8 February 2005
“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.” – Enoch Powell, Wolverhampton, 20 April, 1968
“The Sikh communities’ campaign to maintain customs inappropriate in Britain is much to be regretted. Working in Britain, particularly in the public services, they should be prepared to accept the terms and conditions of their employment. To claim special communal rights (or should one say rites?) leads to a dangerous fragmentation within society. This communalism is a canker; whether practised by one colour or another it is to be strongly condemned.”
David Blunkett? No, this was John Stonehouse, Labour member of parliament on 17 February of the same year as Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech and quoted by Powell in his own speech.
Thirty-six years later, virtually identical speeches are still being made by the current Labour government. How the Labour government squares its current position on immigration with the former (disgraced) home secretary Blunkett’s statement made in 2004 is not clear when he said that there is:
“no obvious upper limit to legal [economic] immigration”.
But then the issue of ‘aliens’ has never been subjected to the rules of logic. Instead, it has always been a weapon with which to terrorise an insecure and uninformed population.
We cannot overwhelm ourselves with large numbers of people, who, however worthy, are alien, have alien cultures, different temperaments, totally different backgrounds and habits and different ways of life
Margaret Thatcher, 1978.
We have norms of acceptability, and those who come into our home-for that is what it is-should accept those norms.’ – Former home secretary David Blunkett, December 2001.
Predictably, with the election in the offing, both the Labour government and the moribund Tory Party are pushing the same button – ‘illegal aliens’, ‘sponging’ and ‘phony’ asylum seekers along with of course, the linked issue of ‘law and order’.
The use of fear as an instrument of the state’s control of the population is probably as old as the central state itself, whether of invasion, internal ‘subversion’ or the ‘alien’ and records show that in Europe, it’s been used as and when convenient, for at least the past one thousand years.
A perusal of the headlines over the past one hundred years show a consistent use of exactly the same words accompanied of course with the same predictions of dire consequences – consequences which have never, ever, come to pass – if steps are not taken to keep ‘them’ out, or if ‘they’ are already here, to get rid of ‘them’.
At the start of 2002 Britain had 61,700 refugees – equivalent to just over 0.1 per cent of the country’s population. Australia had a similar percentage. If you want a ‘refugee crisis’ you will have to look somewhere other than the rich world. Asia and Africa receive four fifths of the world’s refugees. Iran began 2002 with 2.5 million, Pakistan with 2.0 million, Jordan with 1.6 million, impoverished Tanzania had half a million – beating even that great country of immigration, the US. – Source: United States Committee for Refugees, World Refugee Survey 2002, USCR, 2002.
The themes used are predictable; ‘swamping’ of ‘our’ culture, a ‘flooding’ of ‘our’ communities, the disappearance of ‘our values’ and so on and so forth and all of it reinforced by the corporate media that in turn forms the basis for the state’s use of the idea of the public’s ‘perceptions’, perceptions that have to, at least according to the state, be assuaged.
Hence the logic is stood on its head, for failing to show proof of any threat from the ‘outside’, the state is forced to rely on a self-referential argument, that of the public’s ‘perceptions’, perceptions that have been fueled by the state and the media in the first place. Such circular arguments defy logic but then propaganda doesn’t rely on logic, instead it relies on stoking the fires of prejudice and fear, over and over again, blotting out logic with hysteria.
The irony of it is not lost on me as a second generation immigrant to this country, nor the fact that virtually the entire population has, at one time or another, come from the ‘outside’ including the ‘original’ inhabitants, the Welsh, who come according to DNA profiling from Spain. But of course the entire idea is ludicrous. Again in Enoch Powell’s famous ‘rivers of blood’ speech from 1968 we read that:
They found their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition, their plans and prospects for the future defeated; at work they found that employers hesitated to apply to the immigrant worker the standards of discipline and competence required of the native-born worker; they began to hear, as time went by, more and more voices which told them that they were now the unwanted. They now learn that a one-way privilege is to be established by act of parliament; a law which cannot, and is not intended to, operate to protect them or redress their grievances is to be enacted to give the stranger, the disgruntled and the agent-provocateur the power to pillory them for their private actions.
How little things have changed, with the Labour government all these decades later, echoing Powell’s words about our health service being “overwhelmed”, yet none of Powell’s predictions came to pass, nor those of Thatcher, nor indeed of any politician over the past one hundred years.
