Tainted by sleaze and corruption over hackgate and the Hunt affair; grubby, hypocritical, dishonest and cruel; politically inept as well as economically incompetent – no wonder the Tories and their hapless Lib Dem partners are languishing behind Labour in the polls.
Even the fact that Ed Miliband continues to speak like a man reading his lines from an autocue no longer counts against him. At this stage of the parliamentary cycle, one suspects that if Labour decided to elect a Thunderbird puppet as party leader it would have the edge on Cameron or – God forbid – Michael Gove.
But as is so often the case when a Tory government (and Labour, for that matter ) wakes up to find itself lying face down in the political doldrums, there is one issue than can always be counted on to make the hearts of the party faithful beat a little faster.
It’s therefore no surprise to find Theresa May, the Boadicea of the UK’s immigration wars, once again straining to raise the party out of the gutter with a shrill dose of anti-immigrant populism. First there was last Sunday’s appearance on the Andrew Marr show to discuss her proposal to issue new guidelines to judges in order to make it easier to deport foreign criminals.
These guidelines are intended to limit the application of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the right to a family life – a right that some convicted criminals have argued would be breached by deportation.
But the government wants to step up the pace of deportations and remove any foreign criminal jailed for more than twelve months, regardless of their family circumstances. Therefore, as May told Marr
‘This is not an absolute right [to family life]. In the interests of the economy, or controlling migration or public order, those sort of issues, the state has a right to qualify the right to a family life.’
The state is also seeking to ‘qualify’ this right in other ways. On Monday May announced forthcoming changes in family migration rules, which will mean that UK citizens earning less than £18,600, depending on the number of children involved, will not be allowed to bring a foreign husband, wife or partner from outside the EU into Britain.
The new ‘financial independence’ requirement rises to £22,400 for a child, with each additional child adding £2,400 to the threshold. May told MPs
‘We welcome those who wish to make a life in the UK with their family, work hard and make a contribution, but family life must not be established here at the taxpayer’s expense.’
The government is also planning to extend the probationary period for overseas spouses and partners of British citizens from two to five years, and introduce an ‘attachment test’ to show that the ‘combined attachment’ of a married couple is greater to Britain than any other country.
According to the UK Border Agency, these proposals are aimed at ‘ preventing and tackling abuse, promoting integration and reducing burdens on the taxpayer’ and deliver ‘ better migration, which is fair to applicants, local communities and the taxpayer.’
Critics of the proposals, including the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, have argued that they are likely to force British citizens with foreign partners to leave the UK in order to keep their families together.
In a joint letter to the Times, the JCWI and other organizations argued that
[stextbox id=”alert”]This would potentially prevent half of the UK’s working population from living with their nuclear family in the UK. In addition, the proposed change would discriminate against women, people with disabilities, young people and some ethnic minorities as the average earnings of these groups are lower than the national median income. [/stextbox]
None of which is likely to sway the Etonians and their intended audience. Many years ago, Herman Melville once wrote in Moby Dick
In this world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without passport, whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.
Today the same principle applies, beneath the government’s worthy talk of curbing marriage abuse and fairness for ‘the taxpayer’.
The essential message behind May’s proposals is more significant than their actual scope: that immigrants below a certain income level are parasitical intruders; that only wealthy foreigners are welcome in the UK, while the poor are not entitled to attempt to change or improve their lives through migration – or even to have a family relationship with a British citizen unless the government says they can afford it.
It isn’t a very attractive or humane message, but then its authors are not very attractive or humane people.