Labour’s immigration mug constitutes a white flag of surrender (no pun intended) to the Tories, UKIP, the Daily Mail, and the forces of the right. The mug, the message it embraces, reeks of cynicism and opportunism, reminding us that Labour still has a distance to travel before its base can feel entirely comfortable in returning to the fold after years spent in a Blairite wilderness. Here it is worth recalling that in the course of three elections, Labour under Blair shed five million votes on lower and lower turnouts, while the membership went into steep decline. The reason why is precisely the departure from real Labour values represented by this utterly crass and offensive mug.
It is not racist to advocate controls on immigration, supporters of clamping down on immigration never tire of repeating. Perhaps, but it’s certainly not anti-racist to do so either. Immigration is a euphemism for the politics of race, however you want to cut it, offering safe terrain for every swivel-eyed racist seeking legitimacy and a mainstream audience.
The best that can be said for the focus on controlling immigration is that it is a diversion from the real cause of the iniquities of society after five years of that mass experiment in human despair otherwise known as austerity. The savage cuts to welfare that have been implemented, the wholesale sucking of demand out of the economy, with its concomitant anchoring of poverty pay, zero hours contracts, and food banks as the norm for millions of people in Britain in 2015, this is the product of an offensive unleashed against working people and the poor by a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich. It has been done using the global economic crisis as a pretext for effecting the transference of wealth from the poor to the rich.
Immigration is but a smokescreen, a classic case of dog whistle politics obscuring the only divide that matters in any society between those who have wealth and power and those who do not. It’s not as if this divide is completely hidden either. All we need do is take a look at the annual Sunday Times Rich List to view what amounts to a rogue’s gallery of the beneficiaries of a system built and maintained on the bones of the poor.
Labour’s pledge to control immigration is, furthermore, incompatible with its support for Britain’s continuing membership of the EU, within which the free movement of labour and people is enshrined. This means that what the Labour Party strategists behind this transparent chase for UKIP votes in marginal seats are doing is doubly offensive – not only an insult to immigrants and their families, effectively marginalising them, but also to our collective intelligence.
Currently there are strict controls on immigration to Britain. Just try telling any non-British citizen who’s had the experience of coming through Heathrow that Britain’s immigration controls are lax. They would likely laugh in your face at the same time as breaking out into a rash with the memory of the stress involved.
Migration is as old as humanity itself, and attempting to impede the natural right of people to escape poverty, war, and social convulsion is both futile and cruel. And applying words such as ‘quality’ when it comes to categorising human beings with the same fears, needs, and hopes we all possess is simply grotesque.
Every economic indicator proves that immigration has been a net benefit to the UK economy. Yes, many have not felt or experienced this benefit; but this is an argument about wealth redistribution rather than immigration, the very political terrain that Labour should be occupying.
The five million British citizens working and living overseas are the other side of an argument that invites us to view the world through the narrow and distorting prism of ‘ourselves alone’ rather than the broader and enlightening prism of interconnectedness.
Ever since Labour capitulated to Thatcherite nostrums and took its place alongside the Tories at the altar of the market and the rich, general elections in this country have presented the electorate with a choice between the political equivalent of a heart attack or cancer – i.e. between bad and worse than bad. The political desert we are now living in is the result, a place so inhospitable and barren that anti-politics-as-normal has emerged as the new driving force of political expression, fuelling the emergence of UKIP in England and in Scotland that meteoric rise of the SNP. The politics of identity, of which the issue of immigration is central, offers the illusion of an escape hatch from reality.
That said the huge upsurge in support for the SNP in Scotland, and with it the collapse of Labour north of the border, has been fuelled more by the desire to reclaim the terrain of social and economic justice abandoned by Labour as it has nationalism. The SNP under Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership is flying the flag of anti-austerity and anti-poverty, attracting huge support as a consequence. In this regard it is not people in Scotland who’ve changed, it is Labour that has changed, to the point where in Scotland Labour is reviled in communities where it was once so dominant it used to weigh its vote rather than count it.
Ed Miliband appears uncomfortable whenever he’s forced to discuss immigration. His recent performance as the leaders’ Q and A with Kay Burley and Jeremy Paxman proved there are marked and clear difference between his vision of Britain and David Cameron’s. But within Labour there remains an influential nucleus of Blairites who believe that the party’s priority should be doing whatever it takes to avoid the wrath of the Daily Mail, even if it means acquiescing in the demonisation of those deemed unworthy of a place at society’s table – i.e. immigrants and, as Labour’s shadow works and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves recently revealed, people on benefits.
Labour’s immigration mug symbolises the extent to which the right is dominating the battle of ideas in Britain. It will be a collector’s item for racists up and down the country.