Labour and torture…

One of the immediate effects of reading some of the Torture Report last night was a feeling of deep anger. My memories of 2003 and protesting against the planned invasion of Iraq came flooding back – and my anger towards Tony Blair in particular and the Labour Party in general came flooding back. I tweeted about it a bit last night and this morning – and though most people seemed to agree with me, a number seemed to think I was being unfair. After Polly Toynbee’s suggestion yesterday that we should ‘ignore the flaws’ of the Labour Party, having this particularly huge flaw shoved in my face seemed a touch ironic. So am I unfair to be angry with Labour? The people suggesting so seem to have a three main complaints:

This wasn’t Tony Blair – or even the UK. This is about the CIA.

It’s certainly true that the Torture Report is about the CIA’s activities – but the UK is not unconnected. Firstly, the UK was involved in the CIA’s activities, helping with rendition at the very least, and turning a blind eye to other things. Secondly, anyone who imagines that the UK is totally innocent of similar actions seems to me to be deeply naïve – the fact that we don’t know for sure may well have as much to do with our secretive and seemingly ineffective forms of oversight. A report like the Torture Report is almost unheard of in the UK. We have the odd whitewash from time to time, but nothing more. What’s more, Blair made the UK complicit in the whole ‘war on terror’ – and the torture was part of that.

Tony Blair didn’t know what was happening

For that to be true, he would have to be a complete fool – and that’s one thing I would never accuse him of. What’s more, over a million of us warned him.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 15.19.19

I was on that march – and we weren’t just saying ‘don’t invade Iraq’, we were saying ‘don’t go into bed with the most reactionary and objectionable US president in living memory.’ We may not have known the details – details confirmed by the Torture Report – but we knew who and what Bush was, and what joining him implied. Blair must also have known – and if he didn’t make the obvious inference about things like torture, then as I wrote before, he would have to be a fool. And he isn’t a fool.

Tony Blair isn’t the Labour Party

No he isn’t – but he led the Labour Party, and a very significant number of the current crop of MPs voted for Blair and Bush’s war, effectively voting for this torture. Some of the ‘big figures’ who actively supported the war are still very much part of the party – names like David Blunkett and Jack Straw spring to mind, but there are others. More importantly, the current Labour Party seem to be very much carrying on Blair’s agenda. Yvette Cooper seems to be almost as much an authoritarian as the rest of them!

 

So yes, I do blame Labour. And yes, I think that’s fair – and until Labour makes a proper break from the past, and shows that it understands what went wrong, or even that it was wrong, I will continue to blame Labour.

#Establishment?

Two seemingly very different stories have been dominating the left-wing UK political scene on Twitter over the last week or two. The first is the remarkable success of the #CameronMustGo hashtag, the second the Trumpton UKIP saga. They’re very, very different things – and on the surface seem not to have very much in common – but there are strong connections between the two, connections that suggest some interesting things about how social media, and Twitter in particular, can work.

The #CameronMustGo hashtag is still trending (as I type this) after two weeks and more than a million tweets, in the face of a whole series of derogatory articles in the mainstream media (as I discussed here), and reactions from disdain to rage. To get a hashtag to trend isn’t easy at the best of times, and to get it to trend for this long is nothing short of remarkable – indeed, the disappointment last night when (seemingly briefly) the hashtag dropped off the trending list almost made me laugh, but had a serious point. Getting the hashtag to trend has given groups of people a sense of power – a sense that they can have at least some impact, albeit only in the virtual world of Twitter, when they otherwise feel so powerless in the face of a seemingly overwhelming establishment.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 07.38.14

The UKIP Trumpton phenomenon seems very different. The initial UKIP Trumpton account was a parody account, one of many such accounts on Twitter – I run a parody account myself, @KipperNick – but until a few days ago it had just a small following. It was funny, particularly for people of a certain generation (including myself) who grew up watching programmes like Trumpton, Camberwick Green and so forth – but it wasn’t earth-shattering, until it started to be attacked by UKIP MEP David Coburn for being ‘fake’. That started a twitter storm, one that has raged ever since. @Trumpton_UKIP now has 18.9 thousand followers, more than twice David Coburn’s number, and has spawned a whole range of related Trumpton accounts, as well as a wide range of attacks from UKIP supporters, some suggesting that it shouldn’t be allowed to use the word ‘UKIP’ in its name, others invoking (more than a touch dubiously) intellectual property law. The more the attacks come, the more the parody thrives – and the more attention it gets, from the mainstream press, and even from TV and radio.

