Since the rise of UKIP as a party of political influence the rhetoric around immigration has been ramped up and it was sections of the newspaper media, which together have a depressingly high readership, which have been most vociferous in their opposition to immigration. Not only have these newspapers been opposed to the sociological concept, but these publications have also given specific examples of immigrants they believe should or shouldn’t be allowed into the country.
What these newspapers did, and as a result conditioned their readers to do, was to make no distinction between refugees and asylum seekers, and economic migrants; consequently the Tories saw a political opportunity to win votes off UKIP by taking very few refugees and to take a tough line on immigration by asserting that migrants from Africa and the Middle East would be sent back to their countries of origin. The Tories were cowardly responding to the political dynamics of the country which made no distinction between refugees and economic migrants, but this was only possible because these media outlets had poisoned the debate.
Much like other iconic photos throughout history, like the Tiananmen Square ‘Tank Man’ or Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, the picture on every newspaper of Aylan al-Kurdi’s motionless corpse spurred an outpouring of humanity from people across Europe. Indeed this morning, after thousands of people pledged to attend a rally in London and over 350,000 people signed a petition calling on Britain to take more refugees, David Cameron announced that Britain would take thousands more refugees.
Whilst this is encouraging the UNHCR said that the UK would be taking 4,000 refugees from Syria which would qualify under Cameron’s definition ‘thousands’; if this is all that Britain is taking then Cameron fundamentally misunderstands why people are so angry at the government. People are angry that Britain took only 216 Syrian refugees in 2014, people are angry that human beings fleeing persecution are living in squalor in Calais, people are angry that the government’s response to those crossing the Mediterranean was politically motivated to pander to UKIP xenophobes.
The bluster of politicians on the Right is tolerable, just, but the one thing that is not is the sanctimoniousness of the right-wing populist newspapers that, after poisoning the immigration debate so much that government policy was changed for the worse, now lecture the government for letting people die. Papers like The Sun, The Mail and The Express, who ran the headlines “Draw a Red Line on Immigration or Else!”, “True Toll of Mass Migration on UK Life” and “Britain Must Ban Migrants” respectively, have no right to lecture anyone for not doing enough to help these refugees. They all criticize the government for not doing enough accusing them of being both heartless and spineless. These are politicians, and therefore spineless, and Tories, and therefore heartless, yet these same papers endorsed the Tories in an election four months ago apart from The Express which endorsed UKIP and would have taken an even Draconian position; don’t endorse the policies of a party and encourage your readership to vote for them when the editorial line is one of outrage when presented with that government’s actions.
But the question now has to be about what we can do nationally to help these desperate people. Britain should look to taking in a minimum of 25,000 refugees with a view to increase this number if the UN deems it necessary whilst also encouraging other countries, other than Germany who have done enough, to open up their hearts. In an article in The Independent today Labour leadership front-runner Jeremy Corbyn wrote: “We live in an imperfect world, one that will won’t make perfect, but we can try to make it better. Pulling up the drawbridge and condemning the outside world isn’t leadership, it’s cowardice”; frankly I couldn’t have put it better myself