The government is blinding itself so it can continue committing evil.
Orphaned refugee children walking amongst the shelters at the Jungle refugee camp at Calais in France in 2015 (Chris Radburn/PA Wire/PA Images)
There are arguments against taking in more refugees – not good ones, but there are arguments. The usual callous whinging: it costs too much, we need to look after our own, local councils are overstretched as it is. Like sending gunboats to lazily circle the Mediterranean, blasting out their message over the loudspeakers in five languages as the shipwrecked survivors wave for help: we're so sorry that you're about to drown, and we don't want you to die, but we've cut the budget for Daventry council and made them give what's left to Serco, so you understand our situation. Every life is sacred, but we're trying to balance the books over here, so when you turn into a swelling fish-food block, please don't blame it on us.
Evil always comes with a litany of pedantic excuses for itself. So it's not surprising that on Tuesday, Parliament rejected by 287 votes to 267 an amendment by Conservative MP Heidi Allen to the children and social work bill designed to help the UK take in more of the refugee children stranded alone in European detention camps. It's what we do now: we leave kids to rot away in prisons, and we do it for the comfort and honour of our hardworking local councillors.
But what's notable is that none of these grimly sensible reasons apply at all to what Allen's amendment would have actually done. While it was openly described as an attempt to restart the Dubs scheme to bring unaccompanied child migrants into the country, the amendment would not have resettled one more person in the country, or earmarked any more money for refugee resettlement, or changed anything about the country's migration policy whatsoever.
It wasn't a solution to the problem, just a measure to find out whether a solution is even possible. All it called for was an annual report from each local council, in which they would declare exactly how much capacity they might have to resettle lone children. Which is really a double manoeuvre: the main point isn't that it forces councils to say how many refugees they could house (after all, many of them are already saying what the numbers are), but that it forces the central government to look.
They didn't want to look. Instead, we had the national shame of 282 Tory MPs rolling around proudly in their own pig-shit ignorance, guffawing at how wonderfully stupid they are, congratulating themselves on just how little they want to know. It would be impossible for Britain to help stranded children running away from a war we helped create, and if it is possible then we don't want to know about it. Government efficiency used to work through a monopoly on information: census-takers and secret police, lies in the newspapers and rumours in the streets, all making sure that the people in power knew absolutely everything there was to know, while all their underlings could only see tiny, tattered scraps of the vast plans dreamed up in the cloisters of authority. What unelected despot would deliberately decide to not know something? But it's different now. Today, the effective exercise of power means ruling from brainlessness.
To justify her leadership, Theresa May has to be the absolute stupidest person in Parliament, walled off from every available fact, wax stuffed in her ears, corneas surgically slashed, making policy by flailing about in a dark clammy prison. She has to be the only person in the country who doesn't realise exactly how thoroughly Europe is going to fuck us in the Brexit negotiations; she has to refuse, like a grumpy baby jamming its mouth against any spoonful of nutritious gloop, to know whether or not we can actually afford to help the children stuck far away from home in refugee camps. It's the same, of course, in Donald Trump's palace of silence across the Atlantic, where power will only accept information filtered through Breitbart and the breakfast news. The people who rule us don't just happen to be idiots; idiocy itself is in charge.
Just look at the justifications made by those who voted down the amendment. It's a strange logic: we will refuse to find out whether we can help, because we've already decided that we can't. Ministers, the BBC reports, think that "councils, which are under extreme financial constraints, do not have the capacity" to take in more refugees. The Prime Minister's spokesman, addressing reporters before the vote, said "we don't think this is the right approach… we think it is right we focus on protecting the children who are already in the UK and spreading that burden across the country evenly".
The government is insistent that we only have room to take in 350 children, even while the councils that are supposedly breaking under this burden keep on insisting that they could house thousands more. It insists that it's far weaker, poorer and more crippled than it actually is, and if it needs to cripple itself further to underline the point, that's exactly what it'll do. It's like the favourite Tory pastime of burning a £50 note in front of a homeless person, but drastically magnified: drag out a cart full of all your worldly possessions onto the street before some rough sleeper, set the whole thing on fire, slit your eyeballs with a razor – fuck you, I will destroy everything I have so long as none of it goes to you.
If nothing else, this vote should at least dispel any idea that the reasons why we're not helping more are practical and pragmatic. This government decided to be a gang of wilfully callous cowards a long time ago; they'll seize on any information that makes their callousness look like cold inevitable reason, and shut out anything that contradicts them. The psychoanalytical term for this is scotomisation, the wilful self-blinding of a subject that sees something that can't be integrated into the structure of their thought. It's hard to observe this and not to think of Oedipus, the unconscious architect of all our complexes. When Oedipus discovered that he'd unknowingly committed a great evil by killing his own father, he blinded himself in shame. But our present-day Tories have no shame, so the whole process is reversed. They blind themselves first, so the unknowing evil can come afterwards, and they can leave the children to die.