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The meaning of Cameron’s speech on immigration

April 14, 2011 7 comments

As I said in February, I don’t think it’s correct for a person to be judged alone on the kind of support he receives – particularly if that support comes from opportunists trying to score column inches.

The same, I feel, goes for David Cameron. When he gave his speech on multiculturalism earlier in the year, the BNP called it “the Griffinisation of British Politics”, while the equally unpalatable English Defence League used the speech as fuel for their fire in Luton.

Pointing out these embarrassments should not be the crux of our criticism – since politics is not merely about doing the opposite of your counterparts. Ones political judgement should stand up by itself.

The problem with Cameron’s speech on immigration is that it reduces migrants themselves to stereotypes – namely that they pursue sham marriages, fail to assimilate and put pressure on the welfare state – while also reinforcing good immigration as the cheap commodification of labour.

However the problem does not begin and end with Cameron. This kind of low politics, deprecating immigrants, is the order of the day for the European right wing.

I found Nick Clegg’s reaction the most telling:

Cameron’s language isn’t what we would have used…but he’s a Conservative leader talking to Conservative voters in the run-up to an election.

How right Clegg is! But these are not conservatives, rather, Conservative voters who are lapping up this kind of flabby rhetoric. The worry is that this politics could fill the gap of third way politics, now in its declining hour.

In France, for example, President Sarkozy has decided to whip up tensions concerning Muslim immigrants, their headwear and assimilation, in a bid to attract voters away from Marie Le Pen’s National Front (FN).

As for Germany, during an argument inside Merkel’s cabinet about labor shortages, the chancellor chose to frame the terms of debate on the “failed approach” of multiculturalism.

In the Netherlands, fear of the immigrant is not restricted to Geert Wilder and his clan of PR-savvy stunt fascists; Netherlands immigration law now requires citizens to pass difficult tests demonstrating Dutch language fluency and cultural knowledge

Earlier in the month, on this site, Paul identified three types of actors around the core executive of the new Conservative regime. The first being the upper class elite comfortable with high politics, the second as neo-liberal pacemakers defining the shrinkage of the state, and the third being the apologists whose presence is simply CV development. Though I think this is helpful, in order to properly understand the root of Cameron’s immigration speech, and the Tory party on social issues in general, we cannot ignore the emerging new rightist politics in Europe - immoderate on presentation, and epistemically closed in substance.

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