After a week of migrant bashing from the right-wing press, the Prime Minister decided to address the nation. David Cameron had an opportunity to mollify the public reaction to the migrant crisis, but instead decided to exacerbate the situation. He referred to the migrants as a 'swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean...wanting to come to Britain because Britain has jobs, it's got a growing economy and it's an incredible place to live.' Cameron tactlessly used inflammatory rhetoric to beguile Britain's anti-immigration proponents - adding praise for the economy for good measure.
The anti-immigration argument in Britain is, for the most part, economic. There are rational arguments for stronger controls on immigration: to counter the undercutting of wages, to prevent the housing crisis and to tackle unemployment for those in Britain. I personally don't feel that immigration is the cause of these problems, nor do I believe stronger controls are the only solution. Nonetheless, I'm willing to listen to rational arguments, as there is always a place for debate. Cameron, however, is not embracing such a debate. He is instead practicing the great art of rhetorical chicanery - appearing tough on vulnerable migrants to appeal to those concerned with wider issues surrounding immigration.
Cameron may possess a strong anti-migration rhetoric, but he has not been strong on immigration. As someone that welcomes immigration, I'm glad his policies are nowhere near as harsh as his rhetoric. Nonetheless, those that argue against immigration - the individuals his comments were supposed to galvanise - should not be fooled. The 3000 migrants from Calais represent a tiny fraction compared to the individuals that will come to Britain this year - mostly arriving from within the European Union. EU migrants also want jobs, yet are welcomed by our Government. Cameron can't - or perhaps won't - tackle EU migration or immigration and thus he appears weak on an issue that resonates with traditional right-wing voters. Therefore, in order to appear strong, he decides to belittle a group of vulnerable folks in Calais, some of whom have lost their lives.
Cameron's language invites anger - against the Calais migrants and against those demonising the migrants - and thus contributes nothing to a rational debate. Furthermore, such language is unnecessary for it cannot solve the problem - referring to migrants as a 'swarm' will not prevent migration. If Cameron seeks to take measures to stop these individuals from entering Britain, then he should adopt fair and practical policies - perhaps even offer help to those in Calais - rather than petty criticisms. Dehumanising them solves nothing and damages the wider, and more important, debate.
Cameron's rhetoric clearly serves a deceptive purpose. Some might foolishly interpret Cameron as a man that will fight for Britain against those 'swarms' that are apparently invading our shores. For anyone that advocates a rational, economic anti-immigration argument, it's clear that these individuals should not be a primary concern. To tackle the economic issues that purportedly stem from immigration, Cameron has to prevent immigration on a wider scale. His policies so far have done nothing in that regard. His recent inflammatory comments, however, allow him to gloss over the wider issue and obfuscate the real debate.
Ultimately, I'm in favour of a rational conversation about different economic aspects of migration and immigration. I will probably disagree with a hell of a lot of critics, as I don't believe folks coming to Britain harms the economy. This disagreement, of course, is the point of a rational debate. To demonise a small group of vulnerable people to galvanise support while avoiding the major immigration and migration issues is clever, but does nothing to address real concerns. It incites anger, hate and appeals to the dirty side of the argument. If we are to have a rational debate, let's focus on the pervading issues rather than making irresponsible comments about human beings that are going through a pretty hard time.