Tag Archives: Populism

Immigration: The debate we’re “not allowed to have?”

Racist vans, UK Border agency goons racially profiling commuters and the bizarre spectacle of the Home Office twitter feed gleefully broadcasting tweets and pictures of people being arrested in a clear attempt to get #immigrationoffenders trending.  Aside from the contempt of court necessitated by this, the “debate” on immigration seems to have taken on a far more poisonous hue of late.

The problem with the “debate” on immigration is that we’re constantly being told by those of the Daily Wail/UKIP/Centre for Social Cohesion/Migration Watch persuasion that it’s “The one debate we’re not allowed to have”.  This would be more convincing if the debate on immigration weren’t constantly being conducted, and at the most hysterical register imaginable.  Any attempt to “have the debate on immigration”, we’re told, is immediately slapped down by the “multiculti thought police”.  If only. 

Mainstream current affairs panels such as question time have featured participants who have repeatedly claimed that New Labour engineered mass immigration in the early 2000’s as method of creating a permanent majority and annihilating “indigenous” British culture.  These deranged conspiracy theories and views like them are regularly articulated as part of the “debate” on immigration and are, by and large, subject to very little of the de-bunking and ridicule they deserve.  

The government’s current policy seems to be working on a dishonest conflation of legal and illegal migration.  Illegal immigrants are hardly going to see the billboard van, realise the error of their ways and hand themselves in to police, so clearly the target of this semion is all migrants (code: non-white).  In addition to this, those arrested in the heavy-handed, speculative sweeps made by UKBA (which, let it be remembered, has recently been completely discredited as a functioning agency) would have rights of appeal and will not be instantly deported (no doubt to the apoplexy of those at Telegraph towers).  

The central focus of the “debate on immigration” which is, in reality, never mentioned is pretty much the same question which isn’t allowed to be asked of the financial crisis and global recession, namely the stagnation of real wages and their replacement with an unsustainable credit bubble.  It’s much easier to placate a workforce whose wages have stayed the same or dropped in comparison with senior managers if financial institutions can provide cheap, easy credit to pick up the slack.  Real wealth is concentrated at to the top through ever increasing remuneration packages whilst the chimerical feeling of wealth generated by credit serve only to shackle those at the bottom.  

The eternal refrain of anti-immigrant rhetoric is that of “them” coming over “here” and undercutting (rather than taking) “our” workers.  This isn’t a problem of immigration or borders, it’s a problem of not having wages which keep pace with the cost of living and, moreover, a lack of enforcement in the paying of the minimum wage by unscrupulous employers.  This is the only place where undercutting takes place by “illegal” migrants, at the level below the minimum wage where employers can pay their (illegal) labor force whatever they chose and face no opposition, as they can be blackmailed using their status at any time.  This, of course, is to say nothing of the massive number of “illegal immigrants” who are “working” in circumstances and under conditions which vary from indentured (debt) labor through to slavery.

As for those here working legally, either on visas or as citizens of EU countries, there really is no debate to be had.  Because it’s not a debate about immigration, it’s about membership of the EU.  Such a debate has begun, or really it’s re-started, as it never really went away.  It seems unlikely that a majority of people, no matter what some of them  might say in more lubricated moments at the golf club bar would vote for a the economic suicide which would accompany the an outright exit of a trading bloc which contains all of our biggest trading partners.  This may not be the case, though, if the “debate” on EU membership is conducted with the same level of ignorance and inaccuracy with which it has been thus far. 

The misinformation, dishonesty and divisive, populist rhetoric which is employed by the anti-immigrant lobby has poisoned the possibility of there actually being a sensible debate on immigration, not the lack of trying to have one.  It’s a common tactic amongst capitalist societies to ensure that the instability generated by periodic crises of capital are managed through the setting of the working poor, under-employed and unemployed and marginalised groups against each other, preventing attention being turned towards the underlying socio-economic conditions of massive concentrations of capital and political power in the hands of unregulated corporate monopolies and compromised political classes.  

As red herrings go, immigration is as big as they come.  

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