Wednesday 18 April 2018

The Tory Politics of the Windrush Scandal

You don't need me to tell you what a disgrace Theresa May is. She can't be accused of mishandling the Windrush scandal, because the pain and misery caused to surviving family members is by design, not by accident. As Diane Abbott puts it, "Tory MPs and commentators who have always supported the government’s policy of creating a ‘hostile environment’ for migrants express astonishment that there is now a hostile environment." The government can try and plead ignorance, but the Home Office have been aware for years of the issues. Migrants who came here when they were little kids and have spent their entire lives working and raising families have fielded queries about their immigration status when they suddenly found themselves out of work, not eligible for social security, and denied treatment on the NHS. It wasn't picked up as a pressing issue because the Home Office doesn't care, and this indifference is baked into the immigration system by successive editorial-chasing home secretaries.

Immigration is the one topic we're "never allowed" to talk about, but it's the topic the press never shut up about. Since the war, and in some dishonourable cases long before it, the press have vilified successive waves of people coming here - Caribbeans, Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Ugandan Asians, Africans, East Europeans. They are responsible for framing migrants as "a problem", it is they who are responsible for scapegoating them for job losses and housing shortages, it is they who have powered the disfigurement of British politics by far right demagogues and hucksters, and it is they who stand responsible, along with the Prime Minister, for the disgusting abuses that are immigration detention centres and the officially-sanctioned harassment suffered at the hands of the Tory Home Office. They try and wash their hands of the misery they've caused, but it is they more than any other set of institutions who have whipped up anti-immigrant hysteria. They are the tools of divide and rule.

I'm not about to let Theresa May off the hook, though. By all accounts, when it comes to immigration sundry Tories are prepared to play cynical political games. Boris Johnson, for instance, is one of their vacant hypocrites who talks up the contributions waves of immigration have made to national life out of one side of his mouth, but carps on about controlling Britain's borders and nudge-nudge we don't want any more of the beggars here out of the other. But when it comes to the "right kind" of migrant, such as overseas students wishing to study at British universities, he and virtually every other cabinet member agree they should get special treatment and not be counted in the immigration figures. The only one who doesn't, the one who insists they too face the unremittingly hostile Home Office treatment is none other than the Prime Minister herself. For the others, anti-immigration posturing is a matter of opportunism. They're not so vulgar to actually believe it. For May on the other hand ...

No one talks about "Mayism" any more, but for a brief period between her assumption of office and calling the general election (a year ago to the very day, folks), it looked like a new hegemonic project was in the offing. i.e. A resetting of class alliances designed to buttress Conservative political dominance in the medium to long-term along with a new common sense that would be difficult to challenge and, as per Thatcherism's midwifing of New Labour into the world, ensure whatever came next would be committed to politics within the terms May sets out. However, it was a project erected on the most unstable of foundations. Her recommitment to One Nation Toryism sounded better than the dog-eat-dog idiocies of Dave and Osborne, but nevertheless its appeal was limited. Continuity Thatcher in some respects, the cut of May's authoritarian jib was never going to appeal to the newly important topographies of Britain's class landscape. Not that it mattered. After all, socially liberal youngsters never vote, do they?

You don't need to lather yourself with poststructuralist philosophy to know that a useful way of holding together a block of people is by uniting them against some alien "other". May, in her speeches about how wonderful her Britain is bound to be, waxed lyrically about insecurity. She understands, at least rhetorically, that a sense of dislocation and anxiety breeds disengagement and irreverence. To this she opposed a society (yes, there is such a thing as society) where everyone had a place and knew their place - in both senses of the term. And that means creating in-groups and out-groups. In are the fuzzily defined "British people", replete with some lip service to its multicultural and diverse characteristics. But in the outs were people who wanted to come here. May linked stability and senses of place with what we have, and made it contingent on severely limiting the numbers who might otherwise "threaten" it. Vote Leave with its "Take Back Control" slogan, which more than any other positioning won the referendum for Brexit, was seamlessly annexed to her project. Anti-immigrant Brexit voters found a willing ear and a comely xenophobic politics with Theresa May and her "team".

As such, from what May believes (yes, she does really hold a candle for this rebooted, anti-immigrant one nation Toryism) and the pragmatics of holding her declining coalition together, the Windrush families were always going to be double victims of her deliberate hostility to migrant populations. Double because her rules rendered them non-people as far as the state was concerned, and then treated them as such as they tried rectifying their residency status. None of this would have troubled her because she firmly believes you can never lose votes by being beastly to immigrants, and you can never gain them for helping them out, let alone being welcoming. Besides, the core of her coalition aren't going to care.

