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Chris Bertram

Sunday photoblogging: Bristol, The Spotted Cow

by Chris Bertram on May 13, 2018

The Spotted Cow

Mount Pleasant Terrace, BS3

“Illegal”

by Chris Bertram on May 1, 2018

In discussion of my recent post about the Windrush scandal, a couple of commenters used the phrase “illegal immigrants”. Tory ministers have since been on the airwaves using it a lot, and telling us that the public expects action on “illegal immigration”. Labour’s Diane Abbot has also been talking about the need to “bear down on illegal immigration” and the journalist Amelia Gentleman, who did so much to break the Windrush story, has protested that scandal of citizens denied their rights is nothing to do with “illegal immigration”.

But here’s why what they all say is wrong. There’s no such legal category as “illegal immigration”, rather there are people who have the legal right to be in the country and, perhaps, to do certain things like work or study. And then there are people who may lack the legal right to be present and to do those things. Some of the people with legal rights to be present have those rights because they are citizens; some other people have those rights for other reasons such as having a valid visa, being a refugee, or having some other human rights-based legal basis to stay.

Obviously, to “bear down” on people without the legal right to stay a government needs to (a) determine who they are and (b) take some action against them. Equally obviously, a government official may make a mistake about whether a person has the right to stay or they may use impermissible means against them. So you need a system by which people who have the right to stay but who the government wants gone can contest the bureaucratic decision against them as mistaken. [click to continue…]

In the UK we are living through one of those moments when the public briefly realises that immigration control has significant human consequences and can be bad not just for the stock “illegal immigrants” of tabloid caricature, but for citizens too. The background is that Theresa May, now Prime Minister but then Home Secretary progressively introduced what she called “a really hostile environment” for “illegal immigrants”, a regime continued by her successor, Amber Rudd. This has involved turning ordinary citizens and civil society institutions into border guards so as to deprive people without the proper documentation of the means to live a tolerable existence. So those who cannot prove their right to be in the country, by producing, say, a passport, can lose their job, their home, their bank account and be denied medical services. Well, guess what? Thousands of people, particularly people born overseas as British citizens but legally resident in the UK for decades, lack the documentary proof required. So they have indeed lost jobs, homes and been denied cancer treatment. Others have been subjected to detention in immigration removal centres, some may have been removed or deported from the country, and others have gone abroad and visited relatives only to be refused readmission.

This has not had an even impact on all sectors of the population. It turns out that having a black or a brown skin makes it far more likely that you will be left destitute and without healthcare or that a prospective landlord with be inclined to check your identity and leave you homeless. So much for all citizens being equal before the law. Indeed, so much for the “rule of law”, much promoted by the Conservatives as a “British value” under the Prevent Strategy. The rule of law requires not just that people obey the law (as Tories seem to think) but that it be possible for people to regulate their conduct on the basis of laws that are reasonably knowable and that they are able to assert their rights effectively in the face of state power. This is totally undermined by the fact that those people caught up in the hostile environment are often poor and vulnerable and lack the means effectively to challenge the bureaucrats who have wrecked their lives. The rules people are expected to follow are complex and ever changing and the evidence they are expected to provide is often refused as inadequate by civil servants who hold onto essential documents for years on end and often lose them. To further undermine the ability of citizens and migrants to defend themselves, the UK government removed legal aid for immigration cases. Unable to establish their status to the satisfaction of the Home Office, people have been left in limbo for years. [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: sculpture of divers, Oslo

by Chris Bertram on April 22, 2018

Sculpture of divers, Oslo

Sunday photoblogging: woods outside Madison, Wisconsin

by Chris Bertram on April 15, 2018

Taken last week on a walk with Harry Brighouse. I had the thought at the time that we were not so far from regular photo-commenter Alan White.

Madison, Wisconsin (woods)

Sunday photoblogging: squirrel, Brandon Hill

by Chris Bertram on April 1, 2018

Squirrel, Brandon Hill, Bristol

During the past term, I was on strike for fourteen days and I’m now on “action short of a strike” and, like my colleagues up and down the UK, I’m waiting to vote in a consultative e-ballot next week that may determine whether we reach a settlement with the employers and go back to work. But this post isn’t about the rights and wrongs of the dispute, it is about what it has felt like to be on strike — the highs and the lows — and about how the shared desire for a better university that has emerged from our unity and solidarity may be helped or hindered by how the strike is resolved and by the stories we tell ourselves about it.

