How the Conservative Party Is Sucking Up to Bigots and Stoking Racism
They helped to create a new wave of brazen xenophobia, and now they're using it to justify hating on immigrants.
The slogan of the Conservative Party conference is "A country that works for everyone," and it's plastered everywhere. But with the stench of Brexit and the xenophobia that won it hanging thick in the air, it doesn't take long walking around the ICC Birmingham to wonder who that definition of "everyone" leaves out.
Theresa May's big speech today had many warm, cuddly words for "ordinary working people" – a sign of her trying to park her tanks on progressive ground while Labour gets back on its feet after a summer spent rolling around, pulling chunks of each other's hair out. Despite claiming that low wages are caused by immigration, she called Labour "divisive". "You know what some people call them? 'The nasty party,'" she said, referencing her own 2002 conference speech where she warned that the Tories were "the nasty party".
In her last job, Theresa May busied herself by making Britain a "hostile environment" for migrants, and her colleagues are continuing the job. In her conference speech, Home Secretary Amber Rudd pledged to "ensure people coming here are filling gaps in the labour market, not taking jobs British people could do", which had echoes of the "British jobs for British workers" slogan that Gordon Brown's Labour borrowed from the BNP. All this, despite the fact that migrants actually help create jobs rather than stealing them.
This kind of scapegoating caused hate speech and racist violence to soar around the Brexit debate. "It is no coincidence that racist violence is on the rise in the UK at the same time as we see worrying examples of intolerance and hate speech in the newspapers, online and even among politicians," said Christian Ahlund of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.
But Rudd thinks this kind of clampdown will actually "change the tide of public opinion... so once again immigration is something we can all welcome". Politicians are stoking xenophobia and then using the resulting public mood to legitimise even more xenophobia, as if that will calm everyone down. When it achieves the opposite, I guess we'll have to blame the immigrants again.
On Sunday evening I saw Conservative MEP Syed Kamall advocate the far-right Danish People's Party as he shared a platform with the leader of the far-right Finns Party. Also, there was a guy from the Flemish NVA who broke into a Trump-style rant about how Europe doesn't feel European any more. Everyone was chatting agreeably in a sensible debate about the reasonable concerns over immigration, based largely on bullshit.
Sometimes even the pretence of reason slipped entirely. At a event fringe entitled "Is our immigration system working for British business?" the Mail's Isabel Oakeshott said she wouldn't mind a fall in GDP brought about by less immigration, if it would mean we could have a "better country".
"Yes, there are some people who want this country to be as multicultural as possible, but there are perfectly respectable people who don't want it to be really multicultural," she said. "Who do want to celebrate Christmas, not 'winter festival'..."
I groaned inwardly.
Anna Soubry MP, on the other hand, a staunch supporter of Remain, made an impassioned case for diversity. Immigrants aren't the benefits scroungers, she said; it's the Brits. "We still have a section of our society who don't have the same work ethic as the majority and we need to fix that."
She called people who want their country back hypocrites: "Some of these people are the ones who say, 'I don't like all that foreign muck, what are we having for tea tonight? I know: chicken tikka masala.'"
Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Eurosceptic Bruges group, Breitbart journalist James Delingpole – introduced as both a Tory and UKIP member – mocked the BBC for giving a shit about diversity. He wondered what would happen if an alien came to earth and studied our broadcast media:
"He'd say, 'Well, I can see you're all very concerned about diversity issues. I can see, for example, that you've just sacked a 48-year-old white comic from BBC Radio 4 for being white and middle class. I know form listening to one of your leaders, Lenny Henry, that there really isn't enough diversity on your television channel. And I also know from listening to Radio 4 that you're very interested in learning what it was like coping with being homosexual in Ireland in the 1940s, and what it's like living in the Asian community in Rochdale...'"
Lenny Henry got a laugh. Coping with being homosexual got a laugh. It's all a big laugh.
"And what we'd have to say to that alien is actually: no. This is the view of the world, the Weltanschauung – my favourite word – of the BBC. It's not how real people think."
Birmingham is one of Europe's most diverse cities, but the non-white faces inside the conference centre were few and far between. Nevertheless, one ageing Conservative who looked like a dutchess told me she thinks, "I have found, in Birmingham, more friendliness from ethnic minorities than I've ever found at conferences before. They're obviously not worried and, for some reason, the Conservatives seem to attract a lot of interest in them."
And how did she feel about that? "Oh definitely, why not? They're good people."
With Ukipers defecting to the Tories en-masse post-Brexit, and the rhetoric coming from the leadership going in that direction, it's clear that not everyone in the party has such an enlightened view as my new duchess friend. It's not a racist party, but...
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