It is rare for rational debate to figure prominently in the
run-up to a general election, and this one is proving no different.
Perhaps we should not be surprised to see the leaders of the two
main political parties shamelessly attempting to outbid each other
in a reactionary policy auction over crime and immigration. But we
should be depressed and angered by it.
Over the past few weeks, the farcical nature of all pre-election
campaigning has descended to new depths. On immigration and asylum,
the socialists (that’s Labour, in case you were wondering) propose
ID cards, increased deportations, and a skills-based “points”
system for all immigrants. Successful asylum applicants will also
lose their right to stay in the UK indefinitely – instead being
expected to return when their home country is deemed safe.
Enlightened social policy it is not.
In response Michael Howard’s Conservatives have lurched even
further to the right. In an attempt to turn public concern and
confusion into votes, Howard proposes annual immigration quotas and
compulsory health checks for many immigrants.
No doubt Howard is congratulating himself on a plan which
simultaneously cracks down on immigrants from poor or developing
countries while leaving those from the developed world largely
There is little more illumination to be found on crime. Labour
promises ever more punitive strategies to tackle antisocial
behaviour including “drink banning orders” and alcohol disorder
zones. Antisocial families will receive “intensive rehabilitation”
and parenting programmes, followed by eviction if they fail to
improve. Howard’s mantra is simple: “Build more prisons and fewer
criminals will be free to commit crime. It’s common sense.”
Yes, there is concern about immigration, antisocial behaviour
and crime. And yes, politicians are there to reflect and act upon
the wishes and needs of the general public. But what Blair and
Howard fail to realise is that the general public is nowhere near
as prejudiced and hysterical as the tabloids would have them
believe. By pandering to an extreme minority – largely created and
sustained by the right wing press – the mainstream parties simply
lose the confidence of the majority, who see their ever-more
extreme posturing for the dishonest rubbish that it is. Politics
like this is patronising and dangerous, and we deserve better.