There is a speech that the leaders and prominent figures of all political parties have given recently that makes absolutely no sense. It goes something like this.
UKIP are vile, and what they stand for goes against everything that makes Britain great. Make no mistake, their brand of narrow-minded xenophobia is not what the British people stand for, it’s not what the [insert party name here] party stands for, and it’s not what I stand for. We must take a firm stand against UKIP, and tell Nigel Farage that you can love your country without hating others.
So we will not let hatred win. We will win by making a case for our values, [insert party here] values, the traditional, forward-thinking, British values, that make Britain and [insert party here] great. We must stand up to Nigel Farage and say “No more!”
But at the same time, we must recognise that people have real, legitimate, concerns about immigration, and those concerns must be dealt with. Fairly, responsibly, [liberally/progressively/conservatively]. That is why I am pleased to announce that [if I get into government I will ensure that/I have pushed in government to ensure that] from 2015 all immigrants, children of immigrants, and people who have touched an immigrant, will have to wear a sign round their neck saying “unclean!” and ring a bell whenever they are in public.
It is by fair, moderate, sensible, [progressive/liberal/conservative] measures like this that we can tackle people’s legitimate concerns, while still keeping the benefits of immigration, and maybe stopping our last three voters from switching to UKIP oh shit did I say that out loud?
That’s far less paraphrased than I’d like.
Now, the worst thing about this speech is not the mealy-mouthed refusal to take a stand without immediately contradicting it, nor the craven abandoning of every principle in the face of the electoral juggernaut that is UKIP, whose greatest success to date has been to return two incumbent Conservative defectors to the seats they already held, with a reduced majority, but wearing a different rosette. It’s not even the unnecessarily cruel policies these speeches announce.
No, it’s that these cruel policies are pure theatre. They’ll hurt people, but they won’t deal with the problems they purport to solve. And the people making these announcements know that. They don’t intend them to.
Do you see the bait and switch there? “People have genuine and real concerns about immigration, therefore we will punish immigrants”
Now, let’s accept for a second the politicians’ argument, that they’re not aiming these policies at racists or xenophobes, but only at those people (and they do exist) who have reasonable concerns. We’ll ignore for now whether those concerns are right or wrong, and just accept that. Those concerns generally amount to “there are too many people from abroad coming into Britain”. There are nuances — some are concerned about pressure on public services, others about housing, others about jobs — but they boil down to “too many people are coming here”.
(Again, I’m not saying those people are *right* to have those views — I’m a liberal, and tend to be in favour of free movement. But one can hold those views without necessarily being racist, and those are the people those speeches purport to be aimed at.)
Now, if you are presented with the problem “there are too many people coming here”, there are things that can be done about that. They range from changing the requirements for skilled worker and student visas slightly at one end, to UKIP’s policy of an all-out ban on any new immigration at all, including withdrawing from the EU in order to completely close the border.
I’m not saying those would be *good* things to do, but they would go towards solving the actual problem they claim to be dealing with. Too many people coming in — stop people coming in.
But no politician is ever actually going to do that. The Tories won’t because the City is so dependent on free(ish) movement, Labour won’t because so many public services rely on cheap immigrant labour, and the Lib Dems won’t because the majority of the party are still Liberals who believe in freedom of movement and internationalism.
So what we get instead is persecution of those already here. Making life difficult in a myriad tiny nasty bureaucratic ways for people who already live here won’t stop more people from coming — you only stop people from coming by, you know, stopping them from coming. Life in Britain is already, frankly, fucking horrible for immigrants (as my wife would tell you at great length, and she’s a white English-speaking immigrant and thus doesn’t get the worst of it). Anyone still moving here is doing so because they have a very good reason, and won’t be put off by pettiness like being unable to have a translator when taking a driving test.
It just makes people’s lives needlessly worse, but lets the politicians look like they’re “responding to people’s concerns” and “being tough on immigration”.
It’s not fooling anyone, least of all the people they actually want to fool, who are moving to UKIP in greater numbers all the time. Either actually deal with anti-immigration people’s actual concerns, however politically unfeasible that would be, or (the option I infinitely prefer) just say “no, we’re not doing that, we need immigrants”, and just stop trying to patronise voters. Unless, of course, the aim isn’t actually to attract the reasonable people with reasonable concerns about immigration, but to attract the bigots — in which case, again, just be honest and say “we hate the foreigns, they talk funny and they smell”, don’t try to pretend to be more principled than that.
And I’d remind Nick Clegg, especially, that there are as many *pro*-immigration voters as *anti*-immigration ones, and they don’t have all the major parties and a minor one that gets overrepresented on TV chasing after them. Maybe, just maybe, if he started making speeches that said “I won’t be needlessly horrible to vulnerable people” instead, we’d get back into double digits in the polls? Just a thought…