Right-wing political commentators writing in popular newspapers or populist broadcasting channels frequently claim they are speaking for the ‘silent majority’ of the British people. Not that they themselves are anything but silent.
Despite the mixture of ethnicities, nations, regions and diverse social classes that makes up contemporary Britain, their assumption is that their deeply conservative, prejudiced, reactionary views are those of the majority of UK citizens, rather than the predominantly middle-aged and elderly white males of various social backgrounds usually to be found propping up pub or golf club bars.
Dog-whistle rhetoric has dire consequences
Gary Lineker’s eloquence in response to what Suella Braverman’s words and deeds actually mean, has done a major public service. Her words should put fear into the hearts of anyone with a slight understanding of the root causes of fascism in 1930s Europe. It is also a brutal reminder of the truth and power of the words of prominent anti-Nazi Pastor Martin Niemöller, who saw at first-hand how quickly the forces of totalitarian racist tyranny infect the body politic:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Xenophobia – a hatred of the foreigner – is always there in human society, fostered by ignorance, poverty, fear. It is used by unscrupulous politicians as a dark and destructive force to support their ruthless rise to power, on a tide of jingoism and pseudo-nationalism to silence dissent.
Knowing the playbook
The first weapon of a rising despot is to seek a readily available scapegoat – Jew, Muslim, Black, gay, trans, or in this case refugee. The populist media, including as we now know, even the BBC, are only too complicit in accepting that extreme viewpoints attract listeners, readers and viewers. Fear sells newspapers.
The so-called UK refugee crisis has rapidly been hyped out of all proportion. Not only is the UK receiving fewer displaced persons, both in total numbers and in proportion of our 68 million population, than the rest of Europe, but other more legitimate routes have been closed. There is also a decline in illegal smuggling in freight lorries through seaports and airports. But thanks to the hugely effective activities of criminal gangs, throughout Europe and in the UK, there is now a highly profitable trade in people trafficking, using small, dangerous boats, financed by the extortion of huge sums from despairing people to enable them to escape, war, famine and unspeakable violence. As there has been for centuries, there is also steady stream of ‘economic’ migrants seeking a better life, tempted by a far from true rosy picture of life in Britain – seen through a spectrum of the better-off, not the increasing poverty of average working families, nor our failing NHS and social services.
Dealing with the criminal gangs through co-ordinated and well-funded international police action, including penetrating the gangs and bringing them to swift justice, must be top priority. Yet this is seen by the current government as being of far less propaganda value than nightly images of small boats bobbing across the English Channel with their precarious human cargo. It is rich ammunition to ruthless politicians who can benefit from using words such as ‘invasion’ to deliberately evoke fear, world war II imagery and thereby violence.
Dehumanisation of refugees
The language of many political commentators, even politicians themselves, deliberately suggests that refugees – predominantly people with brown skin – are sub-humans, ‘untermensch’ who can be treated in a different way to UK citizens, stripped of their rights or any vestiges of dignity or citizenship. They can be herded to basic camps in disused rural airfields, surrounded by wire fences, where conditions are well below what are normally considered acceptable. They are destined to be kept there for months, if not years, until their asylum applications are dealt with. If the applications fail, then they will be deported to any country prepared to have them, even Rwanda with its dubious human rights record.
Even the prison camps – which in effect they are – have hit major problems because rural communities, the majority of them Conservative voters, do not want their localities dominated by nearby incarceration camps of impoverished refugees. Their unspoken fear is that such people – already vilified by politicians and dubbed as ‘aliens’ or even ‘criminals’ – might escape, hungry and desperate, to attack local middle-class homes, seeking food and possessions.
You don’t need to have much sense of history to realise the appalling parallels with what the Nazis did to undesirables – gypsies, homosexuals, left-wing protesters and Jews. The now notorious euphemism for such places was ‘concentration camps’.
Such behaviour is cruel, even obscene, and rightly runs foul of international human rights law. But in another leaf out of the 1930s playbook, a target for the far right in the early years of their rise to power, were indeed ‘lefty lawyers’ who objected to the many attacks on the mechanisms of democracy to protect the rights of ordinary citizens. Many were soon eliminated.
Cynical populism denies reality
In so many ways, Sunak, Braverman and their increasingly obnoxious and outspoken cheerleaders among the so-called ERG wing of the government, supported by the populist gutter press, are steering a nation once justly proud of its great liberal traditions and tolerant democratic values, towards something very dark and sinister indeed.
There are two major ironies – first that individuals of South Asian heritage whose parents came to this country and prospered because of our tolerant values towards refugees, are leading this descent towards further illiberalism. The other is our rapidly ageing population, too many of whom support the illiberal attitudes of our home secretary.
The UK’s rapidly falling birth-rate, a trend accelerated by the worsening cost of living crisis and astronomic child-care costs, making female employment in many public service roles unaffordable for those with young children. This already means there are not enough younger, active people to man our NHS, our care services, our food-producing farms, our buses, and our delivery services. Yet currently over 125,000 asylum seekers are locked in secure accommodation, waiting for their cases to be resolved, highly motivated people who would give anything to be trained and employed in our desperately understaffed care and health services, or pick the crops, drive the trucks and buses, to feed and care for the very same elderly voters in their declining years.
Britain needs more young people. The politicians who currently keep them out, or incarcerated by illiberal measures contrary to human right laws, may be the real criminals, not the refugees.
True British values
What our nation actually requires is a legal asylum system based on an assessment of the nation’s employment and manpower needs, giving priority to those with necessary skills and motivation, whilst at the same time destroying the criminal gangs responsible for trafficking of human beings in small boats over dangerous seas. Children that survive are easy victims for county lines and similar drug gangs.
Thank you, Gary Lineker, for your eloquent anger and outrage about the cruelty that not only shames and disfigures our country, but totally contradicts the true British values of decency and fairness – now rapidly being encroached upon by bigotry, cruelty and selfishness.
But as Martin Niemöller warned us two generations ago, if we do not prevent what is happening now, we, and our children, will ultimately pay the price.
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