Notes From the Margins…

The Daily Mail: Feasting on Bile

  • November 10, 2011
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It’s always pleasant to see a reactionary government  hanging by its own petard when it tries to play the immigration card, but the UK Border Agency ‘relaxed border controls’ pseudo-scandal encapsulates so much that is toxic about  the  British ‘debate’ on immigration that the  frisson wears off quite quickly.

First we have  a Coalition government which has done so much to pander to anti-immigrant xenophobia, frantically trying to defend itself against media accusations that UKBA’s ‘failure’ during the summer let in hordes of terrorists, criminals and ‘illegal immigrants’.     Then there is the Labour opposition attempting to score cheap political points by accusing the government of incompetence and ‘weakening our borders’, just as  the Conservatives used to do when  Labour was in power.

Thus we have Yvette Cooper asking Theresa May ‘how many terror suspects’ were allowed into the country as a result of the relaxed controls – a ridiculous question designed purely for political effect, since  travellers coming  through UK ports and airports do not generally have ‘terror suspect’ listed in their passport or included in their biometric data.

Cooper has tried to extract maximum political capital from the ‘bordergate’ scandal  by linking UKBA’s supposed failings to the Coalition’s cuts agenda –  but the assumptions behind her accusations  are the same – that UKBA officials  simply walked away from  ports and airports to have a cup of tea and  do the crossword, while hordes of criminals and terrorists happily skipped through the abandoned immigration desks and smart ‘e-border’ gates.

What appears to have  happened is that UKBA stopped checking  biometric chips  on some travellers and allowed other non-EU travellers to enter the UK after checking their visas, but without asking follow-up questions.     Anyone who has witnessed travellers ineffectually waving their passports around in an attempt to  screen their biometric chips knows that  the smartness of these ‘e-borders’ has been somewhat exaggerated.

The idea that these procedures constituted a fatal breach of national security is based on the purely speculative notions that a) thousands of criminals, terrorists and illegal immigrants pass through the UK everyday and b)that asking follow-up questions and checking biometric data would have revealed their real intentions and identities.

None of this matters for the British tabloids however,  which  have been working themselves into a lather  of righteous fury against UKBA,  the government, and above all against immigrants.     As always the  Daily Mail has led the charge, accusing the government of allowing thousands of ‘danger migrants’ to enter the UK.

The tone of its arguments was set by Melanie Phillips,  for whom  ‘    The chaos at the Border Agency reflects nothing less than the crisis over Britain”s very soul’.
With her usual bug-eyed intensity,  and her prose creaking under the weight of impossible and incoherent ideas,   Phillips argues that UKBA is a product of  a broader demoralisation of British society produced by  ‘ the iron grip on the political psyche of the belief that upholding the   cultural identity of the nation is racist. Immigration has thus long been the driver of a cultural transformation that dare not speak its name.’

For Phillips ‘  The real culprit is surely a political culture that years ago lost the plot on national identity and race relations — and the legacy of which is an administrative class whose resulting attitudes are simply inimical to the national interest.’

This cultural transformation was spearheaded by a  Labour conspiracy to destroy Britain’s ‘ancient national identity’ through ‘mass immigration’ and the promotion of multiculturalism, since ‘Labour despised the very idea of national identity based on Britain”s foundational culture, history, religion   and traditions’ all of which explains, to Phillips at least, why   UKBA relaxed its border checks during the summer.

Get it?     No, me neither.   But this frantic drivel was eclipsed two days later by Max Hastings, a columnist who seems to be becoming more rancid and crypto-fascist with each passing month, who argues that

[stextbox id=”alert”]this country has become a magnet for Muslim extremists and indeed terrorists, Russian gangsters, benefit tourists, phoney spouses and make-believe students. We have created an immigration system which exasperates honest travellers, but conspicuously to exclude undesirables. Now we have learnt that its despairing bosses recently washed their hands of their responsibilities altogether: for four months almost anybody who wished could wander into Britain unmonitored.

This is classic Mail hate-mongering, whose assumptions belong to  a long xenophobic tradition that reaches back to the Mail‘s coverage of South African Jewish refugees coming to the UK  during the Boer War.   It is also a lie, since travellers were not ‘unmonitored’, but   subjected to light-touch checks.       Hastings spends much of his time agonizing about  the numbers of immigrants entering the country and  the ‘surge in population’   which resulted from  New Labour’s supposed conspiracy to transform Britain into a multicultural   society.

For Hastings,   immigration is never about numbers and bordergate is  merely a pretext for a  vicious diatribe that would not have been out of place in the mouth of Enoch Powell or the BNP.

[stextbox id=”alert”]To put the matter brutally, neither David Cameron nor Theresa May has to live in Southall, Bradford or Tower Hamlets. They do not experience at first-hand the bitterness of traditional English people, who see their communities overtaken, their culture pushed aside, by people who force a path into Britain without the smallest desire, or even willingness, to embrace our ways or share our values.

Hastings does not need to say who these ‘traditional English people’ are, or  identify the ethnic or national  origins of the  immigrant invaders who are destroying  ‘their culture’ and refusing to embrace ‘our ways.’        Others will make the necessary connections. This  has been  the position of  the Mail in British culture for more than a century a pool of  bigotry, racism and  anti-foreigner hatred, where ‘traditional English people’ can sup on bile and indignation until they become  bilious with it.

‘Bordergate’ has provided another invitation to the feast.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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