So what’s the connection between the two, apart from being attacks on right wing politicians? Well, first of all, they both emerged from small, humble roots – the people behind the initial #CameronMustGo hashtag and the @Trumpton_UKIP account are ordinary Twitter users, not part of political parties or backed by the mainstream media. Both took root through the grassroots of twitter – yes, the #CameronMustGo hashtag was taken up by official Labour Party people, but the mainstay was (and remains) much more ordinary twitter users. Both thrive in the face of (at least partial) mainstream attacks – indeed, the attacks seem to make them stronger. Both use humour – even a brief look at the #CameronMustGo stream shows that a fair proportion of the tweets either are or use jokes as their basis, while the Trumpton accounts are based almost entirely on humour. And they’re funny. Very funny at times.

Both, too, seem to have caught the ‘establishment’ on the hop – and for all its protestations, UKIP is very much part of the establishment. Whether it’s UKIP or the Tories, the BBC or the mainstream press, the social media is something that they can’t quite get on top of. It’s not as controllable as they want it to be – and it challenges their control over the ‘message’. The Labour Party shouldn’t get complacent either – the wrath of Twitter is as likely to turn upon them as it has on the Tories and UKIP. If they try to use the people of Twitter as their political tools, they can expect a backlash. If there’s one thing #CameronMustGo and Trumpton has shown, it’s that it’s the people that count, not the parties. And long may that last.

 

 

The Nige Before Christmas

Farage Santa Ill

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the House

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The Kippers were watching the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nigel so soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

With no chance of sex ed in their little heads.

And Mark in his ‘kerchief, and Doug in his cap,

Had settled their brains for a long winter’s nap.

Mark and Doug

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of midday to objects below,

When, what in the world should I suddenly find,

But a man on a tank, who was out of his mind.

Farage tank

With a fag in one hand, in the other a beer

St Nige looked around with some kind of a leer

He looked this way and that as though searching around

For something he wanted, some thing to be found

St Nige doesn’t care if you’re naughty or nice

He cares if you cook with too much foreign spice

If your daddy or mummy came from the wrong place

If your accent is strange, or you have the wrong face

He has gifts for rich Brits, but for migrants the boot

And for everyone else just more hardship and soot

He’ll travel the land checking homes all around

If he sees a strange face, or hears a strange sound

Then it’s time to repatriate, quick as a flash

To send them all ‘home’, with a dash, dash, dash, dash

No matter how nice, no matter how good

There’s no place for them in his neighbourhood

St Nige has no sleigh, and no fine reindeer

But he does have his tank, and his fag and his beer

And behind him are mobs, all filled up with hype

He dog-whistles loudly and calls them by type:

“Come bigots, come racists

Come Englanders Little

Join our people’s army

Be ready for battle

Come lost and afraid

We’ve got someone to blame

It’s the immigrants’ fault

Let’s show them our flame.”

The BNP, EDL and Britain First

Oh, all Britain’s racists, they gather, the worst

To support the great Nigel, their hero and saint

You’d better watch out, their hearts are not faint

 EDL etc

Saint Nigel looked up and he flashed me a smile

A smile more befitting a dread crocodile

He winked and he grinned and I knew what he meant

A message it was, a message he sent.

“Happy Christmas to all – if you’re British and rich

And for everyone else, well life is a bitch.”

