There are lots of things that politicians say and do with which I disagree. Sometimes, I find statements simply laughable; sometimes alarming. Very rarely have I found a statement positively frightening. Yesterday was one such day, when the Home Secretary announced that companies would be forced to list all the foreign workers they employ. Where does this sort of proposal stop? Will they have to list all the Muslims next, or all the Jews?
The anti-foreigner rhetoric coming from the tabloids over a lengthy period has been appalling, but it seems as if politicians are now queueing up to pander to it, ‘because the people have spoken’. I find myself wondering exactly what sort of country it is where the response to people being attacked on the street for being foreign isn’t so much about dealing with the attackers; it’s more about reducing the number of foreigners. Isn’t that at least a little like blaming women who get raped for being there in the first place?
The extremists are winning, and they’re winning because the counter argument isn’t being put. It’s bad enough seeing the Tories pandering to this sort of nonsense, but Labour have been no better. Instead of explaining why the Tories are wrong, they merely criticise the Tories (as this from their press office demonstrates) for not doing enough to reduce immigration, thereby reinforcing the basic message.
Whilst for many of us it might seem that the economy isn’t working terribly well at present, it’s doing better than a lot of others. The UK Government are keen to remind us of that on a regular basis. But here’s the thing; the more successful any economy is, the more it will draw people in – indeed, the more it will probably need to draw people in. And a truly successful economy needs to plan adequate services and facilities for the people it employs. What sort of country is it that draws people in to meet its needs, makes no plans to provide services for those people, and then blames them for the failures and inadequacies of those services?
The people who run the country and the economy are scapegoating immigrants and foreigners for their own failures. And they’re getting away with it, at least partly because those who understand where the blame really lies are becoming increasingly fearful of the political consequences of breaking the anti-immigration consensus and speaking out. And that frightens me too – drawing up lists of foreigners is one small step; creating a fear of opposing such ideas is another.
Europe has seen this sort of thing before – things happen in small steps and people accept them as a result. It never turns out well. I’m not the first to worry about that parallel (this video has already been widely shared); although I accept that there’s a danger of exaggeration, and falling foul of Godwin’s Law. However, if history teaches us anything, it is that exaggerating the danger is better than downplaying it until it’s too late.I don’t consider freedom of movement as some vague liberal notion, nor as a ‘price we have to pay’ in exchange for selling our cars or sausages on the mainland. I start from the standpoint of seeing it as a basic human right. The role of governments shouldn’t be to stop people moving as they wish – it should be to distribute the earth’s resources and wealth more fairly, and to protect human rights and freedoms. Only when people can see good prospects without having to move will they be able to make a reasoned and rational choice to build a future in their country of origin if that's what they want. Only life-chance equality will make countries equally attractive as places where people can build the future they want. Mass migration is a direct result of inequality, of a flow of wealth over generations to the rich and away from the poor. But who, amongst our politicians, is making that point?