Class and panic in British immigration.

Author:Moore, Phoebe
Position:Symposium: The legacy of Stuart Hall


In Policing the Crisis, Stuart Hall (et al. 1978) wrote about artificial crises and the role of moral entrepreneurs (politicians, journalists, and others) in constructing these in ways that justify legislation that suits particular agendas, and appear to resolve a social problem. Policing the Crisis focuses on the term 'mugging' as a signifier for ungovernable inner cities and anxieties around immigration, and for the introduction of externally imposed short-term crises seen to require iron rule from the 'law-and-order state' (1978: 322). This is conducted by a politically liberal (on paper, at least) clamping down on the problems or people seen to have created this crisis, wherein a state gives itself the right to 'move swiftly, to stamp fast and hard, to listen in, discreetly survey, saturate and swamp, charge or hold without charge, act on suspicion, hustle and shoulder, to keep society on the straight and narrow' (1978).

In the years leading up to Hall's death, many argued that there was a need to revisit Hall's work in order to understand potential emancipatory strategies (White 2010; Worth 2013), while others have drawn similarities with the emergence of the new right in Britain in the late-1970s by illustrating the emergence of neoliberalism in other countries (Devine and Purdy 2011). Here, we argue that reactions to immigrant groups in Britain can be seen in a similar manner to that pinpointed by Hall and his coauthors. The same 'moral' panic invectives, illustrated brilliantly in Policing the Crisis and developed in Hall's later accounts of the 'authoritarian populism' of Thatcher (1988), provide us with an important legacy of his work in terms of contemporary forms of class division.

As part of the moral panic invective explored here, moral entrepreneurs have attempted to remove any possibility of class identity from people who have settled into a new life, by reducing them to a peasant or servant category, as has been attempted by such public figures as Frank Field (2014). In the 18th Brumaire, Marx notes that smallholding peasants have no 'national bond, and no political organisation among them [and so] do not constitute a class (Marx and Engels Collected Works XI1979: 187-188) Indeed, the moral entrepreneurs in the series of public orations we identify in this paper place a moral supremacy on British work, and on its working class. They distinctly confuse the issue through forgetting that immigrant labour is a very real, legal and frankly beneficial force for the economy (or if they acknowledge this, they claim that it is bad for society). Our position is that immigrant groups are as entitled to class status as any other workers, but that emerging reactionary far-right-wing elite groups consciously intend to declassify immigrant workers. In this way, their work becomes a type of unfree labour (1) in that people are not represented, and their rights to class status are removed. Indeed, Marx's idea was that the working class should supply a framework to organise and to support unseen and unrepresented workers. Solidarity between the British working class and immigrant workers would be an intimidation too great to bear, or so it would seem in the ideological project we outline here.


Written in 1978, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order took as a starting point the importation of the term 'mugging' into British media discourse from US media, and the way it was used to channel anxieties and resentments about immigration and 1960s counterculture. The term was first used to describe an incident in which a white man was attacked by two mixed-race youths outside a Birmingham pub. Hall developed this research during his time at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies with a body of postgraduate students, which at the time included Chris Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke and Brian Roberts. They explored how, in the US context, the term was used to characterise ungovernable inner-city areas that had been abandoned by middle-class residents through 'white flight'. The term was more broadly associated with the backlash against the civil rights movement and its white liberal allies, and figures such as Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon, who pitted liberals against 'decent white folks' and the 'silent majority'. In the British context, it was used to express anxieties about immigration, integration and the presence of ethnic minority communities (1978: 28).

In Policing the Crisis, Hall and his collaborators explored the 'calculus of work' (141) and the familiar trope around portraying certain categories of people (students, benefits claimants, anti-war protesters, and Black and Asian people) as taking advantage of the majority, often with very little or no evidence. The concept of work became abstracted so that it was longer about employment, since some of the people seen to be taking advantage of the system are actually very much working, but more about conformity with certain norms and social conventions. In other words, not to fit into these conventions became equivalent to being a 'skiver' (142).

Matthew Cole draws attention to a moralising discourse that 'shapes work':

If work is an individual and a social good, then those for whom work is more important are in some sense implicitly 'better'. This is indicative of one of the key problems of policies and discourses that teleologically prescribe desired behavioural outcomes--they invite judgement, and therefore equal regard, as to how close to or far from the ideal individuals get. (Cole 2008: 31)

The moralising discourse of work as a moral duty, also as connected to citizenship, underpins debates on immigration. Work, for British citizens, is a moral duty; but for migrants it is seen as morally wrong to come to the UK and work, and indeed, immigrant workers are seen to be depriving British citizens of a moral duty to work. Central to this is the linking of class, and particularly of working-class people, to citizenship, national identity and place: work as producing shared (national) identity and belonging. Within this context, working...

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