Farage Santa Ill

Calling politicians ‘childish’ is an insult to children…

Rather than write about the more obvious points about Plebgate – from the actions themselves to the foolishness of taking libel actions when the consequences of losing could be so damaging and when your reputation has already been substantially repaired – I want to write about one particular turn of phrase used by Mr Justice Mitting. He said that Mitchell’s behaviour had been ‘childish’.

It’s a common enough description – and anyone who ever watches the ridiculousness that is Prime Minister’s Questions, the absurd self-importance, name-calling and point-scoring that most politicians seem to get up to on the BBC’s Question Time knows what it refers to. Politicians do seem to spend an inordinate amount of their time – and from the evidence in the Plebgate libel trial not just their time in the public eye – engaging in this kind of activity. They even do it in the laws they draft – anyone who has seen the Social Action, Responsibility And Heroism (‘SARAH’) bill will see that it’s ridiculous, irrelevant and designed only to try to get a few headlines in the tabloids. Absurd is too polite a word for a law like this. And then we have ‘grandees’ like David Mellor ranting and swearing at cab drivers.

It’s an insult to us, who elect them and pay their salaries (and expenses) that they do so – but it’s also an insult to children to call this kind of activity childish. I have an eight year old daughter, and she and her friends may engage in this kind of thing from time to time, but, frankly, not that often. What’s more, they feel ashamed of it when they do it – at least most of the time – and they spend a lot more time being cooperative, friendly, listening to each other, being joyful, free, honest and helpful. What’s more, the ones that I know seem to spend a lot of time really wanting to learn…

…which is something that MPs seem conspicuously unwilling or unable to do.  The point scoring, the straw-man arguments, the bare-faced-lies, the attempts to get things just for themselves, are all things that we wouldn’t (and as parents generally don’t) accept from children. In grown adults, highly educated, highly paid, in deeply responsible positions, making decisions that have a massive impact on all of us, it’s far worse.

Facebook And Twitter – Handling Extremism And Disorder

After extensive consultation, FAT-HEAD has been amended to take into account its lack of clarity over costs (see 8) and the unfortunate limitation of extent (see 9).


 

Facebook And Twitter – Handling Extremism And Disorder Bill (‘FAT-HEAD’)

Contents:

  1. When this Act applies
  2. Facebook and Twitter
  3. Social and Moral Responsibility
  4. Code of conduct
  5. Extremism
  6. Disorder
  7. Acceptance of blame
  8. Costs
  9. Extent, commencement and short title

A

Bill

to

Make provision as to matters concerning the social and moral responsibility of Facebook and Twitter, to ensure that proper cooperation is made with the authorities in relation to morality, extremism and disorder.

BE IT ENACTED by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—

1. When this Act applies

This Act applies whenever an event of such significance, as determined by the Secretary of State, requires it to. Events include but are not restricted to acts of extremism, of disorder and of embarrassment to the Secretary of State, the government, the intelligence and security services and the police, or any other event deemed appropriate by the Secretary of State.

2. Facebook and Twitter

The powers conferred through this Act apply to Facebook, Twitter and any other online services, systems, or their equivalents, successors or alternatives (‘the services’) as determined by the Secretary of State.

3. Social and moral responsibility

The services shall recognise that they have a social and moral responsibility above and beyond any requirements hitherto required by the law. The requirements that constitute this social and moral responsibility shall be determined by the Secretary of State, in consultation with the editors of the Sun and the Daily Mail.

4. Code of Conduct

The Secretary of State shall prepare a Code of Conduct to cover the actions of the services, in accordance with the social and moral responsibility as set out in section 1. This code of conduct shall cover extremism, disorder, obscenity, dissent and other factors as determined by the Secretary of State.

5. Extremism

i)  The services shall monitor the activities of all those who use their services for evidence of extremism, including but not limited to reading all their posts, messages and other communications, analysing all photographs, monitoring all location information, all music listened to and all areas of the internet linked to.

ii)  The services shall provide real-time access to all of their servers and all user information to the security services, the police and any others authorised by the Secretary of State, including the provision of tools to enable that access.

iii)  The services shall prepare reports on all its users activities, including but not limited to those activities relating to extremism, including contact information, personal details, locations visited and any other information that may be determined from such information.

iv)  The services shall provide these reports to the security services, the police and any others authorised by the Secretary of State.

v) The services shall delete the accounts of any user upon the request of the security services, the police or any others authorised by the Secretary of State.

vi)  The services may not report that they have provided the access or these reports to anyone without the express permission of the Secretary of State.

