Notes From the Margins…

The Brightest and the Best

  • June 24, 2015
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One thing you can always count on with this government: when it comes to immigration it will always do something more squalid and nasty than you previously thought possible.   And this week Lord Snooty and His Pals have demonstrated once again that when it comes to sheer bloody-minded stupidity, mean-spirited xenophobia and downright racism, there are pretty much no depths to which they won’t sink, and they are reaching the parts previous governments couldn’t – or wouldn’t meet.

On Monday Theresa May – the ghoul-like scourge of Britain’s unwanted foreigners, who more resembles Cruella De Vil or an apparition from Sleepy Hollowannounced that from April next year, only migrants who are making £35,000 after living five years in the UK will be allowed to settle in the UK.       Those who don’t meet this threshold will be ordered to leave the country after six years.   These conditions are aimed exclusively at non-EU migrants, says May, and they are intended to reduce the number of non-Europeans and their dependents from 60,000 to 20,000 each year in order to ensure that only ‘the brightest and the best’ remain here.

That category would clearly exclude most British citizens, given that the average British yearly wage is £26, 500, and it’s a good thing that most of us aren’t migrants, otherwise we would be packing our bags too.   But before any of you bigots out there take any satisfaction from that, consider this:   according to the Royal College of Nursing 30,000 foreign nurses will be forced to leave the country as a result of the new rules.   This will not only mean that £180 million spent on recruiting foreign nurses will have been wasted, it will also lead to worsening standards of patient care, to the point when the RCN has warned of ‘chaos’ in UK hospitals and care services.

So determined is the government to meet its ridiculous pledge to cut immigration to the tens of thousands that is even prepared to risk the nation’s health, to say nothing of ruthlessly expelling people for failing to earn what is closer to the median household income of a working couple.     And don’t think it’s just the government.   Labour’s leadership candidate Yvette Cooper responded to May’s proposals with these remarkably fatuous observations:

‘People should only be allowed to settle in this country under these rules if they can pay their way, live by our rules and contribute value to our country. We need strict controls, properly enforced, and all of the mainstream parties should agree on that. However, there is still a massive gap between the Tory-led Government’s rhetoric and reality. New rules will have no impact if they are not properly enforced.’

You can stare as long as you like to try and find anything resembling a principled position in these bleakly dishonest observations, but you would be wasting your time.     Because Cooper knows perfectly well that if you are making £35,000 then you almost certainly are paying your way, unless you own a penthouse flat in Knightsbridge, but she is so terrified of appearing ‘soft’ on immigration that she doesn’t even have the guts to say so.

But this is what our ‘honest debate’ about immigration has turned Keir Hardie’s political descendants into: hard-faced, glassy-eyed chancers who are so desperate for   Ukip votes that they can’t even say what they know and they don’t even know what they think unless they’ve asked a focus group first.

That’s how the week began, and since then it’s just got worse, with the grim and utterably sad scenes of migrants in Calais trying – mostly unsuccessfully – to take advantage of the French ferry strike and break out of the shantytown open prison to which British/French immigration policy has condemned them.     Today, Lord Snooty described these scenes as ‘totally unacceptable’ with the outraged Etonian hauteur that he tends to exude when something really annoys him.

What Cameron found ‘unacceptable’ wasn’t the fact that men and women fleeing bombs, torturers, poverty and oppression should be jumping from bridges onto trucks or hanging on underneath them in order to get into one of the richest countries in the world.   Neither Cameron nor any other Tory minister has ever had a word to say about the vile conditions that migrants in Calais are forced to live in because the UK won’t let them come any further.

For the British government and the loathsome tabloid press which has done so much to turn the word ‘migrant’ into a term of abuse and a sub-species of humanity, the UK will always be the innocent victim, the ‘soft touch’ besieged by ‘desperate’ foreigners leading what Channel 4 News called a migrant ‘advance’ tonight, in a hysterical and slanted report that undermined some sterling recent work on the programme on Europe’s great migrant tragedy.

Cameron’s remedy?   More documentation and fingerprinting in Italy so that they can be turned back ‘where they land.’       Increase border guards.   Put up more fences.     More repression.   More police.

No good telling this government that this won’t work.   No good trying to remind them of the simply fact that migrants are human, whatever Katie Hopkins might say.   No good arguing  that trying to save or simply improve your life in another country should not be a criminal offence; that refugees should not be treated like gangsters; that ‘economic migrants’ – even when they are poor – should not be regarded as parasites and usurpers.

It’s no good arguing that the richest countries in the world should not be responding to the greatest refugee crisis since World War II as if war had been declared on them.     Or pointing out that the world has now shrunk to the point that very few countries will be stop people from crossing borders if they really want to,  unless they are prepared to wage open and violent war against them.

This is not a government that will listen to such arguments.   And increasingly this is not a country that will listen either.   And that’s bad for Britain’s unwanted foreigners.   But it’s also bad for Britain too, and not only because we have a government so desperate to kick out ‘non-European’ migrants that it doesn’t even care if it jeopardizes the population’s health in the process.

Ultimately a country that thinks that only rich immigrants have any value is a morally-diminished country that it is sinking into the gutter rather than looking at the stars, and doesn’t even realize that, in its ruthless quest to receive only the brightest and the best,  it is actually expressing the views of the dimmest and the worst.



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  1. Richard Carter

    24th Jun 2015 - 10:24 pm

    Too right – and you can add to the criticism of Channel 4 News by noting the way that, a couple of weeks ago, the BBC News illustrated the people desperately trying to cross the Mediterranean by showing two huge arrows pointing north into Spain, Italy and Greece, for all the world as if they were mounting an armed invasion of Europe. See, for example, the map part way down the page at The Beeb quotes as source for this map Frontex./IOM. I can’t find this map on Frontex’s own website ( so it’s hard to tell if this appalling map was their own or the BBC’s, but either way it’s pretty awful.

    • Matt

      25th Jun 2015 - 5:34 am

      I didn’t see the BBC maps, but they sound a lot like the Frontex ‘risk analysis’ maps, which look so much like battlefield explanation maps.

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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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