Rwanda Bill: Tories are using immigration as a hate-filled distraction technique to avoid real politics – Joyce McMillan

A small group of hard-right Tory MPs appear to be calling the shots in pursuit of a policy that may break international law without actually having much effect on immigration

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth – currently playing at the Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston in a major international touring production, with none other than Ralph Fiennes in the leading role – there is a scene in which the young prince Malcolm lists the “king-becoming” virtues that should grace any ruler holding real power. The list begins with justice, verity, temperance and stableness; and Malcolm adds that a ruler who lacks those qualities would “pour the sweet milk of concord into hell… and confound all unity on Earth”.

All of which, after this week’s events at Westminster, seems about as accurate an assessment as any contemporary pundit could offer, both of the virtues that are completely absent in that unruly subsection of Conservative MPs formerly known as the European Research Group, and of the dire consequences of their behaviour, not least in this week’s debates on the notorious Rwanda Bill.

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That the Rwanda Bill exists at all is some kind of grim tribute to the undue influence of these 60 or so post-Brexit extremists on British public life. Essentially, in a UK in which net immigration hit a record of around 750,000 a year, the Rwanda Bill refers to a supposed deterrent measure which is directed at around eight per cent of that figure, the “small boat” arrivals which the UK Government persists in misdescribing as “illegal”; and which, even if fully implemented, could permanently transfer to Rwanda only a tiny fraction of that eight per cent – certainly less than one per cent of the soaring 750,000 total.

People crossing the English Channel in small boats make up a small fraction of total immigration (Picture: Luke Dray/Getty Images)People crossing the English Channel in small boats make up a small fraction of total immigration (Picture: Luke Dray/Getty Images)
People crossing the English Channel in small boats make up a small fraction of total immigration (Picture: Luke Dray/Getty Images)

Deflecting from UK’s economic problems

The truth about this week’s Rwanda “rebels”, though, is that they are not serious politicians or legislators concerned with tackling the real pressures which are driving UK immigration to its current record levels; but rather a gang of power-hungry culture warriors, dedicated to the business of whipping up divisive feeling on marginal or manufactured issues of culture and identity, in order to deflect political debate from the serious economic problems facing most people in their everyday lives, and from the real-world imbalances of power and wealth that underlie most of those problems.

And their effect – seen working to perfection, at Westminster this week – is increasingly to disable meaningful politics by staging endless disruptions against anyone, even the current Prime Minister, who attempts even half-heartedly to deal with the realities of power; and to monopolise the whole bandwidth of political coverage, for days on end, with matters which cannot and will not improve the lives of the British people by a single jot.

The political aim they seem to be pursuing at the moment, via the Rwanda Bill, is to turn the UK into a rogue state that not only shipwrecks its economy by dumping its EU membership, but threatens to breach all and every binding international agreement – including the European Convention on Human Rights, substantially drafted by British lawyers after 1945 – that might infringe the imperial-style, 19th-century sovereignty of which they dream.

And what this group has done, on this issue as on others, is to force the UK Government down a cul de sac in which they threaten to breach international law, and further damage the UK’s global reputation, for the sake of a policy which barely begins to tackle the real issues in question, even for those voters who view it as a high priority. The waste of time and energy involved is breathtaking; and with every excitable update on this week’s noisy Rwanda “rebellion”, until its feeble finale on Wednesday, the whole Westminster bubble has only succeeded in confirming the growing belief among many potential voters that this junk version of democratic politics is simply irrelevant to them.

Shadowy global plutocracy

The question any serious analyst of British politics must ask, of course, is exactly how such a relatively small group of hard-right MPs have achieved this level of influence over the government they hold in thrall. The role of some sections of the media in amplifying this clickbait politics of right-wing distraction is undeniable, and in some cases downright reprehensible.

The truth is, though, that the media management of hard-right politicians and think tanks in the UK would not be so successful, nor the noise they create so deafening, if it were not for the massive financial support their activities enjoy. The only group likely to benefit from this kind of politics, after all, is that shadowy global plutocracy that wants to exercise the power of its huge wealth without interference from any seriously effective government; and time and again, the most high-profile exponents of hard-right politics, including former Prime Ministers Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, suffer well-deserved political humiliation and rejection, only to be born again as major centres of influence in our politics, supported by a massive industry of inflated lecture fees, lavishly funded think tanks, and a whole new television channel in the shape of GB News.

The Rwanda madness of this week may have bored or alienated the vast majority of British voters, in other words, and offered further evidence that a divided and increasingly irrational Conservative party is now heading for a crushing election defeat.

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It would be naive, though, to imagine that the election of a Labour government led by Keir Starmer will rid UK politics of this creeping right-wing radicalisation, with all the cruel and destructive attitudes, and substantive policy paralysis, it brings in its wake. Only a well-informed citizenry, working together at the grassroots of politics to focus on real issues facing their communities, and to refuse the gibbering circus of hate-filled distractions offered by the hard right, can possibly begin to counter this deep degradation of our national debate. And at the moment, alas, I fear many of us are too tired, too anxious, too cash-strapped, and too overwhelmed by the scale of the global crisis we face, to be able even to think about that struggle, never mind to begin to play our own vital part in it.



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