The slogan of the 1997 General Election was “Education, education, education”. The equivalent for the EU referendum was ‘Immigration, immigration, immigration’. As with most Europhobic vernacular, what was problematic about immigration was anything you liked, race, jobs, security, housing, public services etc. It became a sub-text of the platitude ‘Take back control’, in this case, of our borders.
As with most of the ‘problems’ that the EU presented, it was a myth; a mirage projected by Europhobic media on the referendum horizon and it became a bête noire for the Remain campaign. In fact, all the EU myths were accepted as realities to be confronted and refuted, despite their lack of substance. £350 million on a bus, which even Farage said was false, was ardently dissected for its accuracy or guile. The prospect of a European Defence Force horrified Europhobes as the beginning of the end for the UK Armed Services, despite the current cooperation with NATO and the European Defence Agency; in fact, austerity was the greatest threat to defence. UK law; Europhobes claimed as much as 70% was created by the EU, Europhiles claimed as little as 12%. EU laws have the best interest of all member states at heart. Turkey was sandwiched between Russia and the EU. Europhobes threatened that EU membership would create mass inundation of the UK by Turks; Europhiles struggled to repudiate the absurd figures predicted. It is stultifying how such slogans could have been put forward or countenanced. Once claimed, each slogan became a ‘hook’ with which Europhobes could bait Europhiles; a chameleon spectre holding fair Britannia ransom, fettered to the White Cliffs of Gover (sic). Across the Channel, another migration bête noire lay slumbering, tossing and turning in its nightmarish existence; the Calais ‘Jungle’.
Migration – Through a Glass Darkly
Migration is cultural, political, religious or economic in nature, or a combination of these. For centuries, people have moved to other countries for cultural reasons and, while problems can arise, numbers have in general not been great and the cross-fertilization of ideas has been beneficial.
Political and religious migration are often intimately entwined. The numbers displaced range between a trickle and an exodus. Normally, the refugee’s plight is treated with compassion. Farage’s infamous ‘Breaking point’ poster crossed the line; not only of decency but also of reason, treating the pain of millions as an excuse to attack Europe’s noble gesture. The line of refugees his advert showed was presented as an attack on the security and unity of Europe; as a weapon. They were fleeing from religious oppression and the military power of a failed tyrant who, with his support group, had allegedly committed war crimes. Whether the objective of the Syrian conflict is to destabilise Europe we do not know; but the exodus unleashed was co-opted by Farage as a WMD to attack the EU. I had scant evidence of this when I commented to an operator at a recycling centre that some saucepans could be used by a Syrian refugee family; he walked away, looked back and laughing said “They’re comin’ over ‘ere, in’t they?”. My heart sank when I realised the WMD had found its target.
“They’re comin’ over ‘ere takin’ our jobs” was another simplified inflammatory economic slogan repeated hypnotically by the misled, orchestrated by the Europhobes. Facts and figures from experts were brushed aside. Free movement of labour became the most lacerated victim of the campaign and is still suffering. Europhiles dared not mention that free markets, the darling of right-wing Europhobes, would correct the inequalities, restoring the fairness of a level playing-field. That would require elitist economic analysis. Economic immigration had become a bête noire for the Europhiles; and for the Europhobe it had become a WMD with which to threaten the livelihoods of those workers already pressured by the slings and arrows of outrageous austerity. The local semi-skilled handyman, schooled in the building trade at the tax payer’s expense and who had left before completing the course, could not compete with fully-skilled, hard-working immigrant builders; but it was the immigrants fault, not his own.
Immigration – The Reality
The truth about people movement is simple. If it is treated as a benefit it can be managed and used to advantage. It is an essential factor in balancing markets and eliminating inequalities. It is a mechanism for adjusting wages and supplying skills and, consequently, standards of education are important. If goods, services and capital can move freely, then skilled labour must be able to also.
The fallacy about migration is that it is a danger to the economic stability and racial integrity of a nation. In this guise, it has been used as a weapon in the referendum to divide 33,551,983 voters and manipulate a proportion of them, probably many more than the 1,269,501 majority. Now that is what I call ‘Mass Destruction’.