Over the weekend, the Guardian published the results of a Populus poll
showing that 48% of the UK population would consider supporting a new anti-immigration party committed to challenging Islamist extremism – as long as it ‘was not associated with violence and fascist imagery’.
It’s a shocking figure – and a shocking statement. Not least because it seems to reveal the unchallenged doublethink at the heart of British attitudes to immigration, the idea that there’s a benign face to anti-immigration politics. But wanting to “stop immigration permanently”
– as apparently 39% of British Asians and 34% of White Britons do – can’t just be disassociated from ultra-nationalism. It isn’t tolerant, or liberal. In fact, given the particular concern with Islamic migration, it’s racist. And that isn’t going to change with any re-branding exercise.
British politics is busily creating a fantasy in which anti-immigration politics don’t have nasty consequences. In requesting a “nice” anti-immigration party, the British public is indulging in wishful thinking. I, for instance, would quite like to have a slave or two – I hear they were quite handy for keeping things tidy in your average Roman household. Oh, if only slavery wasn’t associated with exploitation and denial of fundamental rights… Similarly, anti-immigration and anti-Islamic politics can’t just be disassociated from fascist imagery. Their very rationale lies in ultra-nationalism, however much this might be an uncomfortable truth.
One of the most telling proofs of this reluctance to face up to the truth about anti-immigration politics was the fact that in all the clamour surrounding the Gillian Duffy scandal of last year’s General Election
, very few suggested Brown was actually speaking the truth – albeit a politically suicidal truth – when he called Duffy a “bigot” for blaming Eastern European immigrants for economic stagnation.
The British political establishment certainly seem to be having a damned good try at ignoring any sense that our famed “liberal tolerance” might be compromised by closing our borders. In fact, almost as profoundly depressing as the polling statistics is the idea – which seems to have permeated mainstream British political discourse – that the response must be to “beat” the far-right by accepting anti-immigration sentiment and declaring multiculturism dead
This is an immensely diminished understanding of political representation. Political leaders shouldn’t just seek to reflect the views of “those they seek to represent” – especially when such views fly in the face of economic rationale, logistical capacity and moral justice. Great political leaders lead. They aren’t afraid to aspire to more than the sum of our fears.
Of course not all anti-immigration policies lead to the Third Reich. But let’s call a spade a spade. Anti-immigration sentiment shouldn’t be co-opted into British politics. This tactic doesn’t defeat the far right — it mainstreams it. Such ideas are by definition illiberal and ultimately they only serve to obscure the real divide in British society – between the rich and the poor, not the migrant and the national.
Yet right now, there’s not a mainstream politician in sight with the courage to admit this hypocrisy, and expose the ugly façade behind the acceptable face of “nice” anti-immigration politics in modern Britain.