Jennette Arnold
London assembly member for North East London — fighting your corner at City Hall
‘Go Home’ vans banned, but “not offensive”

‘Go Home’ vans banned, but “not offensive”

After much deliberation, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has concluded that the ‘Go Home’ vans that drove around London earlier this year were “unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or distress.”

I am appalled at the ASA. How the use of language that was commonplace in the mid-seventies at the height of the National Front movement can be deemed inoffensive baffles me. What is more concerning is that, through this decision, the ASA help to legitimise the use of anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Of course, I am pleased that the ASA has banned these billboards, but the reasons behind the decision to ban them are bizarre, and the ASA has also left open the possibility that the billboards can be used again, but with merely slight modifications to the statistics and wording used.

With this, I believe that the ASA have completely missed the point. It wasn’t the statistics that offended people, and, by concluding that the “ad must not appear again in its current form”, it will only be a matter of time before Theresa May and her team send out other billboards with amended wording and statistics.

Guy Parker, the Chief Executive of the ASA, even suggested that, if the Home Office uses the poster vans again, they might want to think about using a different phrase from ‘Go Home’, such as ‘Return Home’. What Mr. Parker and the ASA fail to understand is that the wording was only part of what caused offence to many people.

It is the entire concept of it being OK to directly target certain groups in a negative way, and, through this, indirectly affect thousands of others. While the posters might have been targeted at those people who are in the UK illegally, the impact of the campaign has much more sinister undertones for those people who have the right to live in the UK and who, like me, have family ties abroad. What the Home Office and, now, the ASA have done through all this unnecessary posturing and light-touch scrutiny is legitimise discrimination – something that has no place in any country, let alone the UK.

Given the focus of the media in the past few days since the ASA’s report was published, where the headlines have very much focused on the billboards being banned, it is important that pressure is kept up on the Home Office. Otherwise, there is a very real danger that they will simply amend the stats, alter the wording slightly, and then send the vans out once more.

While it is encouraging that the Government has been reprimanded for the use of their billboards, the fight with the Home Office on this issue is not over.