Conservative deputy chair Lee Anderson's vulgar remark about asylum seekers is a populist distraction technique – Scotsman comment

Turning immigration into a major issue is one way to distract voters from serious concerns like the NHS crisis

Using a word that The Scotsman does not publish, Conservative deputy chair Lee Anderson said asylum seekers who do not want to be housed in barges should “f*** off back to France”. This, it appears, is UK Government policy, with Justice Secretary Alex Chalk backing Anderson for expressing “the righteous indignation of the British people”, if in “salty terms”.

Controversially, The Scotsman has backed the idea of using a barge to house refugees as a temporary measure, assuming it is safe and fit for human habitation. However, the remarks by Anderson and Chalk raise a broader issue about today’s politics.

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Immigration was one reason why people backed Brexit and some of their concerns were understandable. For example, those struggling to make a GP appointment, get a council house or access other state services may have felt that more people would mean more problems.

For right-wing Conservatives, such worries create an opportunity to rerun the successful Brexit campaign at a general election and Rishi Sunak appears to be leaning into the strategy. Of his five pledges, “stop the boats” is by far the best known. Another – to cut the size of NHS waiting lists – barely seems to get a mention. This may be explained by a rise in England’s overall waiting list from 7.42 million in April to 7.47 million in May.

Glossing over real issues and attempting to make immigration the focus may work with the sizeable English nationalist constituency – Scottish Conservatives, like Scotsman columnist Murdo Fraser, tend to take a different view – but it is a populist trick. By making it seem like asylum seekers are a big issue (they represented just eight per cent of non-EU immigration last year), the Tories hope to distract voters’ attention from their own failings to deliver decent services. Independence performs a similar function for the SNP.

“F*** off back to France” sends a powerful message. If enough people believe it, if politicians are not held to account on matters of genuine substance, the UK risks continuing to suffer from bad government until the day the spell is finally broken.



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