It’s the final stretch of the general election. Of course, Boris Johnson could not resist throwing in another attack on EU citizens just before we went to the polls. In best ‘Vote Leave’ tradition, Johnson proclaimed that Europeans who live here have treated Britain “as their own country” for too long. It is just another slap in the face in a long list of insults Europeans have had to endure over the last few years – being blamed for everything from traffic jams on the motorway to the crumbling of public services. It’s been a bruising few years and if Johnson remains Prime Minister, there is no chance that things will get better.
This latest absurd and offensive claim illustrates something much deeper – that migrants and minority communities simply can’t do anything right. Either we are accused of not integrating properly, or – if we view the UK as our home – we are told that it can never be that. The Conservative Party’s message: if you are not white and British-born, this country is not for you.
Last week, Channel 4 posted a clip of Johnson on Twitter with subtitles that claimed he said: “I am in favour of people of colour come to this country, but I think we should have it democratically controlled.” The Tories issued a furious statement stating that he had in fact said “people of talent”. But the fact that most people found the original subtitles believable speaks volumes. What else to expect from the man who shrugs off his own racism so easily, and continues to get away with it?
Women of colour as Labour prospective parliamentary candidates have faced more scrutiny from the media for ill-conceived tweets they sent as teenagers than the Prime Minister for his comments on “letterboxes” and “watermelon smiles” – or the fact he believes that a certain degree of inequality is just natural, given there are people with higher and lower IQs. And Baroness Warsi, fighting for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, routinely gets dismissed by her party colleagues. Johnson is like Teflon when it comes to accountability for the seeds of hate he is sowing.
It is not just this poisonous discourse and the inability of the media to hold the powerful to account. The Conservative manifesto is full of policies that will hurt working-class, ethnic minority and migrant communities the most. Their plans for an “Australian-style points-based immigration system” will create an underclass of foreign labourers with little rights and access to services. Only given permission to live here for as long as business interests say so, they will be unable to make Britain their home if visa rules mean they will not be able to stay in the country for long enough to apply for a more permanent status.
This is a deliberate choice: the Conservative Party does not want immigrants to settle here, to start a family and make a life for themselves. Even as a highly skilled worker, the Conservative Party still believes that people are purely defined by their value to bosses, rather than as a human being. The more profit that can be extracted the better – treating immigrant workers as commodities to be disposed off when capital is done with them. That’s why even those highly skilled immigrants who come to work in Britain are expected to pay an extra NHS health surcharge on top of tax and national insurance contributions. Evidently, this is not about contributing a fair share – it is just that they do not believe foreigners should be treated the same as everyone else.
There is this myth of Britain as a country of decency and compassion; that it is a British value to provide a safe haven for those most in need. But even the most vulnerable refugees receive no better treatment from the Conservatives. Although climate change means that many more people are under threat of displacement, the Tories barely mention refugee policy in their plans for the country. A sole sentence covers the area, saying they would still take in those fleeing persecution and conflict – a noted distinction from the so-called “economic migrants” coming from countries that are economically unstable as a consequence of colonialism and climate change. And even in these cases, the main goal should be to ensure return to the country of origin.
In contrast, Labour has adopted a policy to lift the ban on asylum seekers to work. For many people, this is often a vital first step to rebuilding a life after undergoing unimaginable trauma. Currently asylum seekers often wait months for a decision on their claim, unable to get a job, support themselves and their families in the meantime. They have to live on just £5.39 per day and often have no recourse to public funds. The Conservative government has long been an opponent of the Lift the Ban campaign as they classify a life of dignity as “pull factors”.
The Tories are happy to leave some of the most vulnerable people in desperate circumstances rather than offer the most basic support. Of course, this is again part of a wider anti-immigrant narrative. Asylum seekers can be portrayed as lazy benefit scroungers because the government denies them the ability to work. It creates an easy scapegoat for their own failed austerity policies that are wreaking havoc on working class communities up and down the country.
The Conservatives are the party that uncritically celebrate the legacy of the British empire, that was responsible for Windrush and the hostile environment, that erected a statue to Nazi sympathiser Nancy Astor and advocates the arrest of traveller communities and the seizure of their homes in their current manifesto. A vote for them is a vote to push our communities further to the brink.