I am very concerned indeed about a recent change in the Uk’s political discourse. Yesterday we saw CaMoron stand up and deliver a speech concerning capping immigration. Implicit in his diatribe was the presumption that to worry about immigration is to have a legitimate concern, and that such concerns have their basis in something other than xenophobia. Politicians from across the spectrum are talking as if it is or might be rational to oppose immigration: there seems to have been a tidal shift in the discourse, so that now such talk is no longer the province of the far right.
But that is where such talk still belongs. All other arguments aside, the moment we start to talk about immigration negatively, we play straight into the hands of the far right. From the way CaMoron was talking yesterday, it seemed that the closet racists of UKIP had won the argument: ‘mainstream’ politicians are now dancing to their sickening tune, mindlessly parroting the lie that it is not racist to worry about immigration. It is! The desire to cap immigration is the desire to stop ‘other’ people coming from other places and claiming what we have. It boils down to a simplistic us an them discourse, no matter how much they try to hide it under arguments about whether we have space or resources in this country . It is all about rejecting people who are different and trying to keep what we have for ourselves, never mind the fact that we get from immigrants more than they take.
I find it sickening, and worry about where it will end. The second we start to talk about immigration negatively, we take the first step down a dark path, one where our discourse is dominated by simplistic binaries, one where it is acceptable to view anyone who looks different or speaks with an unusual accent with suspicion. That must not happen — the political discourse must not be hijacked by xenophobes. We cannot allow the idea that it is okay to worry about immigration to become mainstream and acceptable, for it woud change the discourse, diverting it to a place we had long since escaped. Yes, there is no denying resources are limited, but the far right are using that fact to gain a foothold, to present themselves as something other than the lunatic xenophobes they are. And once people in mainstream parties start dancing to their tune, people forget the dangers that come with such attitudes, and the paradigm shifts back to a place it has not been to in decades: first it becomes acceptable to worry about immigration, then it becomes acceptable to suspect immigrants. Then people start to shun anyone not speaking with a british accent: you’ll start noticing the odd incident in, say, a shop, where an english woman is allowed to step in front of a foreigner in a queue, and nobody will say anything. Then such things will become more commonplace, until blatant discrimination becomes standard. Landlords will be allowed to refuse to let out rooms to black people; by then, nobody will see it as racist, just a natural response. Eastern europeans will no longer be served in pubs – after all, the standard mainstream attitude will by then that they shouldn’t even be here. Not long after that, other minorities will become resented: people will start tut-tutting about having to have ramps everywhere: we crips will find ourselves increasingly shunned, and discrimination will be rationalised through saying we are an economic burden. Pretty soon people will start earnestly arguing for our widespread institutionalization, couched in terminology which pretends to care for our well-being, but is actually about taking us from mainstream society. And we all know what horrors await us behing the walls of care homes.
I know this might sound far-fetched or reactionary – no doubt some might accuse me of melodrama, and not for the first time. Yet history tells us that as soon as we allow the right-wing discourse to take hold, as soon as it becomes acceptable to question things as immigration, such things sooner or later follow. Thus we cannot allow the discourse to change; we cannot allow suspicion to become the norm. We cannot let questioning the motives of everyone with an unusual accent to become acceptable. History tells us what always follows as soon as we start down that path. That”s why we must take back the discourse; thats why we must say ‘No! It is not okay to worry about immigration!” Immigrants need our help, not our hatred or suspicion. As soon as it becomes normal to eye anyone foreign with resentment, we have lost our way, and risk repeating the follies of the past, and what I have so darkly predicted here will be made real. Thus this change in discourse must be stopped, for now we see but through a glass darkly.