go where they wish - often for frivolous reasons even - and yet we are denying that basic human right to those who have no other option." 
"You don't follow public opinion. You actually try to challenge it and change it".  
"Babies are dying here!!"
Xue Xinran - "It's not just that we should treat them as humans. There's no question. It doesn't matter what the political view." 
"And the other thing which is very important: We should think about our foreign policy". 

And what of presenter Gavin Esler? Did he provide any counterbalance to this overwhelming diet of righteous indignation and political consensus-building? 

The short answer to that is, no. 

Here are his contributions to this section of the programme in full:

The horror of some 70 people suffocating in the back of a locked truck, their decomposing bodies found in Austria, brings home the desparation of hundreds of thousands seeking a better life in Europe. That human tragedy comes as the British government is forced to concede its plans to reduce net inward migration to fewer than a hundred thousand a year have failed, with the highest number of immigrants ever recorded. Can governments ever get a grip on immigration or is it an uncontrollable natural human impulse to pursue a better life, or save your life in the case of some people? I mean, admittedly that's conflating refugees, migrants and other terms, but it does seem that Europe - for all its riches, all its wealth - does have a clue how to handle this. 
There's been a lot of talk here and elsewhere about 'pull factors' - why people come - but actually the 'push factors' are the ones that seem to be in the case of the horrible case in Austria and those coming from Syria. That's what's moving people. They're being pushed.
But from all you've said and Rachel's said, if you look at the opinion polls in Britain immigration is seen as one of the top concerns that people have, so if you're right that we should just say, you know, "Who are we as a people?", people are saying "We don't want these people coming here". That's what they're telling the opinion polls. 
"I know YOU'VE had comments about..." [to YAB, after Henry Chu said he's hasn't had comments about coming over here as an immigrant] 
"Tired, poor, huddled masses." 
What do you make of the comments from the White House on Friday that this is destabilis...that this is not just the product of the destabilisation of the Arab world but it risks destabilising Europe itself? I wasn't quite clear what the White House meant by that, but it's...certainly they do, both in terms of political backlash, because Angela Merkel did say those things this week and she was booed.
And Lebanon...and Jordan. 


  1. "I think in terms of migration and immigration, just look round this table."

    Oops, what a giveaway.

  2. No wonder I was confused - I thought 'Dateline London' was some kind of reality show about group dating. The participants did look a bit odd for that kind of thing, but they all seemed to be 'talking with their tongues hanging out' - you know the technique, it doesn't matter what you choose to talk about, or whether what your saying makes sense; you just have to show you all get on and nobody's going to be a 'party pooper' by saying anything out of order. This appeared to be going really well, so I was waiting for the denouement where they all slunk off to 'another room' while the voice-over told us how they'd overcome their embarrassment and learned to match the verbal intimacy with physical closeness.

    Only it never happened! It was all a bit puzzling, not to mention disappoint. I wish the BBC would label their programming more clearly - in this case, there was nothing really to distinguish 'Dateline' from what I thought it was. I feel such a fool.

    1. Google seems to share your confusion (if you type in 'Dateline') - not helped by the fact that (as every last one of our male readers will readily agree) the mere thought of Yasmin Alibhai Brown appearing on 'Dateline' inevitably arouses uncontrollable sensations in the male breast.


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