6. Disorder

At a time of disorder, as determined by the Secretary of State, the security services or a police officer, the services shall provide the following:

i) Immediate access to location data of all users.

ii) Immediate access to all communications data of all users

iii) Detailed information on all accounts that have any relationship to the disorder

iv) Deletion of accounts of any users deemed to be involved, or likely to be involved, in disorder.

v) Upon order by the Secretary of State, the security services or a police officer, the services shall block all access to their services in an area to be determined by the Secretary of State.

7. Acceptance of Blame

The services shall recognise that their social and moral responsibility includes the requirement to accept the blame for the existence, escalation or consequences of any extremism or disorder. This acceptance of blame must be acknowledged in writing and in the broadcast media, ensuring that the government, the security services and the police are not held responsible for their own roles in such extremism or disorder or their consequences.

8. Costs

All costs for the development, implementation, monitoring, updating and supporting the systems required for the services to comply with the Facebook And Twitter – Handling Extremism And Disorder Act 2014 shall be borne by the services.

9. Extent, commencement and short title

i) This Act extends to England, Wales, and anywhere else on the entire planet, and in addition to inner and outer space, the moon, any planets, comets and other bodies as deemed appropriate by the Secretary of State.

ii) This Act comes into force on the day on which this Act is passed.

iii) This Act may be cited as the Facebook And Twitter – Handling Extremism And Disorder Act 2014.


 

Mr Bigot’s Halloween….

MR BIGOTs Halloween cover

 

 

Mr Bigot liked Halloween.

It was one of his favourite celebrations. Mr Bigot liked scaring people – it was one of his favourite activities. Only that morning he’d tried to scare all the listeners to a radio programme about how all those nasty immigrants were coming over here to take their jobs, to claim huge amounts of money in benefits, to destroy their health service, fill their schools, and much, much more. Just like every other morning.

Oh yes, Mr Bigot liked Halloween a lot. And this Halloween was going to be particularly special. UKIP had organised a very special party. Mr Bigot was really looking forward to it.

He didn’t really need a costume. He was scary enough as it was – and he knew it. Just a set of fangs and a cloak would do. He could put on a Romanian accent – everyone knew Romanians were scary. Oh yes. Terrifying.

The party was happening at one of London’s best clubs. Mr Bigot was a member – as were a number of his friends. There wouldn’t be any riffraff let in.

Mr Bigot didn’t like riffraff. Oh, he always liked a good photo-shoot with common people, but that was quite enough. Mr Bigot liked to portray himself as a man of the people, but really he wasn’t sure he liked people very much.

He put on his cloak and fitted his fangs as he approached the club, and smiled spookily at the liveried man at the door. The man smiled back and touched his top hat deferentially, welcoming Mr Bigot in. Mr Bigot found him entering a place of wonder: the entire club had been decked out in a spectacularly spooky style. There were heavy cobwebs on every chandelier, jack-o-lanterns on every window sill, curtains of black velvet and much, much more. Long tables were filled with silver platters filled with steaming food. The aroma was wonderful.

MR BIGOTs Halloween blank

One of Mr Bigot’s oldest friends, dressed up as Frankenstein’s monster, complete with bolt, lurched quickly across the room to greet him with a strange kind of smile. Mr Bigot leaned over to him.

“Looks great, old boy,” Mr Bigot whispered, “must have cost a pretty penny.”

“Oh,” said his friend, “no need to worry about that. Thanks to our new Polish friend, we’re quids in these days.”

His friend pointed across the room to a slightly disreputable looking fellow dressed in a black military uniform. The man smiled and gave a straight armed salute. Mr Bigot smiled back.

