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Editorial: Defeating Priti Patel’s assault on refugees means upping our game

CAMPAIGNERS vowing to overturn Priti Patel’s assault on refugees will need wide support from across the labour movement.

What Refugee Action has called “the biggest attack on the right to claim asylum we have ever seen” presents a serious political challenge to the left. 

The Tories have been rightly mocked for their new “Union Jack on every government building” policy. 

Their bone-headed British nationalism regularly descends into farce, as when North West Norfolk MP James Wild attacked BBC director-general Tim Davie because of the lack of Union Jack images in the corporation’s annual report.

His constituents “would expect to see more than one flag” in such a document, he fumed.

Even so, the Tory approach is clear, and aims at establishing a new consensus in British politics to stabilise the capitalist system after the major political shocks that preceded the pandemic — Brexit and the resurgent socialist left.

This might appear paradoxical — Boris Johnson is after all a Prime Minister who rode Brexit to power. He also has a long history of making frankly racist remarks.

There are many who argue that toxic nationalism is not the ruling class’s response to Brexit, but the logical consequence of Brexit itself.

There are others who will counter that this was not inevitable, given Brexit’s first result was to bring down the Tory government of David Cameron and that a left-led Labour bagged its biggest vote share increase in seven decades just a year later. 

Much of the left ascribed the majority Brexit vote to racism and belittled the millions who voted for it as bigots, “gammons” or past-it empire nostalgics — the last insult having uncomfortable echoes of the Tory and New Labour dismissal of communities ravaged by deindustrialisation as relics who couldn’t cope with the brave new globalised world.

The consequence was that millions of Brexit supporters who were Labour voters in 2017 were not Labour voters two years later.

Why revisit all this? Because a left that is serious about defeating the Conservatives, and defeating an appalling racist immigration and asylum system in particular, needs to learn from strategic mistakes. 

The 2016 Leave vote and Corbynism both expressed widespread dissatisfaction at the political system.The right has so far proved more adept than the left at directing that to its own ends.

The left needs to work to win a majority of the population over to socialist and anti-racist positions, and oppose everything that divides working-class people.

That is not done by concessions to nationalism. Labour’s current fixation on Union Jacks rivals the Tories’. 

It must be done by building a mass anti-racist movement that joins the dots between the refugee crisis and the problems ordinary people face every day.

Patel’s lies must be confronted: a two-tier asylum system that discriminates against people who arrived here by irregular routes does not discourage human trafficking.

Human trafficking is driven by Britain’s crackdown on safe arrival routes and the hysterically anti-refugee policy of successive governments.

Nor are refugees lured here because we are a “destination of choice,” a phrase that conjures up a holiday option.

Refugees are fleeing rape, torture, war, famine. A major cause of the refugee crisis is the destabilisation of the Middle East through a succession of wars in which Britain has had a hand: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria. A movement in solidarity with refugees must challenge British militarism.

And Britain’s warlike foreign policy is driven by its uniquely close integration into Washington’s imperial war machine, a relationship forged by the same City of London financial interests that have stripped our country of its productive industry and push an economic model based on unregulated markets and insecure work.

The left must mount a fightback that unites all these issues, to challenge a right that says loving your country means driving away desperate refugees and cheering on foreign wars. 

Our enemy is at home.

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