Sarah Teather MP: Why we need to liberalise on immigration

Sarah Teather (right) speaking at Greenbelt in August.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Brent Central, Sarah Teather, has criticised politicians for reacting to the newest fear rather than leading public opinion, particularly when it comes to immigration.

Known for her work with refugees, Ms Teather announced in September 2013 her intention to step down as a Lib Dem MP at the 2015 election, owed in part to government policy as well as feeling that her party doesn't fight enough for social justice and liberal values on immigration.

"We should be listening to what are real concerns and responding to them, rather than responding to the lowest common denominator, to the latest fears," she said at Greenbelt festival in August. "I think we've forgotten that we should be leading public opinion, rather than just chasing the newest fear."

Ms Teather, a Catholic, has previously admitted that being a Christian is hard in her profession due to an "aggressively secular strand" in the Lib Dem party.

"Politics is not a very enlightening place to be," she said at Greenbelt. "They say that people get the politicians they deserve, which I think is true. But also, politicians get the voters they deserve if they're not prepared to lead."

The former education minister said that, although she has found her work with refugees rewarding, her party has compromised too often: "My party is one to say, well, if we go along with this we'll win the argument and then we can really get some of our points heard. But the thing is, you've got to lead on some of these points or you've already lost the argument."

She said that "politics can be a soulless, thankless task," and that although most people "probably became a politician for the right reasons, they are pulled in lots of different directions and have lots of different pressures."

Ms Teather, who is also chair of the all-party parliamentary group on refugees, emphasised the need for the government and the general public to change their thinking on immigrants. She said: "If you've had the wherewithal to get up, leave your home country and figure out how to get here, then it's likely you're hugely motivated.

"We need to stop thinking immigrants are just coming to take from us, rather than that they have anything to give.

"The narrative we tell in Britain is that these people are a threat, that we don't have enough for our own people," she said. "But the foreigner in the Bible often brings wisdom and good things, rather than the threatening vagabond."