Not for the first time May has miscalculated. There is a hard core who won't countenance any immigration, but even among conservative layers of the population there is a residual (some might say grudging) affection for Commonwealth migrants, particularly those who arrived from the Caribbean. Unlike EU migrants and more recent arrivals, these are empire people who came to Britain because the mother country put out the call. They are, for millions of May's current supporters, part of the "in" team. To find out that they're not and have been subject to shabby treatment has certainly wounded May in their eyes - hence the apology, going cap in hand to visiting Commonwealth leaders, and trying to push the blame on to Labour in today's PMQs.

Might we be turning corner in wider attitudes to immigration? I doubt it, but there is no doubt this crisis has exposed the venality and heartlessness of May's government to many voters prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt, and that makes her already precarious position even more uncertain.


Boffy said...

What is also a scandal is that May was again let off the hook by the antics of the Blair-rights. Firstly, she was able to point to the racists immigration policies and ideology of the Blair-rights in the last Labour government, which also saw getting the immigration numbers down as a priority.

Secondly, she was able to openly acknowledge as a debt of thanks the activities of the Blair-rights the previous day in the scandalous unsubstantiated attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and other members of the Labour Party in relation to anti-Semitism.

The Blair-rights now seem to be in open alliance with the Tories in Parliament against Labour. Not only are they scandalously using Jews as pawns in their political attacks against Corbyn, by throwing out unsubstantiated accusations of online anti-Semitic abuse, rather than tracking down the real culprits, and thereby undermining the real struggle against anti-Semitism, such as against the three extreme right anti-Semitic abusers found guilty in Court, described by Luciana Berger, but they have now undermined the struggle against racism in the from of the Tories disgraceful treatment of the Windrush generation.

The Bliar-rights clearly are a totally self-centred bunch of egotistical careerists who are prepared to throw anyone under the bus just to preserve their cushy positions. They have chosen the present time to attack Corbyn once again so as to do the greatest damage ahead of the local elections. Its time we deselected the lot of them. Then we can get on with the real fight against the Tories, against anti-Semitism, and bigotry in all its forms.

Speedy said...

Immigration was very low on the list of voter priorities before 1997. The current "problem" springs from the open door policies of Barbara Roach et al wishing to "rub the right's nose in multiculturalism".

Immigration became framed as a Marmite issue - you were either for it (morally good - cool) or against it (morally bad - racist), and this is still a position you, Phil, a sociologist, appear to stick to.

Immigration is neither good nor bad, it just is. Forcing mass immigration down the throats of a British public in the spirit of making them love multiculturalism (for why?) was always going to backfire, and so it did, spectacularly, with Brexit, which yes, was all about immigration.

In that sense, you can lay Brexit at the door of Labour, and the current immigration crisis, too. Racism as well, really - all that good work in the 1970s and 80s to normalise multiculturalism as a coping strategy (not a universal good) ruined, not least because bourgeois materialists refused to see culture as a "thing" beyond world music and takeaway food and yearned to shelve social class after the workers stopped dancing to their tune.

Why do I need to point this out?

Blissex said...

«even among conservative layers of the population there is a residual (some might say grudging) affection for Commonwealth migrants, particularly those who arrived from the Caribbean. Unlike EU migrants and more recent arrivals, these are empire people who came to Britain because the mother country put out the call. They are, for millions of May's current supporters, part of the "in" team.»

In part, and in large part the tory core vote is mean but also "sentimental" as you describe. That those illegal immigrants are so because of ignorance of the law is excused because of "sentimentality", as other people who have not done their legal processes right receive no sympathy: ignorance of the law is no excuse most of the time.

Another commenter shrewdly observed that the "Windrush" story was broken by the Daily Mail: P Dacre and accomplices know their readers and better than the Conservative party, and that they are often (usually women) oldies with a streak of sentimentality among much greed and spite.

But it also helps enormously that those illegal immigrants are "nice oldies", and not "young thugs" or "adult scroungers". That one of them is going to be given a £54,000 cancer treatment for free of course relates to the sympathy of other oldies fearful of cancer themselves.