A big part of striking (at least for those who choose not to sit at home) is picketing. I’ve been on picket lines (a long time ago) where the purpose of picketing was to stop people from going to work, but our picket lines now have been more symbolic and demonstrative. They’ve been about standing together, feeling a sense of comradeship, and sharing jokes and conversation. In this we’ve been joined by many of our students, giving rise to a renewed feeling of the university as an intellectual community bringing together teaching and research staff, other university staff and students and joining us together across disciplinary boundaries. This experience, together with associated demonstrations, teach-ins lunches, coffees and social events, has been the source of a growing sense of collective determination that a different kind of university is possible and that we mustn’t go back to the normality of submission to bullying micromanagement, the obsessive chasing of metrics and rankings and individualized anxiety and self-loathing. [click to continue…]

Is there too much immigration?

by Chris Bertram on March 26, 2018

I spoke yesterday at the Oxford Literary Festival in debate with Sunday Times journalist Sarah Baxter on the theme “Is there too much immigration?” Something like the following constituted my opening remarks.

The title of this panel asks whether there is too much immigration? I’m inclined to wonder whether this question is simply a mistake. My own focus in a forthcoming book Do States Have the Right to Exclude Immigrants? is not so much on whether immigration is good or bad for the country, but on whether states have the rights that politicians, pundits and journalists simply assume that they do, to regulate migration according to whether it is good or bad for the economy, strains public services, makes some people better off or worse off, and so on.

My book is a work in political philosophy rather than an intervention in current debates (though it can’t help being that to some extent). Let me just sketch the main argument and then I’ll get on to some further remarks about our current predicament. States are compulsory and coercive bodies. Legitimate states use that coercive force to limit the freedom of people subject to them. But there’s normally a quid pro quo involved: the state limits our freedom but also protects us from the threat that we, as individuals, pose to one another’s freedom. This tradeoff provides us with reasons to comply with the state’s authority. But unlike resident citizens would-be immigrants get all of the coercion with none of the protection. The world is divided into many states, some of which do a much better job for their subjects than others. And mobility is something that human beings have practised since forever. To make the regulation of migration legitimate, states ought to comply with principles that ought to be acceptable to everyone. Insofar as such principles don’t exist, legitimate states need to be working towards creating them (just as they regulate other areas of international life). [click to continue…]

Sunday photoblogging: snow

by Chris Bertram on March 18, 2018

We’ve just had our second late-in-the-year dose of snow in the UK, although this photo is from 2013.
Bristol snow: Cotham Gardens

Sunday photoblogging: Pensions strike!

by Chris Bertram on March 11, 2018

Photography can’t always be about aesthetics. As Miriam posted about the other day, academics and many academic-related staff in the UK are currently on strike in defence of our pensions which are under threat from a plan to shift all the risk from institutions to individuals and to leave us thousands of pounds worse off in our retirement. It is a considerable achievement for managers paid vast sums of money on account of their managerial abilities to have engineered a situation where their staff vote 9:1 for strike action. Anyway, it has, so far been a determined and somewhat joyful action in which we have rediscovered what we have in common. However this ends (and the signs are good) the atmosphere in our workplaces will have changed forever. People really are really missing their students, teaching, and research and are loving the support and solidarity we’ve had from our students. But I doubt that bullying micromanagement will be as passively accepted in the future as it has been in the past.

USU Pensions strike 2018-11

Sunday photoblogging: Liverpool Cenotaph

by Chris Bertram on March 4, 2018

A double offering this week. There’s a lot that’s extraordinary about the buildings and monuments in and around Liverpool’s St George’s Plateau, but these modernist bronzes on the sides of the Liverpool Cenotaph by Herbert Tyson Smith are pretty arresting.

Liverpool Cenotaph

Liverpool Cenotaph

Sunday photoblogging: Birds at Crosby

by Chris Bertram on February 25, 2018

Birds at Crosby

Sunday photoblogging: pont naturel at Minerve

by Chris Bertram on February 18, 2018

Pont naturel at Minerve (tunnel cut by the Cesse river)

Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas house

by Chris Bertram on February 11, 2018

Pézenas