The new EU poster which is ‘dividing society’
With four weeks to go until the EU vote, thoughts have turned to the controversial issue of immigration — and Leave campaigners are furious at a provocative poster about ethnic minorities.
An elderly Asian woman perches, serene, on one end of a see-saw. She is wearing a sari, with a dignified expression on her face. Perfectly balanced on the other side, an angry white man jabs his finger towards her, veins popping on his shaved head.
The poster’s message is simple: in the UK’s upcoming referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union, every vote counts — and so everyone should register to have their say.
Or is it? Some campaigners and MPs have accused the organisation behind the poster of more sinister motives. The UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage called it a ‘disgusting’ mistake which is ‘trying to divide society’. Other critics say it implies that ethnic minorities should vote to stay in the EU to defeat racist white men — and that those who want to leave are merely thugs. Meanwhile, London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, worries that it ‘reinforces stereotypes’ on both sides.
The poster was designed by the advertising company Saatchi & Saatchi London for Operation Black Vote (OBV). This is a campaign group which works to encourage people from ethnic minorities — who are typically less likely to be registered to vote — to participate fully in democracy.
‘These potential voters could easily decide one of the biggest questions of the last three decades,’ said the OBV director, Simon Woolley.
So what do they think? Of course, there are huge differences between class, culture and age. But on the whole, black and Asian citizens are less concerned about immigration than their white counterparts — and ultimately more likely to vote Remain. The referendum on June 23rd will be tight, so those votes could make a big difference.
Yet the OBV estimates that of the four million ethnic minority voters in Britain — plus 400,000 Commonwealth citizens who are eligible to vote — around 30% are not registered. That is why the Saatchi chief executive insists that the poster carries ‘a message about democracy, not a message about race.’
That is clearly a lie, say the poster’s critics. The EU debate is complicated, and people from all demographics have all sorts of different views. Implying that the debate is divided along racial lines is false — and it only encourages racism and resentment on all sides. This campaign is totally irresponsible.
Woolley insists that his organisation is not telling people how to vote. But OBV says that both sides of the debate have participated in the ‘demonisation of foreigners and people of colour’; the often angry response to yesterday’s official migration figures showed that. OBV’s poster is merely ‘holding up a mirror to the toxic debate that’s out there,’ says Woolley. ‘We want it to stop.’
- Does the poster reinforce racial stereotypes?
- Have ethnic minorities been well represented in the EU debate?
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“Voting should be made compulsory for everyone.”
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Q & A
- Why is one poster so important?
- It is deliberately controversial; there is no doubt that OBV knew it would touch a nerve. Arguments against immigration are not always racist, but sometimes they can become so — and ethnic minorities have admitted to feeling alienated by the debate. It is not necessarily wrong to highlight this problem. But did OBV go too far?
- Do all ethnic minorities want to stay in the EU?
- No. In fact, some have argued that ethnic minorities from outside the EU ought to vote to leave, as curbing European migration could open up the borders to more Commonwealth citizens. This is shown most vividly by the crisis in Britain’s curry houses: it is now so hard to come to Britain from South Asia that some restaurants have begun training reluctant Eastern Europeans as curry chefs.
- In order to vote on June 23rd, those who are eligible must be included on the electoral register. This can easily be done online before midnight on June 7th.
- Nigel Farage
- The head of UKIP has supported Operation Black Vote in the past, and denies the accusations of racism which are sometimes thrown at him. However, he is unapologetic about his opposition to mass immigration.
- Operation Black Vote
- The campaign is funded by the government and charities such as the left-leaning Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.
- More likely
- This month the British Election Study found white voters evenly split on the referendum, but those from ethnic minority backgrounds two-to-one in favour of staying.
- Commonwealth citizens
- Over 50 countries including India, Bangladesh and Australia belong to the association known as the Commonwealth. Its citizens can vote in the referendum if they live in Britain and have leave to stay.
- Migration figures
- Yesterday the ONS revealed that net migration to the UK rose to around 333,000 in 2015. Leave campaigner Boris Johnson called the figures ‘scandalous’.