Then Mr Bigot took a closer look around the room. People were dressed in all kinds of different costumes. There were a few witches, a lot of skeletons, and plenty of zombies – though those might just have been some of the party members who hadn’t read their invitations carefully enough to realise it was supposed to be fancy dress.

Then Mr Bigot had an uncomfortable thought. He whispered again to his Frankenstein’s monster friend.

“There aren’t any reporters here, are there?”

“Oh no, Mr Bigot,” his friend replied. “Just Nick and David over there, and they can be trusted completely.”

Mr Bigot looked over to where his friend was pointed, and there were Nick Robinson and David Dimbleby, rather poorly disguised as neutral, independent journalists, sipping at their drinks and sharing a laugh.

MR BIGOTs Halloween close

“Excellent,” said Mr Bigot with a smile. “Now, I really need a drink!”

“Beer?”

“God no,” said Mr Bigot, “do you know how many photo-shoots I’ve done today? I’m sick of the taste of the stuff. Get me a claret, and a good one.”

While he waited for his friend to bring him his drink, Mr Bigot wandered around the room, listening to the undead band playing UKIP Calypso, and chatting with a few of the more unusually dressed guests. The first he came to was dressed in a pink shirt and very tight trousers, and had an obviously false handlebar moustache.

“What have you come as?” Mr Bigot asked.

“I am a gay Bulgarian,” the man said with a guffaw. “Scary, eh?”

“Very,” Mr Bigot agreed, “just don’t go getting married – we could do without more floods!”

“How about you?” Mr Bigot asked the next one, who was blacked up and wearing rags.

“I have Ebola,” the man replied, with a faux African accent almost as good as Mike Read’s Jamaican one.

“We should never have let you in,” Mr Bigot laughed, “or anyone like you.”

Mr Bigot strolled past a pair dressed in business suits with blue ties with yellow stars, wearing blank face masks. Eurocrats, of course. Another had even come as José Manuel Barroso.

MR BIGOTs Halloween closer

Just as Frankenstein’s monster lurched up with his drink, Mr Bigot saw another costume he couldn’t quite place. Skin darker than Mr Bigot was comfortable with, torn clothes soaking wet, heavy fronds of seaweed draped over his shoulders and head. The man saw him staring and smiled.

“I’m a drowning migrant in the Mediterranean,” he said, and Mr Bigot grimaced.

“Damn those Tories,” he muttered under his breath, “why did they think of that idea first? It’s brilliant.”

The drink tasted a little strange to Mr Bigot – not a claret at all, but some kind of mulled wine, thick with spice. Mr Bigot took a large swig, and felt the drink go straight to his head. He shook himself, wondering what was coming over him, and went to sit down in a large, comfortable arm chair. It had been a long day. He was tired. He drank down the rest of his drink and leant back in his chair, closing his eyes.

When he opened them, he found a strange man approaching him. The man was unshaven, and wearing a T-shirt with ‘LBC’ in small letters on the chest. In his hand he held a microphone, attached to some kind of tape recorder. What’s going on? thought Mr Bigot. I thought there were no reporters here. Then he relaxed. It must be a costume. The man’s first words confirmed it.

“I’ve come as James O’Brien,” the man said with a smile, “I thought you might find it scary.” Mr Bigot couldn’t help a silent shudder – he still remembered being ambushed on LBC. Whoever this was, he had a nasty sense of humour. Should go far.

MR BIGOTs Halloween closest

“Perhaps,” the man said, “I could give you a quick interview?”

“Of course,” replied Mr Bigot with a sharp-fanged smile. The man held out his faux microphone, clicked a button on his faux tape recorder and started asking questions. Boring stuff to start with, just like most interviews. How nice it must feel to be so high in the polls, to have one MP and another on the way. Mr Bigot gave the usual answers – he could do this in his sleep.

“You must be delighted that the public has realised,” the interviewer said, “that immigrants are responsible for so many problems – taking away jobs, costing a fortune in benefits, destroying our health services and so on.”

