This week Tommy Robinson, former leader of the Community Service stampede that is the English Defence League, is to speak at the Durham Union. This is a serious departure for a man who changed his name from Stephen Lennon, presumably because it didn’t sound racist enough.
With the EDL on the decline, the nation’s casual xenophobes turned their attention to UKIP, the spiritual home of the “I’m not being racist…but” brigade. UKIP seemed to have the momentum as the 2015 General Election approached, making front-page news every day; except when the papers had a picture of Ed Miliband struggling to consume food or writing his manifesto on a piece of cemetery.
Whilst at times threatening to move from a barely restrained bar crawl to serious political movement, UKIP and their supporters learnt the hard way that despite 3.8 million votes, being second-past-the-post does no good in our electoral system. They will now most likely revert back to where they started – as a glorified pressure group intent on leaving Europe. And in 2017 when the Get Britain Out campaign narrowly lose the referendum, UKIP will join Nick Clegg in the footnotes of history. Nigel Farage will retreat to his natural habitat – in the corner of a pub, drinking a pint and sporting a Barbour jacket.
Nationalism is so often a cult of the leader. There is a reason why, after the election disappointment, UKIP literally would not allow Farage to resign, with the fear that there was no viable alternative. But a new figurehead is needed. Step forward, Theresa May.
“It was left to May to target the Nationalist vote, which she went about doing by stirring up rather thinly veiled anti-foreigner sentiment”
Last week, at the Tory Party conference, home secretary Theresa May abandoned any fear of the ‘nasty party’ image with a speech so anti-immigration that the Refugee Council described it as ‘thoroughly chilling’. With the Liberal Democrats about as popular as the notion of £9,000 tuition fees, and the Jeremy-Corbyn-led Labour now too honest and principled to have any chance in modern politics, the Conservatives saw their Party Conference as an opportunity to seize their oppositions’ core support. With Osborne declaring that they were ‘the party of the labour’, presumably based on the number of disabled people they are declaring fit to work, it was left to May to target the Nationalist vote. She went about this by stirring up rather thinly veiled anti-foreigner sentiment.
May belted out that immigration “makes it difficult for school and hospitals and mass-infrastructure… to cope”. The idea that the country cannot support an expanded population is a common one with nationalists, and May makes a good point. Or at least she would have done, if what she said were true. The study she had referenced (Migration Observatory) in fact revealed that immigrants pay 0.46 percent more in tax than they use in public services, meaning they are not only not a drain on the public sector, they actually contribute to it. This is not to mention that 11 percent of NHS workers and 24 percent of doctors are immigrants.
“Blaming foreigners for the country’s problems is reminiscent of the classic nationalist view of ‘coming over here and taking our jobs’”
Perhaps the more worrying claim was that “when immigration is too high…it’s impossible to build a cohesive society”. It is unclear what she meant by a cohesive society – after all, this is coming from the party that one day campaigned for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom, and yet the next day declared an intention of English Laws for English Voters (aptly named the EVEL scheme). And a government who are systematically dismantling the national institutions of the BBC and the NHS, which many see as the cohesive glue of this country. Blaming foreigners for the country’s problems is reminiscent of the classic nationalist view of ‘coming over here and taking our jobs’. The Institute of Directors was “astonished by the home secretary’s irresponsible rhetoric”, saying that if immigrants “did steal jobs, we wouldn’t have the record levels of employment we currently do”.
The best we can do is acknowledge May’s speech as an intricate work of fiction designed to hook the Nationalist vote. Some will take her speech at face value, others won’t believe a word of it, and she won’t change many minds. Whatever the case, it’s easy to imagine May coming off stage, having a sigh of relief at her performance and tearing off the mask to reveal Nigel Farage, on a Mission Impossible-style quest to keep the dream of casual xenophobia alive. Or perhaps she could well be Farage in drag. After all, he does have a lot of weekends spare these days.
Ben Lewis & Tom Roberts
Image: UK Home Office