I remember when summer’s were quiet, filled with fluff and cotton wool as everyone left the city on holiday. I guess it’s a year before the election, hence the immigration drive, but then it was that way last summer too. It’s just over a year since the Go Home vans and they’re gone, but the hostile environment campaign never stopped and if anything is ratcheting up a gear.
And so to an excellent (I need to say this slowly because I can’t believe it) piece by Dan Hodges in the Telegraph on the “consensus” on immigration that has finally been achieved among the main parties, mainly in response to the UKIP threat. It follows Cameron’s Eurosceptic reshuffle that promoted placeholders and right-wingers, giving an indication of what we can expect until May.
What jumped out at me in Hodges’s article are four (inconvenient) truths:
- There really isn’t much to divide the main parties on immigration now:
“With Clegg’s surrender, the final domino has fallen. For the first time in over half a century each of the three major political parties will enter the election calling for curbs on immigration. The anti-immigration lobby, which at turns has counted such diverse figures as Enoch Powell, Margaret Thatcher, Frank Field, William Hague, Nick Griffin and Nigel Farage among its number, has won.”
- And that’s politically expedient because, basically, that’s the way public opinion is swinging
“[the mainstream party leaders] know that migrant labour, at all levels of the economy, is vital to Britain’s prosperity. They have seen the OBR statistics that immigration is crucial to the recovery . And they know too that no one wants to hear it. That negative perceptions of the social, cultural and economic impact of migration are so embedded as to make any attempt to reverse them political folly.”
- But, ultimately, just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s right or makes sense, which is why the parties are lying:
“So our politicians embark on a greater folly. They tell the voters “yes we get it”. They pledge ever tougher measures to crack down on an imaginary tidal wave of Romanian bandits, and Polish benefit fraudsters. And then pray the voters won’t notice that despite the fiery rhetoric, immigration continues to rise.”
And the net result really is a horror story: Voters can see craven from a mile off, so they probably won’t be convinced by this scramble. But having legitimised the public’s fears by pandering to them, the fact that the parties will ultimately fail at their stated immigration aims (because: globalisation, economic reality etc) will only annoy people more, leading to more cynicism at politics, and fuelling support for people like UKIP (who, by the way, are left to sound vaguely dignified as they demand policies instead of repellent rhetoric, which is, as they quite rightly point out, disgusting – even if the policies they want are crackers).
But the saddest truth of all, and the one that I don’t think I’ve heard anyone articulate as eloquently as Hodges (pinch me someone, please!) is this:
“It would be easy to paint this capitulation as a triumph of prejudice. As we saw in the European elections, with Ukip’s toxic campaign, when immigration is debated prejudice is never far below the surface. In fact what we are witnessing is the triumph of fear. Despite our occasionally bombastic rhetoric, Britain is now a scared country, lead by scared men. With Nigel Farage circling them like Banquo’s tweed-clad ghost.
We have become scared of the outside world. Scared of changes in our own society. Scared of each other. Where once we looked to the future with optimism, we now do so with trepidation. Where we saw opportunities, now we perceive only threats: terrorists, scroungers, grooming-gangs, criminal overlords, cut-price cleaners and plumbers.
One day our confidence will return. When the economy stabilises. When the Ukip revolution is shown to have been just another passing political fad. When we realise the River Tiber is not foaming with blood. And when it does, we’ll point the finger at our leaders and say “why did they scare us like that?”. But they didn’t. We scared ourselves.”
*Incidentally, my dissertation, that I am painfully giving birth to this summer, is concerned with exactly that – the politics of fear and unease