We shouldn’t kid ourselves. While reference to ‘Bonga Bonga Land’ by UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom in a recent speech was predictably and rightly panned across the political spectrum, disowned by the leadership of his own party, and drew the ire of the liberal commentariat, it will not have been greeted with the same disdain in many homes up and down the country.
On the contrary, his disparaging and racist reference to those countries in receipt of UK foreign aid would not only have been understood by many, it would have been welcomed. We only have to look at the growth in electoral support for UKIP itself - an anti-immigrant party which harbours more than its fair share of racists in its ranks - to know that while the focus of the liberal intelligentsia, the left, and progressive forces in general has been the rise of the kind of active racism espoused by the BNP and the EDL, casual racism remains entrenched within many British institutions never mind among the wider public.
There is no clearer evidence of this than the Home Office’s recent controversial campaign against illegal immigration, comprising advertising vans touring areas of London heavily populated by ethnic minorities, a poster campaign, and spot checks carried out by immigration officers in train stations. While thankfully the Home Office has stopped the deployment of racist vans under pressure from various human and immigrants’ rights organisations, the fact the Government felt comfortable that such a campaign would meet with public support, and the fact the campaign exclusively targeted ethnic minorities – as if there are no Australian, American, or South African illegal immigrants in London – is significant.
Never mind outright support, public acquiescence towards this government-sponsored wave of anti immigration is in itself the product of a reactionary populist media, which has successfully promulgated myths regarding the impact of immigration - social and economic – which do not stand up to scrutiny. It is also a consequence of Britain’s foreign policy, which has redounded on society at home in the form of terrorist attacks and the essentialization of the Muslim community in particular but also on ethnic minorities in general.
Bloom’s description Britain’s foreign aid budget as constituting ‘treason’ in the context of austerity is of course the product of ignorance, not to mention mendacity. At 0.7 percent of GDP the amount we’re talking about is hardly cause for the kind of moral panic whipped up in the pages of the Daily Mail. On the contrary it conforms to the percentage of GDP agreed by the UN 35 years ago as development aid to poverty-stricken economies of the developing world, where an estimated 11 million children under the age of 5 continue to die year on year as a result of hunger and preventable disease.
The concept of interdependence may be an alien one in the narrow purview of your typical UKIP politician and supporter, but nonetheless it remains crucial to our understanding of foreign aid as the sine qua non of any serious attempt by nation’s of the developed world to forestall mass migration by those seeking an escape from the absolute poverty that blights their lives. There is also the moral case for foreign aid, which if made on the basis of justice would see the current level increased by a factor of at least 100 given the history of exploitation of the human and natural resources of the Global South by the North, responsible for the huge disparity in wealth and development.
On a wider note, isn’t it instructive that the use of the word Bonga Bonga Land to describe the developing world induces such condemnation from a Tory-led government that has mounted one of the most targeted and vicious campaigns of demonization against the poor immigrants in its own country of any in living memory?
Public attitudes towards austerity, welfare reform, immigration (which for many is indistinguishable from foreign aid in that both are increasingly viewed through a xenophobic prism) reveal that on these issues the Right has won the battle of ideas.