On Calais and fear of “The Swarm”

The Daily Mail 1938 and 2015

In a week where our Prime Minister decided to respond to the brutal reality of Calais by chipping in with some dehumanising blether of his own, Patrick Harvie’s article in The National was like a splash of cool water on the face:

It’s also all too common that this issue is presented not as a problem for the people involved – the people whose lives are at risk – but rather as a problem for us. The simple truth which should underpin our response to this crisis is that to provide safety and security to those who need it is a privilege, not a burden. We’re the lucky ones – the ones who are asked for help, not the ones making unsafe, desperate journeys to ask for it. It’s those who flee who bear the burden, and there but for fortune any of us might go.

I find it impossible to accept that a continent of over 500 million people cannot find a way to share this responsibility, and provide adequate safety for the basic wellbeing of desperate people, while asylum claims and immigration applications are properly and respectfully dealt with.

Still, while Patrick’s response got the balance right between challenging some of the shit that gets talked about immigration and appealing to people on gut level, its argument also brought me face to face with some of the underlying problems we face when making such arguments.

fuckThe difficulty here is that a lot of people here don’t feel like they have the benefit of the security and privilege of living in a rich country, and that some others do but can’t imagine that this can be extended to others without it being taken away from them in the process.

It’s a tribute to how much ground has been lost that the idea of things getting better for most of us has been made to look like a lunatic plot, fit only for posh students and straggling hippies.

You see this attitude again and again in the comments for the Scottish Green Party‘s Facebook post on this subject. Responses to a comment about how building houses might provide both a solution to the housing crisis and provide jobs in the construction industry vary from the drearily realistic (“It’s not that easy!”, which here seems to mean “It must be impossible!”) to the bewilderingly outraged (“We need more houses for our own people!”, “For f***ks sake what do you think the construction is, they would not be allowed on site without the proper training and tickets, who is going to pay and provide that?”).

This is how we are told the world works now: if such a thing as society exists, it happens to other people.

The Mail honed in on this feeling with their usual canny sort of evil at the weekend, with headlines linking this desperate situation with an apparent increase in our shopping bill.  This is the level on which this argument is being lost by “the left”, because folk have been convinced that the only way the can keep whatever they have is to make sure that poor/foreign Others are prevented from stealing it from them. Sometimes this involves demanding that the government slash away at funds and services you might use, just to stop someone else from getting more out of them, and sometimes it involves calling for the army to be sent in to contain folk who have fuck all. No matter what the individual situation is, it involves us looking out at the world and responding to its horrors by promising more if anyone fucks with us.

fuckThere’s a terrible fragment of truth here, mixed in with all the racist reductions of people to vermin and the raw panic over resources that are unevenly hoarded. People feel like things can’t get better not only because they are told this over and over again by our ever-impartial media, but because they’ve watched politicians of all stripes run the country and they have faith in none of them.

This post on the Labour leadership election and how it fits in to the party’s history is long as hell but its observations on the way that the New Labour project failed to challenge the authority big money are essential to understanding how we got here. People struggle to believe in the promises made by political parties for a good reason, and whatever you may think of the SNP – and anyone who’s had the misfortune to get drunk with me will know I’ve got my complaints – you’ve got to hand it to them for being able to turn that around.

I wish I knew how to push buttons as well as the Daily Mail does. I need to learn how to make an argument that doesn’t rely on bombarding people facts and numbers that they won’t buy, because the truth about statistics is that 99% of people think they were made up on the spot.

Forget my red-green wet dreams: if we cannot even convince ourselves that looking out for other people will mean that there are more people looking out for us then we are totally fucked.


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