Evoking Churchill’s ‘We Shall Fight Them On the Beaches’ speech of June 4 1940, Prime Minister Cameron, while visiting Vietnam a few days ago emphasized the “need to protect our borders” from the “swarm of people” trying to enter the UK.from Calais. That was his characterization of the humanitarian crisis currently enveloping Calais.
In the June 29 Mail on-line edition, journalist Dominic Sandbrook described migrants storming the Channel Tunnel in the catastrophe [my emphasis] that has beset Calais. Reiterating something of a siege mentality, Sandbrook remarked: “We kept out Hitler. Why can’t our feeble leaders stop a few thousand exhausted migrants?”
The message from the government and their mouthpieces in the gutter press is clear: Desperately poor migrants, many of whom have been traumatized by brutal dictatorships, war and sectarian violence that to a large extent have been caused or exacerbated due to our imperialist adventures, are not welcome here.
Predictably, Nigel Farage of UKIP joined in the fray by suggesting to Cameron that he sends in the army to “protect” holiday makers. Presumably, the many migrants who have died or been injured on route are not worthy of being protected because they are the wrong kind of foreigner – poor and black.
The reactionary response to perceived hordes “invading” good old Blighty is not, of course, new but rather symptomatic of both the establishment and the right-wing press discourses of which the Daily Mail is a significant player.
The papers founder, anti-Semite Lord Rothermere, was friends of Hitler and Mussolini. He was also editorially sympathetic to Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (1) .
The Daily Mail that Rothermere in January 1934 wrote an article titled “Hurrah for the Blackshirts”, and praised Mosley for his “sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine” (2) for, is the paper that Sandbrook in July 2015 talked about keeping ‘Johnny Foreigner’ out.
The Daily Mail has form in this regard. In the 1940s, for example, the editorial line of the paper was to oppose the arrival of Jewish refugees escaping Germany, describing their arrival as “a problem to which the Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed” (3).
Seven decades later we have a media that perpetuates the right wing political narrative of demonizing those less fortunate than us with the aim of garnering potential short-term political capital.
Blogger Matt Carr describes the experiences he and his family had while on a recent trip to France:
“On the other side of the channel were men, women, and children with nothing at all, trying to get to our side of the water in order to continue their lives or find a life raft steady enough to hold them……
…The journeys they made were infinitely harder and tougher. They had crossed deserts and oceans, maybe a hundred or more in a boat. Some will have seen their friends and loved ones die in front of their eyes. Others will have fled the destruction of their cities, homes and neighborhoods” (4).
These people need our help and we should be helping them. There is both an economic and moral case for Britain to take these people in. There is also the question of European solidarity. The French have taken in 60,000 migrants, the Germans 180,000. Britain has only taken in a small fraction of that. We should be taking our fair share of the burden. 85% of all the refugees are in poor countries. A decade ago it was only 70%. Turkey, for example has nearly 2 million refugees. We are talking about places with the least amount of resources who are taking in the most (5). So why is fortress Britain raising its barriers?
The problem is that British politicians’ of both the left and right play into the prejudices of the electorate in the hope of grabbing their votes. Fears that migrants undercut wages and are a drain on society are myths mainly peddled by the political right, but my no means exclusively so. General misinformation and false propaganda feeds into a public perception that belies reality (6).
It’s shameful that one of the richest countries on the planet is turning it’s back on people who have, in many cases, risked their lives fleeing persecution and wars that we largely helped foment. Instead of setting dogs on migrants, repairing fences and building higher ones, we should be supporting those who tear them down.