Monday 30 April 2018


If there's one thing I've learned from writing about politics, it's to avoid commenting on matters I know little or nothing about. If only "professional" pundits were so reticent. Therefore I didn't know if Amber Rudd was going to fall on her sword. After all, the impression - despite Rudd being the fourth minister to resign in six months - is that no one steps down any more if they get found out for incompetence/wrongdoing. Well, thanks to the pressure piled on by Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and David Lammy, names conveniently written out of the scalping by celebrants of Yvette Cooper, Rudd has gone and, one hopes, the idea ministers resign when they do something wrong has reasserted itself. Boris Johnson, take note.

As news of Rudd's departure filled out social media feeds last night, there were wails of lamentation ... coming from the benches opposite. Lisa Nandy, once the great hope of the soft left argued, with a frankly laughable remark that her resignation should not be celebrated. Others were commiserating the banishment of a "liberal" from the Home Office to the back benches, in the ridiculous hope she would cause some Remain-related trouble. Yawn. Of course, we know a thing or two about liberal perfidy, but ask yourself this: what use is your liberalism when you have loyally toed the fundamentally illiberal line of your party since getting into Parliament, and without complaint implemented your boss's anti-immigrant obsessions? None whatsoever. Why the consternation? Perhaps Rudd is personable in her one-on-one meetings. Instead of getting a lackey to do it maybe she made the tea? There could even have been moments where Rudd and her "Opposition" guests grabbed a bite and nommed their baguettes over the latest LK Bennett lines (their "sun-ready" espadrilles are hotly "on-trend" at the moment, in case you didn't know). In short, the sympathy Rudd has got from Labour benches reminds us (again) that too many of our MPs feel a cosy affinity with the Tories. Luckily, that can be fixed.

Rudd is gone, but the Prime Minister remains. And despite hanging Rudd out to dry, the majority of the public blame Theresa May for the Windrush debacle. Therefore one cannot but detect a frisson of cynicism in her appointment of Sajid Javid. Reeling from accusations of indifference and racism, what better cover than the Tory who proclaimed his own disquiet over the whole affair? As the son of a working class migrant (funnily enough, the establishment media forget his time as merchant banker), May has got to be hoping he'll be better batting away the stinging criticisms. Then again, like Liberal Ambz, his record speaks for itself. He might personally empathise with Windrush cases, and undoubtedly has experienced the racism minority ethnicities in Britain have faced and continue to deal with, and yet none of it will count. The hostile environment continues, the deportations continue.

And here is the rub. The Windrush scandal has bubbled under for four years as an inevitable consequence of the direction May enthusiastically pursued at the Home Office, and chose to carry on once she became PM. Cases have trickled through constituency surgeries and correspondence with May and Rudd entered into as MPs have stuck up for those at the sharp end of these policies. And May did nothing, arrogantly assuming that the hostile atmosphere she'd spent the previous eight years stoking had created a, um, hostile atmosphere where no one gives a toss about the rights of immigrants, even if they had lived and worked here for decades. Wrong.

Nevertheless, as crisis convulses this government of permanent crisis there is an opportunity going begging: and that is to fundamentally challenge the terms of the so-called immigration "debate". For decades, good old British divide-and-rule has differentiated between acceptable and unacceptable minorities. The Gurkhas, the "wrong Jews", young black men, the Poles, each are examples of minority ethnicities and their sub-groups who fall one side or the other of what is and what isn't deemed a good minority, a good immigrant. As appalling as the Windrush scandal is, Tory ministers have worked hard to apologise and prostrate themselves before pubic opinion. They have argued they are "good immigrants" regrettably caught up in a dragnet designed to capture people who are here illegally. The transition from Rudd to Javid won't change this one iota, and nor would it had history turned out differently and the establishment left were still in control of the Labour Party. 

Now that public opinion has glimpsed the brutalities and Kafkaesque nightmare of the immigration bureaucracy, it might provide an opening for a generalised offensive on the premises underpinning the government's and, sorry to say, the widespread antipathy toward people who come here. If "good" immigrants can be humanised in defiance of the Tories' efforts, there is the possibility the humanity could catch and the invisible, despised and reviled people hidden and exploited in the underground economy could likewise shed the dehumanising terms in which they are perceived. But only if this moment is used to make the case against immigration as a problem, that there is nothing wrong with wanting to come to Britain to build a new life, that newcomers are not to blame for the housing shortage or strain on public services, and that, in all essentials, their interests are our interests. Not in the liberal, fluffy, hand-holding way, but as our common existence as living labour exploited by the vanishingly small minority for whom the Tories represent and act for.

1 comment:

SimonB said...

Happily remembering binning those anti-immigration flyers sent by Labour HQ during the 2015 GE. My confusion about how to understand being anti-racist but understanding the "genuine concerns" of racists has now, happily, vanished now I no longer have to doublethink for the party.