THE Conservatives’ points-based immigration system has been the main focus of their weekend campaigning.
And the constant reiteration of “Australian-style” by Tory politicians and sympathetic pundits cannot be explained by Australia’s immigration system being well regarded.
It has been repeatedly denounced by the UN for breaching international law, increasing the likelihood of deaths at sea and incarcerating vulnerable people in inhuman conditions.
It is less than two months since Australia’s human rights commission itself slammed the level of unnecessary force deployed against “women, children, people in wheelchairs, people with mental illness and other people needing medical care.”
“Australian-style” is code for harsh. Given the cruelty at the heart of Britain’s current immigration regime, which involves the deportation of refugees to war zones and closing our doors to unaccompanied child refugees — thousands of whom have subsequently disappeared into the modern slavery and sex trades — it might seem bizarre to tell voters you intend to make the system crueller.
But the Tories know they can play to a media-fuelled narrative that immigration is “out of control” and hope to exploit deep insecurities caused by job insecurity, failing public services and the housing crisis — all direct products of the Thatcherite economic model they have imposed on our country — to win anti-immigrant votes.
How should the left respond? Trying to compete with the Tories on cruelty is, thankfully, a thing of the past. Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has highlighted the appalling consequences of state racism as exemplified by the Tories’ “hostile environment” and the deportation of black British citizens from our shores.
Labour would close the Yarl’s Wood and Brook House detention centres. Its race and faith manifesto is a long overdue celebration of the diversity of the communities that have made this country their home.
But the left should also be confident about meeting concerns head on. Labour’s employment rights revolution would end undercutting and protect wage rates through restoring sectoral collective bargaining. It’s absolutely the right answer to those who worry foreigners may come and take their jobs.
Large-scale council housebuilding and investment in public services will also do a great deal to root out the anxieties the Tories feed on.
Better transport links and a benefits system that no longer tries to cheat claimants will benefit British agriculture and stop seasonal work being the preserve of super-exploited imported labourers.
And — as Jeremy Corbyn proved when he addressed Britain’s foreign policy in the 2017 election — it pays to treat the public as grown-ups.
If the likes of Nigel Farage wish to spook the electorate with images of queues of refugees, the left can start a conversation about the bigger picture.
There is a world refugee crisis. Thousands are drowning in the Mediterranean as they try to reach Europe, driven from their homes by war, drought and famine, poverty and lack of opportunity entrenched by an unjust international trading system that allows the US and EU to exploit the global South.
Labour can address these questions in a way the Tories can’t. It can talk about the consequences of forced economic migration — draining poorer countries of skilled labour, causing serious depopulation in countries like Latvia and prompting youth exoduses from southern EU states such as Greece and Italy.
Labour, unlike the Conservatives, has policy on climate change, labour rights and market regulation that start to address the chronic instability and precariousness caused by deregulated economies dominated by gigantic transnational corporations and footloose stock market speculators.
Tony Blair once characterised opposition to globalisation as “stop the world, I want to get off.”
But in a world waking up to runaway climate change and the unsustainable pillage of natural resources, a party prepared to stand up to capitalism can tell voters their worries about the nature of this process are well founded — and that progress does not have to mean the loss of jobs, security or our collective rights.
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