Anyone on the Left who thinks it might be “instructive” for Labour under Tony Blair to suffer a reduced majority and who fancies some protest voting (or, indeed, protest abstaining) needs to reflect on Michael Howard’s re-launch of the Conservative election campaign yesterday. Howard, the Jewish son of Romanian refugees from the Nazis, wants to make increased restrictions on both asylum and economic immigration to the UK the central part of his appeal to voters. He made no substantive case for the benefits of the proposals, falling back instead on that Alf Garnett favourite “common sense” to justify his party’s policies.
Anyone on the Left who wants to argue that Labour immigration policy is no better than that of the Conservatives is choosing to listen to this government’s (unpleasant) rhetoric rather than examine the more reassuring facts. Once again The Economist puts it well:
[A]long with more tough language about asylum seekers[,] in some ways, Labour’s proposals consolidated its liberal immigration policy.
This is in curious contrast with the Lib Dems who, perhaps more interested in getting the Guardian vote out, invert this approach:
The Liberal Democrats stayed out of the fray, loftily declaring that politicians should not engage in a “bidding war” over immigration. Yet they, like the Conservatives, want an annual immigration quota.
Tory policy on immigration has nothing to do with the real numbers of new arrivals into this country—“low to medium” by World standards, according to the The Economist. It has nothing to do with the economic impact of immigration on the UK—almost certainly it is of net benefit to an ageing UK population with low unemployment in need of hardworking, skilled, and genuinely entrepreneurial citizens. Howard is also noticeably quiet about one of the largest groups of illegal immigrants currently taking advantage of the UK’s rightly admired generosity to visitors—Australians, New Zealanders and others of the pasty-faced colonial persuasion.
No, it’s not about any of these things. It’s about good, old-fashioned, vote-winning xenophobia. It is illiberal. It is economically illiterate. It is illogical. It is as despicable as it is desperate. Any Left liberal at this election who, even by default, acts in a way that gives any more power to Howard than he has already because they are still in the spasms of some hissy fit over Iraq should be ashamed.
Of course, there could be some people reading this who actively want to support Howard’s stance. A friend sent me an email on Saturday that reminded me of a story about Tony Blair during the ultimately victorious 1997 Labour General Election campaign. (Remember, this is when people were still referring to him as “Bambi”.) Perhaps in a bit of a panic about polling figures, the Tories had decided to play the race card as a last gasp measure. One of his aides asked Blair what he was going to do about it. He is supposed to have said
Nothing. If that’s the kind of government the voters want, then fuck ’em.
So, if Howard’s is the sort of government you want, then fuck you too.