Farage Wins Again
For months, Nigel Farage has been maintaining a solitary watch on the south coast of England, looking out for small boats of migrants arriving on the beaches and filming them with his camera phone.
Despite never having won a Westminster seat, Farage is probably the most effective UK politician of the last two decades. He managed to parlay a collapsing BNP into a more or less respectable Ukip. Naked racism was disguised as pseudo-principled opposition to freedom of movement. After the 2016 referendum vote came in, the motivations of many leavers were made transparent. Muslims, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups were told in no uncertain terms that they were no longer welcome in the UK. The vote to leave the European Union was – for a worryingly significant proportion of the country – about deporting anyone who wasn’t white.
Farage retreated from view once he had had his big win. The Brexit Party is no longer a meaningful force because it has been co-opted by Boris Johnson and needs little extra-parliamentary presence to exert its worldview. Immigrants who have settled in the UK according to the letter and spirit of the law are being hounded by the Home Office.
Like a predatory investor looking for a disaster to exploit, Farage has been waiting for a catastrophe to feed on. With Covid-19, he has it. The government has failed in its pandemic response, through a mixture of incompetence and malign neglect. More than 40,000 people have died. The seven-day moving average of new daily cases, having declined to 545 in early July, is now approaching 1000 again. Track-and-trace efforts are proving inadequate. The UK is in a worse recesssion that the US, Germany, Italy or France. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost, and furlough schemes will be wound up in October. Rishi Sunak talks of ‘tough choices’ with a smile on his lips, as millions of people are staring into the abyss.
Yet the government’s abdication of responsibility means the blame has already been artfully shifted, as more than half of British adults – and three-quarters of Tory voters – tell polling companies that the public, not the government, would be responsible for any second wave. No doubt they’re looking to dodge the blame for the negative consequences of a hard Brexit, too: it should be easy enough to lay the responsibility for economic collapse next year on Covid-19, and we’ve already accepted that will be our fault, not theirs. The deaths of tens of thousands of people somehow give Johnson a free pass for another swing at British society.
Amid the carnage of the coronavirus, no cynical politician would turn down a scapegoat. And Farage, with his established backdoor and public links to the Tory Party, has provided one. The arrival of refugees, in dribs and drabs, has been turned into a national crisis by willing actors. Last Thursday, Farage posted a video on Twitter of a dozen people, half of them children, landing on a beach in a small boat. ‘Shocking invasion on the Kent coast,’ he wrote.
‘As a record number of migrants cross the English Channel by boat in one day,’ Newsnight asked last Friday evening, ‘does the UK have control over its borders?’ On Saturday morning, the BBC filmed twenty people setting out from a beach in Northern France. On Sunday, Priti Patel appointed a ‘Clandestine Channel Threat Commander’ dedicated to ‘making the Channel route unviable for small boat crossings’. On Monday, Farage had a piece in the Telegraph: ‘It’s time to declare an emergency in the channel.’ BBC Breakfast sent a reporter out onto the water, broadcasting live footage of a group of Syrian asylum seekers as they bailed water out of their boat, the Corporation’s vessel cruising alongside.
Seeing the endless images of dinghies full of desperate people, online and in newspapers, people are bound to think to themselves: ‘If it’s getting so much coverage, it must be a problem.’ A poll on Tuesday found that half of us have little or no sympathy for the people coming here by these dangerous means. The same proportion believe the government has no responsibility to protect them.
Farage has won again, and this time everyone in power has been all too happy to help, not even paying lip service to decency. Everyone in need in this country will suffer; everyone in need coming here may suffer even more.
My parents sent me and my sister to the UK when we were just a few years old, sacrificing much of their relationship with us, to save us from the war in Congo, the bloodiest conflict since the Second World War. We were looked after by our uncle, who had to learn the lessons of fatherhood far earlier than he had expected to, and probably far earlier than he was ready for. It wasn’t easy for any of us. The UK wasn’t paradise, but it became home, and I quickly made friends (we are closer now than ever). I grew up in England, and as a child, the state supported me when I needed it, having come from one of the most dangerous places in the world. If I had to make the same journey in 2020, the British government, the British state and half the British people would not wish me to be here. It could have cost me my life, and it will cost others theirs.