Tuesday 7 March 2023

Stop the Boats to Win More Votes

Who is Rishi Sunak trying to impress with the Tories' Stop-the-boats-to-win-more-votes campaign? Their Illegal Migration Bill which, by the government's own admission, "stretches the law", is a classic example of distractionism. Economy in the toilet? Cost of living spiralling out of control? Look over there at the wretched of the earth trying to reach these shores on small boats. A coincidence that the Tories are going after a group of powerless people when everything else is going wrong for them? Of course not. There's no such thing in politics.

This isn't all that's happening. Sunak's bill, which he ludicrously and dishonestly describes as "fair", is one of the cruellest pieces of legislation tabled by any government in the last 30 years. Ignoring how there are no safe, legal routes for refugees to come to the UK, because the Tories shut them all down, the bill says people trafficked here illegally - the very definition of trafficking - will not gain access to modern slavery protections. Refugees are effectively denied the protection of the law within the first 28 days of their arrival. Illegal arrivals will be packed off to Rwanda or other "safe" countries, and asylum claims will get heard remotely only after their removal. Even Suella Braverman acknowledges there's more than a fifty-fifty chance the bill's provisions fall foul of the UK's treaty obligations, and Sunak says he's "up for the fight" to get the legislation enacted and working.

To their minds, it's a stroke of political genius. They don't actually care whether the policy works or not. They need to be seen battling the do-gooding blob of the all-powerful refugee lobby. "Protecting" Britain's borders was the main reason why Leave voters supported Brexit, so the thinking goes that acting beastly toward asylum seekers and having liberal lefty lawyers and campaigners up in arms will recall memories of hardcore remainers derailing Brexit's passage through the Commons. By placing small boats at the top of the government's priorities, the ensuing parliamentary theatre is designed to bubble up the mass resentment that served the Tories well in 2019.

But it's based on two fundamental misrecognitions. There is a mass market for cruelty and racism in this country, but it's not as broad as the Tories - and most of the establishment - supposes. YouGov found that 50% of voters support banning small boat arrivals from the UK, but that doesn't necessarily mean they also endorse the cruel and unusual treatment the Tories want to mete out. Nor that it's at the top of their priority list. Following what happened in September, most of the public have more pressing concerns. If the Tories aren't going to tackle the cost of living, then most people, including those who spent the last decade voting for them, won't have their heads turned by National Front-style posturing.

The second mistake is that the whole affair will make the Tories look good. The small boats aren't going to stop coming, regardless of how many times you threaten to break the Refugee Convention in an exclusive Sun interview. Are the Tories so far gone that they think talking tough and then being seen to fail to prevent the Channel crossings is going to make them look like a competent and strong government? Like other recent Sunak moves, it smacks of utter desperation. That would be all very well if their anti-refugee policy was a pure car crash with ministerial positions and political careers the only victims, but for the sake of grubby headlines in a dying right wing press and more (anticipated) racist votes, the lives of refugees are going to be made more miserable and more dangerous.

Image Credit


McIntosh said...

Should we become cautiously pessimistic about a Labour win in 2024?

Sunak et al are beginning to put together a programme that may appeal to enough voters to remain the biggest party. And we will see the right wing press being co-ordinated by Central Office in the run up to the election, with the various flaws of Labour leaders exposed day after day and the threats they pose to the nation, culture, indigenous inhabitants, security and so on.

The Tories will claim to have 'Stopped the Boats', solved the Irish problem, seen off or calmed the unions, delivered their 5 promises, backed Ukraine and kept the UK together while teaching the Jocks a lesson about knowing their place. In addition, Labour will be lucky to win 10 seats in Scotland, face boundary changes that will disadvantage them and have lost 200,000 activists who knocked on doors in 2017 and 2019.

AB said...

I so hope your final few paragraphs come to pass. This Government makes me ashamed to be be British, and when I see people cheering it on, almost ashamed to be human.

JN said...

This is one of several things happening in various different countries that is so clearly reminiscent of fascism: "We're just going to deny this particular group of people even the most basic human rights." Leaving aside that it's obviously morally wrong, does anyone not realise that today it's them; tomorrow it's you?

Martin Davis said...

I agree on their motivation. I suspect they calculate that if by the end of the year the numbers passing across the Channel have not dropped they will switch to denunciation of enemies' - domestic and foreign. My concern is not that this will work electorally, but that, given the intractable nature of immigration pressures, it will remain a running sore for the new government. And it will allow the issue of 'control' to continue to be a major issue for the right.

David said...

Can only hope that this guy is right:


and not this one:


Anonymous said...


