Once again the singer Morrissey has plenty to say about immigration and British society. In a November edition of the NME, the magazine claims that he said, "The gates of England are flooded. The country's been thrown away."
Later in the same article Morrissey boldly declares, "With the issue of immigration, it's very difficult because although I don't have anything against people from other countries, the higher the influx into England the more the British identity disappears. If you travel to Germany, it's still absolutely Germany... But travel to England and you have no idea where you are... If you walk through Knightsbridge you'll hear every accent apart from an English accent."
Later on in the interview, when it's pointed out that it's hypocritical for the son of Irish immigrants to scaremonger about immigration, he says that "it's different now".
And let's not forget Morrissey has form on this issue.
He waved a union jack and flirted with fascist and skinhead imagery when performing at a Madness gig in London in 1992. Several of his songs have come across as bigoted and as sympathetic portrayals of racist skinhead and football hooligan "culture".
Morrissey disputes the claims made in the magazine and accuses "the eNeMEy" of a "hatchet job". Morrissey is presently involved in a legal case against the magazine. I support Billy Bragg, who wrote in the Guardian last month that instead of suing the NME, Morrissey should be taking responsibility for his words.
Morrissey is a complex character and full of contradictions. In the same interview he explicitly denied that immigration is the reason he doesn't want to live in Britain. He damns this country over the cost of living and the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. He also points out that he has sung "anti-racist" songs such as "Irish Blood, English Heart" and "I Will See You in Faraway Places". He even said he supported the recent NME/Love Music Hate Racism (LMHR) campaign.
Morrissey did indeed sign a statement in support of LMHR - at a LMHR Libertines gig at the London Astoria in 2004.
There is no denying the fact that Morrissey is a talented and hugely influential artist, but that does not excuse his outburst in the NME. There are some who argue that Morrissey is - as usual - being deliberately provocative. But this is someone who is in a position of influence, who should know better. There should be no room for irony or playing games when spouting words that could give confidence to racists.
The editor of NME says the paper is "not accusing Morrissey of racism", but says his comments are "unreasonably skewed towards immigration" and are "unhelpful at a time of great tensions". Absolutely. Morrissey's comments about the "gates of Britain being flooded" are totally untrue and often parroted by organisations like the BNP. The fact is around 500,000 people came into Britain last year, while 400,000 left. At the same time, asylum applications fell by 8 percent to just over 23,000. The same year, over 73 percent of refugee applications were refused by the government. Many thousands of genuine refugees are also locked up in government detention centres. But when Morrissey is asked if these statements are inflammatory, he says no, "they're a statement of fact".
So what should we do about Morrissey?
As one of the organisers of LMHR this is a question that has perplexed me for some time now and one which was resolved by a phone call from Morrissey's manager. He contacted me to say that Morrissey wanted to give his support to the LMHR campaign.
What do you do? Put down the phone and say you want nothing to do with him? Or open up a dialogue with Morrissey? There is no easy answer. In the end we decided to do the latter.
Morrissey sent a statement to LMHR, which we put up on our website. In it he states, "I abhor racism and oppression or cruelty of any kind and will not let this pass without being absolutely clear and emphatic with regard to what my position is. Racism is beyond common sense and I believe it has no place in our society."
He has also agreed to carry the LMHR logo on all his British advertising in 2008 and will be providing space for LMHR stalls on his tour.
Will we win Morrissey over? I don't know. The starting point for organisations like LMHR is we don't write off any artist unless they have gone over to the dark side. Clearly Morrissey has not.
My hope is that some day Morrissey will use his abundant talents to break from his mythical vision of England, celebrate the beauty that is multiracial Britain and reject the lies that surround immigration.