At this juncture, several questions have to be asked. Firstly, with politicians making dire predictions with boring regularity and with not a single one of them ever coming to pass, how is it that they get away with it? One answer can be found in how the media reports the ‘news’:
Britain is basically English speaking, Christian and white, and if one starts to think it might become basically Urdu speaking and Muslim and brown one gets frightened. – Former editor of the Daily Telegraph Charles Moore
The crackdown – which would even have excluded the nanny whose case led to the downfall of David Blunkett – came as a senior cabinet minister insisted that fears of refugees and migrants overstretching public services were ‘legitimate’. Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, said it was ‘unfair’ if people were ‘flouting the rules’. – The Guardian, February 6, 2005
‘Legitimate … fears’ becomes the operative phrase, even if these ‘fears’ are totally illegitimate as is the equating of immigrants with ‘flouting the rules’, the inference being of course, that immigrants generally flout the rules.
The same Guardian article continues with Hewitt echoing Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech:
Home Office sources said abuses of the system had led to a feeling that ‘the fairness and hospitality of the British people has been tested’, adding: ‘There is a recognition that there is some kind of breakdown of confidence among the public.’ Hewitt said there were ‘real concerns’ about abuses of the asylum and immigration system.
So now it’s the vague, indefinable ‘concerns’ that are ‘real’ but how real are they? Read on in vain to find out how real they actually are. Instead the same article tells us in an even more pointed connection to Powell’s speech, again quoting home office minister Patricia Hewitt:
The idea that we are not willing to talk about this issue is nonsense,’ she told The Observer. ‘In one of my [constituency] primary schools, they went from having pupils who all spoke English – I think there was one other language in the school – to having 15 different languages in the space of half a term. That creates enormous demands on the teachers, it is an enormous change for the pupils.’
She [Hewitt] said that when many of her Leicester constituents, both white and Asian, approached her with problems such as housing ‘sooner or later they will probably say “the asylum seekers are getting so much and I am not getting my problem solved”. Some of that is myth and the [influence of the] Daily Mail, but not all of it, and I think the overwhelming sense is that it is unfair if some people are simply flouting the rules and appear to be getting away with it.
Compare Hewitt’s rhetoric to Powell’s and one is hard-pressed to see the difference. So ‘some’ people are ‘flouting the rules’ but how many we are not told. Instead, we are left with the vague and unsubstantiated assertion of ‘asylum seekers … flouting the rules’. It’s all based not on reality but on perceptions and the fact that rather than fund social services properly, it’s politically expedient to find a convenient scapegoat.
The second question we have to ask is why? What purpose does it serve to demonise the ‘alien’ aside from the obvious scapegoating?
Elsewhere, both the state and the media continually link the ‘illegal alien’ and the ‘asylum seeker’ with terrorism and organised crime to the point at which the lines between the three eventually disappear, at least in the view of the public’s ‘perception’.
Taken collectively, which is after all, the intention, it creates the impression that illegal immigration, crime and terrorism are all of a kind, thus justifying the suppression of civil rights and ultimately, the ‘war on terror’.
And history is on my side for as far back as one cares to investigate, the ‘alien’ and terrorism have been connected in the public’s ‘perception’ by the state, whether it be the notorious Palmer Raids in the US in 1919 that resulted in the mass roundup and deportation of hundreds of ‘anarchists’ or in the 1960s, the arrests and cold-blooded murders of the Black Panthers accompanied by exactly same kind of repression through the Cointelpro programme and the media’s complicity in the process.
“[S]ince power is essentially only a means to an end a community based solely on power must decay in the calm of order and stability; its complete security reveals that it is built on sand. Only by acquiring more power can it guarantee the status quo; only by constantly extending its authority and only through the process of power accumulation can it remain stable.” – Hannah Arendt, Imperialism
In the run-up to WWII, the same racist propaganda was rolled out designed to pit people against people (”Why the little yellow bastards!” Time Magazine 1941, following the attack on Pearl Harbour) and so too with the Cold War rhetoric whether it was the “yellow hordes” of China or those “commie bastards” or indeed “Islamic fanatics”, it’s all pretty much of a muchness, the names change but the enemy rolls on regardless, undergoing a change of dress, ideology, religion, race or political persuasion, but all clamouring at the doors of ‘civilisation’ to overwhelm ‘our’ values with an alien one. Steal ‘our’ women, ‘our’ houses, ‘our’ way of life, the rhetoric of the succession of political whores differs little, what is the same is the message.