Years of scaremongering by the press, successive governments and opportunist politicians have ensured immigration has become nothing more than a fetid, toxic swamp. Its rotten stink permeates politics as it competes to scapegoat and appear "tough" on people who come to live and work here. Basically, it's who can fall furthest, fastest into a bottomless pit of amorality and wilful ignorance. But, apparently, all they want is an open and honest debate about immigration *innocent face*.
I'm sure you don't need me to tell you Nigel Farage is talking bollocks on immigration, but he is. Farage's comments from the weekend show exactly what kind of "debate" he and his ilk have in mind. About how "full up" we are. The threat it poses to the "British way of life". How they're coming here for our jobs, our benefits, our social housing. And for too long Farage and the elites of all parties have been allowed to get away with it. Yet the right and the "common sense" it has inculcated is not invulnerable, it is not the cast-iron rightwing hot issue they think it is.
Intellectually, their scaremongering is easily exposed as such. Take Farage's comments. According to our "libertarian" who would deny liberty to workers born in other lands, old Enoch was right. He agreed that "the indigenous population found themselves made strangers in their own country, their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition" had come to pass. But far from a "net four million migrants" over the last four years causing social breakdown and disorder, remarkably most people have got on with their lives. But what the four million figure does most of all is provide a handy get out of jail free card. When jobs are getting cut up and shared out, when prices outstrip wages, when a miasma of economic insecurity permeates so-called growth, people like Farage point a sign post in their general direction and say "here's who to blame, these are the ones threatening your living standards".
It's not difficult to pooh pooh this idiocy. Yet much tougher to get the majority of people concerned about immigration to see it as scaremongering poppycock. However, people who do swallow it aren't stupid. They're not a mass of sheeple needing to be "woken up". The potency of the rhetoric lies in its speaking to insecurity. A similar sort of thing is going on with antipathy toward social security. It comes down to a deep-seated but amorphous sense of unfairness, an idea immigrants can "easily" put in for benefits and housing even though they haven't paid into the system. Or the idea employers are excluding local people in favour of East Europeans they bring in by the planeload. While these is zero evidence of the former, there's a bit knocking about for the latter. Long-term readers might also remember a strike at a certain oil refinery about the issue, and that it was dubbed and denounced by the clueless as "racist".
How then do you start detoxifying this issue? Is it forever the property of the right? It's actually a bit of a risk for UKIP, the Tories and the ragbag of fascists who've exploited it over the years. Orly? Yes, really. Its potency depends on addressing people as workers. That's right, class politics is officially dead and yet here we have a very negative manifestation of it. Of the right playing with it to some success. And because it has proven effective, might it be a good idea to try and respond to it on, um, class terms? Radical I know.
But I'm sure few ever expected Ed Miliband to come at it this way. Well, he has, and it's been in the offing for a while. So, worried that you or your kids are being excluded from jobs? Labour will prevent businesses from recruiting exclusively from overseas. Concerned your wages and conditions might be undercut? Time for heavy fines on minimum wage evasion, and prevention of taking agency workers on at lower than established rates. Mark Ferguson thinks this is a risky move. Far from it, it's the beginning of the kind of response the labour movement needs. It draws the sting from the issue and places blame for the race to the bottom not on those damaged by it but on employers who've raked massive profits hiding behind scapegoats of their making. Here the immigration debate moves onto grounds the right are far from comfortable competing on.
Finally, just finally, the realisation might be dawning on the opposition front bench that wallowing in the sewer with the Tories and UKIP will never win Labour any votes. But talking about it in class terms might and, who knows, start to unravel the vile hegemony over immigration the right have held for so long.