Time for the ASA to Go Home

There are many reasons to dislike the UK Home Office’s recent campaign against illegal immigrants, which has involved vans driving round selected areas of London bearing billboards stating: ‘In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.’ As has been outlined on spiked, the campaign is a nasty piece of gesture politics, showing a deep intolerance for immigrants.

But still, there is nothing to cheer about Friday’s announcement from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that it is to launch a formal inquiry into the suitability of the billboards.

Since the launch of the ‘go home’ van campaign at the end of last month, the ASA said that it had received 60 complaints. ‘Complainants have expressed concerns that the ad, in particular the phrase “Go Home”, is offensive and irresponsible because it is reminiscent of slogans used by racist groups to attack immigrants in the past and could incite or exacerbate racial hatred and tensions in multicultural communities.’

Leading the calls for the ASA to ban the ‘go home’ ads is Labour peer Lord Lipsey, who is himself a former council member of the ASA. Lipsey said he was complaining as he found the government’s use of statistics – particularly around the number of arrests made – ‘deliberately misleading’.

Should the ASA uphold the complaints, it could order the UK government to alter the appearance of the adverts, or tell them not to use them again in their current form.

What this boils down to is that if a tiny group of unelected officials on the council of the ASA happens to agree with complaints from a tiny group of people – less than a millionth of the UK population – the elected UK government will be prevented from communicating certain messages to the UK populace.

This is not the first time the ASA has intervened in the political sphere. For example, in 2010 the ASA banned the government from using two adverts that featured nursery rhymes as part of its ‘Act on CO2’ campaign. Apparently, these ‘advertisements went beyond mainstream scientific consensus in asserting that climate change would cause flooding and drought’. Ed Miliband, then the Climate Change Secretary, accepted the ‘mistake’, and issued a grovelling apology on live radio: ‘We should have phrased the advert better and we will do so in the future.’

Why should the ASA be in a position where it can tick government ministers off about what they tell us about immigration, climate change or any other matter? The UK public are perfectly able to decide for themselves whether politicians are feeding them a load of old claptrap. Far more dangerous or offensive than any government propaganda campaign is an unelected body deciding, on the public’s behalf, whether or not a policy or an argument is fit for the public to see or hear.

Forget about illegal immigrants, it’s time the censors at the ASA packed up and went home.

Patrick Hayes is a columnist for spiked.

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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