It really isn’t just me. I had begun to think that I was the only person seeing this. The New Statesman is seeing it too. As I said last week, UKIP seem to be calling the tune and David Cameron’s government is dutifully dancing along.
How did we get here? Where is here? Is there a way back? Have we lost all semblance of decency?
Well, here’s my theory:
We got here as a result of the economic downturn caused, mostly, by gigantic banks lending recklessly to people who could never hope to repay and then betting billions on whether or not they could (does anyone remember Credit Default Swaps and the fact that entity A was taking on a CDS for a loan that entity B took from entity C?). So the US mortgage market imploded and took most of the rest of the world down with it. Banks failed. The UK government bought some of them to stop them from failing.
Then the coalition government was formed in 2010 and “austerity” was the new black. Billions of pounds of spending cuts rolled along. Mr Cameron’s big idea at the time was “big society” which seemed to mean “cutting funding to essential local services and hoping that someone else would provide the service for free”. Great idea that.
Then university tuition fees happened and the Lib Dems sealed their own coffin. In 2015, they were virtually wiped out: the final cruelty being that Nick Clegg kept his seat, so he gets to sit in the Commons and watch what is left of his noble army being thoroughly irrelevant for the next five years. To top the Yellow Party’s woes, UKIP got a whopping 13% of the popular vote. Our ridiculously disproportionate electoral system means that they only actually got one seat. This, I believe, doesn’t condemn them to the sidelines of politics: it merely makes for four million annoyed voters. If they get a little more support next time, their slice of the Commons could rise suddenly and dramatically.
UKIP’s popularity forced the pre-election debate onto the issue of immigration and of how the swarm/tide/torrent/redeployment of desperate people from some of the most dangerous places on Earth is bringing trillions of people to our shores to simultaneously take our jobs and claim our unemployment benefit. Combine this with continued brutal government spending cuts targetting the poorest and a continuing rise in the use of food banks and you find that you’ve created a situation where a huge number of people are feeling worse off (in spite of statistics showing that the economy is growing) and threatened. A proven method for redirecting public rage away from government is to find an external scapegoat to point at.
Enter the migrants.
It is best if your scapegoat can be portrayed as faceless and scrounging, massed and threatening. At some point, “asylum seeker” became a synonym for “illegal immigrant”, which has, in turn, become a synonym for “dangerous criminal.” It doesn’t matter that every body sinking slowly in to the Med is that of a person whose life is valuable by the very fact that it is a human life. It doesn’t matter that the lucky ones who make it to Italy or Greece alive are people too, with parents, friends, children, families, skills, aspirations, and value. Oh no. What matters is that these filthy, foreign beggars are showing up at our door, presumably drawn here by our stunning economic might (because Greece is full of that right now) who would be better dumped back in their country-of-origin where the local situation will take care of them so much more efficiently than our own.
Right now, my Englishness is an embarrassment to me. Mr Cameron’s government is pushing schools and nurseries on an anti-radicalisation agenda and promoting “British Values”, in spite of the fact that promoting ourselves is about as anti-British as you can get (except, possibly, for the colonial fervour exhibited by that certain class of upper-class empire-builder that Roald Dahl met on his ship bound for East Africa, chronicled in volume 2 of his autobiography: Going Solo). But no. Under the heading of democracy, the rule of law, and personal liberty and religious freedom, we are denying people representation in parliament, spying on our own citizens without cause or warrant, and deciding that one of the great world religions is just a front for international terrorism.
Is there a way back? I don’t know, to be honest. We are going to need senior politicians to speak up about this. Just now, Labour are headless, voiceless and pointless. The Lib Dems have been pummelled into near-non-existence. The SNP aren’t getting any air time at all. The other Opposition parties are being as ignored as always. This leaves the government, who have a vested interest in us blaming the powerless for the consequences of the decisions made by the powerful.
Have we lost all semblance of decency? Actually, I think we have.
From a Christian perspective, the Old Testament says it better than I can: You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:21).
In spite of what UKIP and the Conservatives want us to believe, the migrant crisis is a human crisis. They are people, and they need our decency more than they need fences and dogs.