Lord Snooty was on the campaign trail last week, looking to rouse the voters of Eastleigh by reminding them of the immigrants and foreigners who are bringing the country to its knees.
On Wednesday, at Prime Minister’s Questions, His Lordship announced his intention to ‘reform’ the system allowing immigrants access to housing, the health service, the justice system and benefits, on the grounds that ‘ the rights of British citizens should not be enjoyed by ‘anyone who just chooses to come here’.
Yes, those rights, we know how much this government cares about them, don’t we? As Tory MP Mark Spencer put it to the PM, ‘The welfare state and the NHS are there to support our constituents when they fall on difficult times.’
You at the back of the class, stop sniggering. This is a serious issue, and this is a government that cares about its citizens. Is that clear now? Good. And that is why Spencer asked the PM to assure the House that he would not allow our services ‘ to be abused by illegal immigrants and nationals who are coming here as benefit tourists.
His Lordship addressed this ‘ important point’ with his customary sagacity, declaring that ‘every single one of our systems: housing, health, benefits’, was being reviewed by immigration minister Mark Harper in order to make sure that ‘we are not a soft touch for those who want to come here’. After all
‘I think it is absolutely vital that we get this right. There are many parts of our current arrangements which simply don’t pass a simple common sense test in terms of access to housing, access to the health service, access to justice and other things which should be the right of all British citizens but they’re not the right of anyone who just chooses to come here.’
On Thursday, Cameron was at it again, announcing a crackdown on legal aid for foreigners in immigration cases. At a question and answer session with staff at a local B & Q, he was asked how British services might cope with an ‘influx’ of Rumanians and Bulgarians next year. Ever the workers’ friend, Lord Snooty replied:
‘There’s a lot more to do to make sure we are not a soft touch, and while we are a welcoming, open country, we don’t allow people to come here and take advantage of us, because I think that does happen too often. We’re not tough enough right now about people who come from the other side of the world who decide to use the health service: they haven’t contributed their taxes, they should pay when they use the NHS.’
Cue tight-lipped outrage at the thought of those Rumanians and Bulgarians and other people ‘from the other side of the world’ who are waiting to come here and ‘take advantage of us’. Cue hurt indignation at the ‘abuse’ of our ‘generosity’ by these predatory, workshy foreigners.
And thank god, we have a government that is prepared to stop that sort of thing. Because it really does happen ‘too often’, though exactly how often, his Lordship doesn’t say, for detailed metrics do not service his purposes.
Dog whistle doesn’t even begin to describe this kind of talk. This is a dog trumpet now, blowing shrilly and frenetically in a desperate attempt to rally the pack. For Cameron knows he is in trouble. His government is increasingly despised and held in contempt for its cruelty and incompetence. Its opportunistic and ideologically-driven concept of ‘austerity’ has turned a crisis into a disaster, and has managed to make the hollow Ed Miliband look like a politicians of substance by comparison.
Lord Snooty’s own party is beginning to turn against him and the conspirators are already skulking in the shadows and plotting his downfall. The stentorian braying of Nigel Farage is wooing voters out into UKIP’s bleak suburban europhobic wasteland.
In these circumstances, there is always one last refuge for a politician of Cameron’s type, and that is to roll up your sleeves and try and divert attention from your government’s sheer awfulness with a bracing dose of xenophobia.
These efforts are made possible through the construction of an ‘us-and-them’ discourse which presents immigrants, not as workers, but as predatory scroungers and aliens who ‘abuse’ the same services that the government itself is so intent on dismantling.
It’s crude, dishonest and really quite repellent, but there is always a well-oiled transmission belt for this kind of talk in the rightwing press, which has been poisoning the minds of the British electorate with anti-immigrant propaganda for decades.
Never mind that the crisis in social housing is largely due to the fact that hardly any social housing is being built. Never mind that the majority of immigrants rent private housing. Never mind that the NHS would not be able to function without the contribution of foreign nurses and doctors.
Never mind that the EU’s commitment to freedom of movement means that Britons are able to access benefits in other countries as well. Never mind the fact that this government is doing more to destroy and undermine ‘our’ services than immigration ever could. Never mind that it is Lord Snooty and his pals, not Rumanians and Bulgarians, who are bringing the country to its knees.
This is a government which knows it has have nothing to lose, and we can expect to hear the trumpet blowing louder still as the election gets nearer.