Roar speaks to Brahmpreet Kaur, BAME Officer of the KCL Labour Society, about the KCL 2020 Political Society debate. The debate also included representatives from KCL Conservative Association and KCL Liberal Democrats. Here, Brahmpreet expands upon the points raised concerning foreign policy, Covid-19 and immigration.
Roar: Labour spoke a lot about how international students are going to struggle. What are your thoughts on the EU Settlement Scheme the government have introduced?
Brahmpreet: It’s all well for something to be theoretically good, but in practice things like this are a massive hurdle. I think that the Conservatives in the debate were thinking very narrowly: “yes we’ve introduced this – this means that EU citizens will have the opportunity to protect their residency”. In theory, that’s all good, but in practice, how is it going to affect the lives of the everyday European citizens in the UK? What kind of culture of hostility is this creating? My argument is you have to look beyond the theory of such schemes and such principles.
R: What did you think about the Conservative’s argument when talking about international law?
B: I think that any country that is willing to break international law is saying a lot about its democracy. It’s a bit hypocritical of the Conservatives to say, “hang on a minute, the EU referendum was done democratically, having a second referendum would be undemocratic”. Well, breaking international law is undemocratic. It’s wrong. So, you have to pick which side you’re going to stand on. If you’re going to break international law, then don’t complain about the EU and a second referendum being undemocratic.
R: During the debate, the Conservatives called the EU “the enemy”. How do you feel about this?
B: I think calling the EU an enemy is invoking hostility to a greater extent. It is much more than procedure and politics; it’s about how our country interacts with European citizens in the future and vice versa. We have a centuries-long relationship with the EU, and to call them “the enemy” is to essentially abandon and neglect that trust. It creates an aggressive environment for EU citizens that pay their taxes, have worked in the UK for ten, fifteen years or have settled in the UK and identify as both European and British. It’s just a political negotiation and we shouldn’t take it too personally. It isn’t politically correct language, and I think it was unprofessional and unpolitical of the Conservatives.
R: Do you think the government should give students more support during Covid-19?
B: Students have been completely neglected from the very beginning when there was uncertainty about what was going to happen. A lot of students this year have essentially been tricked into buying university where they’ve applied for student loans, paid the fees and in return they’ve received online teaching. Mental health is appalling; eight university students have committed suicide due to the strain and little support has been offered for mental health services. In general, there hasn’t been enough support offered to students.
R: What would be a good way to ensure that people are getting the help they need to improve their mental health?
B: I think we should be reinvesting in our youth services. Their funding has been reduced dramatically and this has affected the mental health of young people negatively. You can’t replace something that is meant to be there. My recommendation is that the government reinvest in the youth services to really be there as a support mechanism for them during difficult times such as Covid-19.
R: Do you think the policy on mask-wearing could be improved?
B: Legal duty to enforce mask-wearing has been handed over to retail workers when they hold no legal capacity to enforce this law, and that shouldn’t be their duty initially. The law enforcement sector is one that has a large amount of funding, so there should be a lot more police enforcement of mask-wearing. It shouldn’t be left up to the retail workers, because it then impacts their wellbeing and safety. It’s not necessary for an exemption certificate to be present, lots of amazing charities are producing exemption certificates, doctors are voluntarily helping these services to continue. This is another issue in itself as there was never enough funding for the NHS to handle the pressure of Covid-19. It’s underfunded and understaffed, and this is linked to immigration. It’s a domino effect.
R: The Liberal Democrats said that Labour has not stood up to the Conservative’s targeting of asylum seekers or their “neuroses about immigration”. What do you have to say in response?
B: I think it’s good to criticise the government and opposition when they’re not doing enough, and I appreciate the Liberal Democrats for recognising this. But we have to recognise the Conservatives have a really strong majority at the moment in the House of Commons and it can be difficult to stand up in a way. But I do agree, I think more could be done. It’s always more could be done, whether we’re in government or out of it. Sometimes criticism brings a better future and I’m grateful they’ve recognised that we’re not doing enough.
R: What are your thoughts on the points system? Do you think that salary should be considered at all in immigration?
B: I don’t think salary should be a factor. My parents are first generation immigrants; my mother was a university graduate and my father had just completed his A-Levels. They worked hard; they did any job under the sun. A lot of people are like them, they’ve paid taxes and now their children have entered the system and have worked hard. And to then say that we should only allow people in on a qualifications-basis is completely wrong. This country holds so much opportunity, and we need immigrants. This is in no way going to necessarily bring the best people to the country because the best people are those that have a good work ethic. What the Conservatives described as “unskilled workers” are actually the foundations of our country and we need to recognise them more.
R: Is there anything else you would like to clarify from the debate?
B: It was a heated debate; the issues were very controversial. Criticising one another’s parties brings the best out of them but to take it personally is something that we should politically refrain from. It’s okay to criticise your own political party, it’s made to be criticised and sometimes we forget this. If they were perfect, we would never have democracy.