Mr Bigot smiled again, but then, to his complete surprise found himself saying something he hadn’t planned. And laughing.

“Surely you don’t actually believe that,” Mr Bigot couldn’t stop himself saying, “do you? I mean, even I don’t believe that. I know very well that immigration doesn’t cost jobs, or any of that other rot. Are you stupid? I’m not. This is politics, matey.”

Mr Bigot felt thick-headed. It must have been the drink. And yet he still couldn’t stop himself.

“It’s brilliant, isn’t it? So many dopes take what we say at face value. All those idiots vote for us – it’s worse than turkeys voting for Christmas. I mean, workers vote for us though we want to take away their rights! As though anything we say would make any difference at all except to make their lives harder, and make us richer. We know it’s rot, you know it’s rot. But better to blame Johnny Foreigner than my mates in the banks. And when they vote for us, we get all this,” he waved his hand around the opulent surroundings. “There’s no gravy-train like the Brussels gravy-train,” he finished, “and long may it continue.”

“What?” said the interviewer, “don’t you want us to leave the EU?”

“God no,” said Mr Bigot with a laugh, “if we leave we all know business will be down the tubes – and all these lovely expenses will stop flowing. Still, we’ve got to keep saying we want to leave. That’s the point, isn’t it?”

“And immigration? What about immigration?”

“If we don’t have immigration,” Mr Bigot found himself saying, “where will I get my chauffeurs from? Where will we find women to clean behind the fridges? Just so long as immigrants are properly frightened, that’s good enough for me. That way we can pay them a pittance and they’ll have to accept it. And just as long as there’s enough hate and fear to keep people distracted, everything’s just the way I want it.”

The man pressed the button on his tape recorder and suddenly looked stern. “That’s great,” he said with a sly smile. “You do realise that I really am James O’Brien, I hope? This will be great on the LBC news.”

MR BIGOTs Halloween closest white

Mr Bigot’s face went white. He felt cold inside. What on earth had made him say all of that? It wasn’t like him at all. He was usually so good at keeping up the pretence. Even when he made little slips he got over them with a laugh and a smile. This time, though, he couldn’t see how he could do that. It was a nightmare. A complete nightmare. He closed his eyes and could feel the tears begin to come. What a horrible Halloween.

Suddenly he felt an arm on his shoulder. He opened his eyes. James O’Brien was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Frankenstein’s monster stood before him.

“Are you alright, Mr Bigot?” his friend whispered. “I think you must have dozed off for a while.”

“But…” Mr Bigot shook himself. Had it all been a dream? Had he imagined it all? He sighed, long and slow, the composed himself. It must have been. Oh, it had felt scary – but there was no real need to be scared – at least not for Mr Bigot. The rest of the country, well they had plenty to be scared about.

For everyone else, the nightmare had only just begun.

MR BIGOTs Halloween cover

 

 

Words by @paulbernalUK, art by @kaiserofcrisps and @paulbernalUK

For the original Mr Bigot, see here.

Immigration, xenophobia and racism…

Every so often, these days, someone says something about immigration that makes me think about racism, xenophobia, or both. Often it’s someone from UKIP, but recently Tory politicians have been joining in pretty regularly – and even Lib Dems and Labourites have been triggering the same reaction in me. Whenever I mention this on Twitter, in amongst the other reactions there will pretty much every time be someone who says something like ‘why does someone wanting to limit or control immigration have to be racist or xenophobic?’

The answer I generally give is that of course they don’t – but these days, all too often, the reasons behind such statements have racism or xenophobia in the background. That is, not all those people wanting to control or limit immigration are racists or xenophobes, but a lot of xenophobes or racists use the relative respectability of opposition to immigration as a cover story from xenophobia or racism.