There is xenophobia (perfectly legitimate even if not-nice in my view) and quite differently racism, and then there is spite for the "young thugs" and "adult scroungers" which the core tory vote detest whichever their color or nationality (unless of course the "youn g thugs" are bullers or the "adult scroungers" are bankers).

Blissex said...

«they scandalously using Jews as pawns in their political attacks against Corbyn»

Careful with the wording here, it should be "using likudniks as pawns"; as written that is aligned with the anti-semitic framing of those likudniks, that "good" jews attack J Corbyn for being "far left" and thus opposing Likud, and only "bad" jews" don't. The anti-semitic position of Likud seems to me the foul one that only "assimilated" jews (assimilated to Likud that is) are "good" jews, and people who believe like me (and Corbyn) that there is a wide spectrum of opinion among jews worldwide and israeli citizens, as normal for any ethnicity, should never fall for the vile Likud framing that "the jews" are or *should be* of one opinion.
J Corbyn and JEWDAS celebrating pass-over together demonstrated the vileness of likudnik hatred of "unassimilated" jews very clearly.

Blissex said...

«Forcing mass immigration down the throats of a British public in the spirit of making them love multiculturalism»

That's a ludicrous exxxxxagggggeration: many affluent english people absolutely love immigration when it means that plumbers, caretakers, cleaners, baristas, are much cheaper, and then celebrate immigration when it means that immigrants pay a lot of money for renting bunk beds by the shift.
Sure *some* english people in the lower income bands don't like a lot of extra competition for the jobs and flats in mostly the south-east and London, but they don't matter, except in a proportional vote like the 2016 referendum, where they just tipped the result into "Leave", thinking that would lead to less immigration, even if the motto was "take back control".

As to "take back control", the affluent tory votes while they love immigration making their hired help cheaper and their properties and businesses more profitable, they are outraged that EU immigrants have rights, and as a result are more expensive.

What they want is lots more immigration, of cheaper asian and african servants, wikth no rights, as indentured servants, with work permits at the whim of their employer, and ideally with GPS collars to ensure that they have no freedom of movement, but have to remain strictly in the postcodes for which their work permit is valid, so they don't behave as if they had the right to go where they please. Affluent tory business and property rentiers want to take back complete control over the immigrants they sponsor, as in the "kafala" system prevalent in the middle east, and which suits so well their expat friends in Dubai.

Blissex said...

«The Bliar-rights clearly are a totally self-centred bunch of egotistical careerists who are prepared to throw anyone under the bus just to preserve their cushy positions.»

But so are a lot of the voters they want to champion, the “aspirational voters who shop at John Lewis and Waitrose”, and that's what democracy is about too. This is one of my usual quotes and might resonate:
«An old mining MP called Bill Stone, who used to sit in the corner of the Strangers' Bar drinking pints of Federation ale to dull the pain of his pneumoconiosis.
He was eavesdropping on a conversation at the bar, where someone said exasperatedly about the Commons: "The trouble with this place is, it's full of c*nts!"
Bill put down his pint, wiped the foam from his lip and said: "They's plenty of c*nts in the country, and they deserve some representation." (To get the full effect, say it aloud in a broad northern accent.)
As a description of parliamentary democracy, that strikes me as unbeatable.»

davidjc said...

Re. Boffy’s points, does anyone have any insight into what the Democracy Review is likely to come up with?

Anonymous said...

The aspirations of the aspirationals have been let down by the neo-liberal policies that Nu-Labor suported. This is why we are where we are now and why the 'moderates' in the PLP are delusional. As for immigration, Corbyn needs to make staight foreward statements of who is in and who is out and why.

Dipper said...

yes yes this is very bad. But for the record, are you in favour of completely open borders with no limits or controls? And are you in favour of absolutely everyone here having complete access to the slate of UK public services whether they are UK citizens or not? And if not, what magic wand do you have that will allow civil servants to instantly make decisions about immigration and access with 100% accuracy? Because without that magic wand, any immigration controls make a mess like this inevitable.

Anonymous said...

Oh look, it's another quality comment from Dipper!

Condescending opener? Check. Bad faith accusation? Double check. Reductio ad absurdum? Check. Space clear for fascism? Oh yes!

Dipper said...

oh its another empty comment from an empty name space.

No-one on the left ever has any answers on immigration. Wherever the line is drawn, they just say "that's a bad place. The line needs to be moved." but where to? No answers. Ever.