Perspectives: The Politics of Hate

If it wasn’t a crime, I would kidnap Michael Howard and drive
him in a speedy car to the Jewish Museum in Camden, London. Then I
would compel him to absorb the message of the current exhibition
which marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Aliens Act,
the first piece of official legislation in Britain to restrict

The newspapers were then, as now, fanning fear and loathing of
newcomers. The Daily Mail screamed: “One million are ready to swamp
the west.” The Star panicked: …the flood is sinking Britain” and
the local Dover newspaper called the arrivals “the scum of the

They were talking about Jews, about Howard’s ancestral people,
about people like his father who told whoppers to get into the
country. Yes, the leader of the opposition is the son of an illegal
immigrant. Today he instigates exactly the same headlines and media
vigilante attacks on travellers, asylum seekers and economic
migrants, legal and illegal, for votes. Blood, sweat and tears
stain the votes that he will undoubtedly gather from Britons who
seem for ever in a state of high anxiety that some swarthy
foreigner will snap up their good lives.

Howard would be forced to retreat from this malevolent
campaigning if the government was prepared to stand up to him on
this issue. But Blair is, in many ways, the godson of Thatcher. He
could, but doesn’t, condemn outright the racist and xenophobic
manoeuvres of the Conservatives. (That is exactly what they are.
Howard may deny there is any racism in his assertions and policies,
but he has never, ever, objected to the hundreds of thousands of
white Americans, Australians, New Zealanders, and Zimbabweans who
are in this country.)

It is true too that some newspaper editors who are driving this
agenda are in and out of Chequers, best friends of the Blairs. New
Labour today is determined, not so much to appease, but to outdo
the right. Blair can now prove to the nation that he is even more
macho on asylum and immigration, more ruthless, more “patriotic”.
There are results, too, of this institutional inhumanity. Fewer
people are applying to come here from disaster zones. Many
deserving migrants and asylum seekers are today being summarily
deported – in one case an individual Conservative MP tried to stop
an obviously unjust expulsion. Positive Action in Housing in
Glasgow publishes stories of individual asylum seekers who are
destitute and homeless. They include an elderly couple from Iraq, a
mentally ill Iranian and a family from Rwanda which has been split
up and is living rough. Can the two leaders really argue that these
citizens from these conflict areas are “bogus”?

Even more depressing is the truth that there are black and Asian
Tories (some of whom arrived here by illegal means) who agree with
Howard’s despicable hatemongering. In New Labour, an unprecedented
number of powerful black and Asian MPs, peers and ministers who
used to demonstrate against Thatcher’s “evil” asylum laws, today,
like good natives under colonialism, march to the drums of their
white masters. More than 40 per cent of their communities support
the hard line because they are worried about their own futures in
this country. Yet Sikhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism all call
their people to reach out to strangers and give them what they

The Christian doctrine of charity and mercy towards the
dispossessed is all but disappearing among Britain’s establishment
and middle classes. Belief in redemption too is fading. Retribution
in perpetuity is what most people seem now to want. Young offenders
– never easy to love – are now denied any possibility that they can
reclaim their lives. The Sun wants them horribly punished for ever,
even those who are children when they committed crimes. And what
The Sun wants, politicians deliver.

The politicians and media thrive on this scapegoating. Voiceless
victims suffer as a result. But each time this is done, the fabric
of our society coarsens, hardens, feels harsh on our skins, we
descend a little more into populist savagery. If it is migrants and
young offenders today, how long before we bring back capital
punishment and flogging in schools? Under New Labour society has
become more drunk, unruly and divided. Now our leaders want us to
turn on groups they accuse of destroying “our way of life”. To vote
for either of these parties in the election would be to vote for
barbarism. Which is why I will be voting Lib Dem on 5 May. 

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a journalist and

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