The Tories may "claim" all those things - but who in the real world is actually going to believe them? There aren't actually *that* many angry gammons who religiously believe the right wing press and GB News.

And to be quite honest I am finding the palpable, almost transparent desperation of Corbynites for a Tory win next time amusing.

Labour are going to win big in 2024. Suck it up.

And any left worth anything - rather than wallowing in self-pity and mindless Corbyn worship - would be making their focus what happens after that, rather than fantasising that a Starmer defeat will "prove them right" (as if that was ever the most important thing anyway)

Dipper said...

So, folks complaining abut a state having an immigration policy, do you all believe in completely open migration and that the state should provide full benefits to anyone? And if not, who would you keep out? And if they turned up in a boat in the channel, how would you keep them out.

Simple, obvious, reasonable questions. I'll put the kettle on.

Anonymous said...

What will Labour do in power? A bit better than the Tories. Is that the best we have.

Anonymous said...

@Dipper https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/black-or-white

JN said...


Here's some "simple, obvious, reasonable" questions for you:

Is it acceptable to deny basic human rights to ANY group of people? EG: the right not to be imprisoned without charge or trial.

What level of immigration would be acceptable to the British mainstream-right? And what level would be acceptable to the British far-right?

Should the British government adhere to international law?

Dipper said...

@ anonymous simply not an answer.

My questions are plain enough. Never an answer.

Blissex said...

«Sunak et al are beginning to put together a programme that may appeal to enough voters to remain the biggest party.»

That most/many voters vote on programmes or even on past record in most cases, is the usual "Westminster bubble" neoliberal framing, and Tony Blair was quite right to say of politicians that “people judge us on their instincts about what they believe our instincts to be”.

The instinct most (southern, affluent) tory voters judge is that about property profits, since they have redistributed to them on average upwards of £30,000-40,000 per year, tax free, work free, from the lower classes, for 40 years. Tory voters have a one-track mind.

Currently property prices are softening, mostly in non-tory areas, but property rents are booming.

It is not yet clear whether this will be enough for the instincts of enough propertied kipper voters to be that redistribution to them will be better protected by New New Labour even if Starmer keeps claiming that.

Dipper said...

@ JN

'Is it acceptable to deny basic human rights to ANY group of people? EG: the right not to be imprisoned without charge or trial.' It is not a basic human right to live in any country you like. I think the Ukrainians are fully entitled to not allow lots of Russian young men into their country, for instance.

'What level of immigration would be acceptable to the British mainstream-right? And what level would be acceptable to the British far-right?' a lot less than currently on both scores. This is a choice countries are free to make, and in democracies such as the UK the people should be able to elect a government that can enact policies on immigration. But on the specifics of refugees, in the last couple of years the UK has taken tens of thousands of refugees from Hong Kong and The Ukraine without any complaint from the right. The issue here is the ability to self-identify as a refugee and get all the privileges and benefits of refugee status whilst clearly not being a refugee.

'Should the British government adhere to international law?'. No. There is no such thing. The only thing 'international law' has ever does is make me a lesser person, with fewer rights. And I strongly suspect there is no international law that says everyone can live in any country of their choice. And these people are clearly not refugees in the sense anyone sane would understand the term.

George Carty said...

@ Dipper

Why are you using the definite article (and capitalized!) with Ukraine, when such usage is now widely regarded as offensive?

As for refugee policy, isn't the generous attitude towards Hong Kongers and Ukrainians driven by the fact that they are seen as loyal to western civilization, as they were victims of anti-western regimes. In addition, Hong Kongers (like most other East Asians) are highly valued by the political right for their legendary work ethic, while Ukrainians are seen as likely to return home once the Russian invaders are defeated.

By contrast the incomers that attract lots of hostility in the West (Middle Easterners and Africans in Europe, or Central Americans in the US) are seen as inherently undesirable for various reasons: the most emotive argument driving the hostility is the belief that they're disproportionately likely to be sexual predators. This may be in part due to coming from very misogynistic cultures, but may also be because they themselves are often disproportionately young men: refugee families send their men to the west as economic migrants in order to earn money support women and children staying behind in the refugee camps closer to the original war zone.

In addition, they are seen as unlikely ever to return to their homelands, as they were driven out not merely by oppressive regimes (which may be overthrown in the near future) but by overpopulation and/or climate change. It's unlikely to be a coincidence that many of the most bitterly anti-refugee people are also climate change deniers.

JN said...


No one should ever be imprisoned without charge or trial, at least not under normal, peace-time conditions. I'm sure if it happened to you, you'd be bleating about the injustice of it, but it's ok as long as it's being done to someone else? That's not much of a philosophy, is it?