I had three interesting altercations of this kind on Twitter last week – from what I remember, they came after the revelation that UKIP had done a deal with a Polish MEP who happened to be a Holocaust Denier. In all three cases, the starting point was a seemingly rational objection to immigration. I engaged with the argument – I don’t always, because these kinds of arguments can be exhausting and depressing – and in all three cases the ending was memorable. The first finished with the suggestion that Labour councils had been engaging in ‘ethnic cleansing of whites’ (the words of my opponent). The second peaked with the remarkable statement that everything always goes downhill when the proportion of whites in an area goes below 60% – a ‘fact’ that I was assured couldn’t be racist because my opponent has been told it by a black person. The third argument was much more rational, and specifically about immigration from the EU. It ended with a suggestion that one of the biggest problems with EU immigration was that communities didn’t integrate. When I pushed on this point, asking which EU communities didn’t integrate, the answer came Poles and West Africans. Aside from my own experience of the Poles as integrating very well into British society (as they have since their great contribution to the Battle of Britain), the way that West Africans somehow fitted the ‘EU migration’ story made that old feeling of racism and xenophobia come back again.

It happened again when I read of Michael Fallon’s comments of towns feeling ‘swamped’ and ‘under siege’ by EU immigrants. If he really was talking about EU immigrants, what was it that made him feel ‘swamped’? Too many Polish shops on his high street? Too many shopping aisles in his local Tesco with Eastern European specialist products on them? Hearing Czech spoken at the bus stop? Does he think he can tell an Eastern European from a Western European just by looking at them – I mean, Nigel Farage may be able to ‘know the difference’ between a Romanian and a German, but…

To me it feels like dog whistle politics. When Fallon talks about feeling under siege, he means that ‘they’ look different from ‘us’. ‘We’ should feel threatened by ‘them’. That’s feeding into racism and xenophobia – and I’m afraid that’s all too common in the anti-immigrant rhetoric going around at the moment. That’s where the ‘too many black faces’ talk comes from, the ‘ethnic cleansing of whites’, the ‘going downhill when the White faces go below 60%’, and the non-integration of West Africans goes. And whilst we’re at it, non-integrations is often a cypher in itself. It suggests people shouldn’t talk their own languages, even amongst themselves, shouldn’t wear any clothes that aren’t ‘British’ enough – and certainly shouldn’t practice any religion other than Christianity openly.

Of course there are rational arguments against immigration – though most of them fall apart under serious scrutiny. Those twin myths of ‘health tourism’ and ‘benefit tourism’ keep being trotted out though the figures show they’re negligible – and indeed immigrants tend to be younger, healthier and less likely to claim benefits than non-immigrants, as well as contributing more in taxes than they cost in terms of health and benefits. ‘They’ aren’t taking ‘our’ jobs either – in general immigration creates as many jobs as it takes, and boosts the economy. The problem problems we have with housing are connected with chronic underinvestment and a dysfunctional market – not immigration.

All this, however, is lost in the morass of misinformation, much of it fuelled by racism and xenophobia. What are also lost in this mess are the real causes of the real problems in places like Clacton, Rochester and elsewhere. Whilst focussing on the immigrants, the unscrupulous landlords, dodgy employers and tax-avoiding rich people and companies who mess up the housing market, pay poverty wages and massively reduce the tax take necessary to make the investments those communities need, are laughing all the way to their off-shore banks. Politicians wreaking havoc through austerity and ‘reform’ are left to enjoy their subsidised drinks in the Commons’ bars. The real villains are happy to see immigrants and immigration take the blame. Of course they are.

So no, talking about wanting to limit or control immigration isn’t racist or xenophobic – but plenty of xenophobes and racists talk about wanting to control immigration. And plenty of others are selfish enough to encourage them to do so, because it keeps their own actions away from the limelight. It keeps them from being held to account – and it allows the story to keep on going in exactly the same way. The side effects of the encouragement of racism and xenophobia are hideous, and the damage it does to us as a whole, as a culture, as a community, is incalculable. It divides, it stigmatises, it spreads suspicion, distrust and fear. It’s what makes people suspect any Muslim could be a terrorist, every African a carrier of Ebola, every Serb a war criminal, every Romanian a thief. It diminishes all of us. That it’s allowed to grow, to fester, is something that makes me, for one, deeply sad.