There is a well worked and very sweary Jonathan Pie routine, about how Brexit is all the fault of the left, because we didn’t engage in the argument about immigration, we just shut it down. If you want to make a point about immigration, you’re a racist. No argument, no engagement, just an insult. And I get this. I watched the routine and nodded away ruefully. There are a wide range of legitimate policy views on immigration. They fall into the category of normal politics. You can hold a position passionately, for instance that we’re better off with quite a lot of freedom of movement. I believe that. I believe that economically and culturally we’re a stronger country because of migration. If you don’t agree, for instance you want to see net migration fall to the tens of thousands per year, then I should argue the toss with you. Try to convince you of the error of your ways. But not call you a Nazi, because you’re not. Almost certainly. Open up the debate, not shut you down. You’re wrong, but within the arena of normal political debate; you have a legitimate view, that has a right to be expressed, you’re just wrong. Happens all the time, don’t worry about it.
Politics is rarely about moral absolutes, it’s more about better and worse than it is good and bad.
Except. There are two things that I come across professionally that seem to be in a different category; that are bad, not just a bit worse. Unforgivable sins (and it seems entirely appropriate to me that the language slips from political judgement to that of morals and religious certainty).
Anyone who has read any of my blogs (and that’s both of you) will guess that one is destitution. In what kind of moral universe do we decide that literally starving people is a legitimate policy option? People whose asylum appeal has been refused are left without any housing, any money, any right to housing, any money or any right to work. Because they should go home. Irrespective of the fact that they are gathering evidence to overturn they asylum refusal. Irrespective of the fact that they are human beings trying to live on the same earth that we are. We feed and house murderers. Because we are human and we’re better than that. But people whose only crime is to have sought protection from persecution and been refused? On the street sunshine.
The other one is immigration detention. Not in the abstract. You can build an argument that it’s necessary to enable removal. I might not agree. I probably won’t. But it falls into the category of better and worse, of legitimate political debate. Immigration detention does not exist in the abstract, however. We are talking about an actual system of indefinite mass detention, without trial, on the say so of an immigration officer for people who have committed no offence. If that seems like a good idea to you then I can’t even find a common language in which we can argue. I just resort to repeating the key phrases as you must have missed then. Indefinite. Without trial. Does this remind you of anywhere historically? Siberia, no?
Interestingly, both mass detention and asylum destitution have their roots in the actions of Labour governments, before being enthusiastically expanded under Tory and coalition administrations. Morally repugnant but politically expedient. And utterly unforgivable.