Sunak’s cheap victim-blaming – vile, inhuman and unworkable

Posted on March 6, 2023

With weary predictability, Rishi Sunak’s government plucks out the race card.  It’s been the mark of desperate governments to do so throughout modern history. Beset by problems on all sides – not least the yobbish, entitled behaviour of his colleagues who hold the highest offices in the land – the cruel diversion of migrant-baiting might just convince some of his supporters that he’s doing something purposeful. Waiting in the wings, the rump of Britain’s far-right movements rubs its hands, appreciative of the permission they’ve been given to latch onto anger and lack of hope.

They’ve been conveniently provided with a champion, carefully hand-picked by the Conservative Party itself. Recently appointed as the party’s chair, Lee Anderson has expressed sympathy with those who’ve assembled to terrify residents housed in hotels.  It’s easy to see how, from his point of view, this could make sense. At one such gathering, protestors were chanting ‘we’ve got nothing’, pointing to, as they saw it, the contrast between their difficult lives and the imagined luxury of those inside the hotel. Anderson, and those who spawned him, will be only too glad to see the fireworks and bricks outside a suburban hotel rather than their own well-appointed offices.

Beyond Anderson’s dangerous seal of approval sit the lies propping up the politics of hatred. Immigration – leaving aside questionable notions of legality – is not a huge problem. According to all reliable sources, net migration to the UK is gradually declining and this has been a steady trend for the last six years. By the most cautious of estimates, 75% of asylum claims are found to be valid, resulting in 14,000 people being granted leave to remain in 2022. The UK accepts fewer refugees that almost all of its European neighbours and, given  that the Confederation of British Industry reckons that three-quarters of companies are hit by labour shortages, that also counts as significant waste of resources. Volunteers who work with those housed in hotels will tell of you of the hundreds of mechanics, dentists, engineers and entrepreneurs desperate to end the monotony of their days by getting out to work.

The country is far from ‘full’.  The fact that angry crowds reference their inability to see a doctor or get on the housing list or who don’t dare to look at their energy smart meter, isn’t down to terrified people enduring endless waits to have their asylum claims scrutinised. Lee Anderson knows that, of course, as does Suella Braverman, her predecessors and her boss. If there was political will to deal with asylum cases in a thorough, speedy and reliable way, it could be done. There is no such will: behind the posturing and tough promises, it remains better for hard-nosed, unscrupulous politicians to keep the scapegoat alive and perpetually nervous.

Of all the preposterous fictions perpetrated by their immigration policy, the idea that it’s the stalling of  people smugglers which is the government’s aim is the most risible. We pride ourselves on having come some way from frothing judges telling rape victims that they were asking for it, but the idiocy of suggesting that harsh treatment of the victims of this vile trade will influence unscrupulous, hardened criminals beggars belief. As dim and feckless as they regularly show themselves to be, government ministers must know this claim is nonsense. We are asked to believe that the identification and punishment of smuggling gangs is hopelessly beyond the capabilities of those charged with doing so. It’s hard not to believe that the optics of victim-blaming makes better copy for keeping a story on the boil.

As ever, those on the ground – Border Force, accredited charities and NGOs – attempt to tell politicians desperate for some cheap approval that their plans are unworkable. As ever, their expertise is ignored. Legal opinion urges caution and temperance but this too, in an age where so-called democracies around the world are showing frightening impatience with independent judiciaries, is dismissed as whining obstructionism. At a time when we are being ‘treated’ to the WhatsApp contempt heaped on people who actually knew stuff, none of this comes as surprise. The idea that traumatised, terrified people will be put further through the wringer is seen as mere collateral damage.

Of all the things Sunak and his fractured rabble could do to qualitatively improve people’s lives, victim-blaming those who are fleeing fear and oppression doesn’t even sneak onto the bottom of the list. Paralysed into inaction by the collective action of workers from nurses to teachers to postal workers – the ‘heroes’ of the pandemic – and with no strategy to provide decent housing, affordable rents, a workable transport system or a reliable medical appointment……and let’s not even mention trying to save the planet, this feeble, half-baked, vindictive gimmick looks to be the best shot in Sunak’s locker. ‘Beyond contempt’ doesn’t begin to cover it.


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