THE supreme irony in the Home Office’s decision to detain asylum-seekers in army barracks is that it is “justified” in an equality impact assessment.
The mistreatment of refugees held in demeaning conditions is defended on the grounds that “more generous” accommodation would “undermine public confidence in the asylum system.”
Critics who say this is “the politics of hard-right racism” are correct. It is inseparable from years of demonisation of refugees in the media and by politicians of the highest rank, from former prime minister David Cameron’s talk of a “swarm” heading Britain’s way to the Go Home or Face Arrest vans rolled out by his home secretary and eventual successor Theresa May.
Years of poisonous propaganda in right-wing newspapers depicting immigrants — completely untruthfully — as in receipt of disproportionate state support are a classic example of capitalist divide and rule, stoking up resentment at foreigners rather than our own ruling class as responsible for ordinary people’s problems.
This has reached such a level that Home Secretary Priti Patel can respond to a fire breaking out at a barracks holding asylum-seekers not with concern for the safety or wellbeing of those lodged there, but with the jaw-dropping remark that the blaze was “offensive to taxpayers.”
Now we learn — alongside horrific reports of refugees being left in the affected barracks without food or heating in the freezing January weather — that the Home Office not only stands by its mistreatment of these people but claims it is necessary to fight racism.
The spirit of May’s “hostile environment” lives on in the assertion that uncomfortable living conditions are “justified by the need to control immigration” while “provision of support over and beyond what is necessary to enable the individuals to meet their housing and subsistence needs” would, by angering the public, “hamper wider efforts to tackle prejudice and promote understanding within the general community.”
So you have to treat asylum-seekers badly, otherwise people will resent the fact that they’re being treated decently and become more racist.
Whether those who campaigned for equality legislation will appreciate this perversion of the very purpose of impact assessments is unclear.
What is clear is that the government is quite capable of turning instruments designed to defend minorities into their opposite.
The battle against racism — and for the worth and dignity of every human being — must be a democratic and popular one, not one policed by the British state.
And the prejudice against immigrants generally, which the Home Office dishonestly claims to be addressing through attacks on asylum-seekers, is the product of years of mass propaganda, “exposés” of refugees being put up at hotels, misleading nonsense about Britain being swamped.
“Fake news” — but not from attic-dwelling creeps on social media but from mainstream newspapers and ministers of the Crown.
There are important lessons here. Public discourse has been poisoned not because of insufficient regulation of social media platforms but by the ownership and control of mass media by a handful of tycoons (as well as a state broadcaster under Establishment rather than public control) who deploy it as a propaganda weapon for their class.
Intensifying regulation of social media platforms will be exercised in exactly the same way, stifling anti-Establishment voices and entrenching the total corporate capture of the means of mass communication.
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg’s proposal to “depoliticise” the platform, which included an explicit threat to shut down pages which had not violated any of Facebook’s policies, comes as Twitter is growing quicker and quicker to close down accounts it disapproves of.
This trend will not protect us from hate, or even disinformation, both of which are churned out by the big guns of the global media every day.
The anti-racist struggle, like the class struggle, must be fought from the grassroots: it will never be advanced by handing more power to the elite.
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