The European commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion, László Andor, has strongly criticized David Cameron's latest attack on Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants, declaring "there is a serious risk of pandering to knee-jerk xenophobia.Blaming poor people or migrants for hardships at the time of economic crisis is not entirely unknown, but it is not intelligent politics in my view".
Andor is right. But Cameron is not the only British politician who has attempted to stir the dank waters of prejudice, bitterness, xenophobia, racism, paranoia and ignorance where the likes of Ukip and the Daily Mail swim, in the hope of gaining some political advantage from them.
In the last month Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have made major speeches on immigration. All three politicians have their own particular emphases, but each of their speeches belong to what is fast becoming paint-by-numbers genre, whose essential aim is to win votes by appealing to the lowest common denominator - while still appearing to present themselves as decent chaps who are above that sort of thing.
So for future reference, I thought I'd lay out some of the essential rules and pointers on how it's done, so that speechwriters won't have to strain after originality:
- Tell your audience about how proud you are of Britain's 'diversity', its openness and tolerance, and the contribution made by migrants to British society.
- If you have any foreign ancestry, talk about how proud you are of that too - maybe suggest that it gives you some special insight into the migratory experience.
- Declare your willingness to listen to public 'concerns' on immigration and hold an 'honest debate' on the subject.
- Insist that these 'concerns' have nothing to do with prejudice or racism, and neither does your desire to discuss the subject.
- Tell your audience - or merely insinuate, by the way you frame the subject - that immigration is a problem, in fact a huge problem. Use words like 'abuse', 'integration' and 'social cohesion,' 'chaos' and 'public confidence.'
- Talk about the 'strain' that immigration is causing to some communities - always preferable to talking about the 'strain' caused to communities by 'austerity' polices to which all three parties essentially subscribe.
- Never mention any specific communities - always talk in general terms.
- Blame immigration 'chaos' on the previous government or the government in power.
- Insist that your party has been 'tough' and wants to be tougher.
- Use snappy, easy-to-understand catchphrases like 'tolerant Britain, zero-tolerant of abuse'
- Boast of the 'tough' things you have already done, such as raising the minimum income requirement for couples seeking to bring over a partner or spouse.
- Tell your audience that your willingness to enter the immigration 'debate' is a 'sensible' alternative to 'populists' and 'extremists'. Then offer 'populist' policies of your own, such as obliging migrants from 'high risk countries' to pay a £1,000 'security bond' - while simultaneously insisting that these bonds 'would need to be well-targeted - so that they don't unfairly discriminate against particular groups.' Or changing your previous position in favour of amnesties for 'illegal immigrants' - far better to have possibly half a million people who have made lives in this country to indefinite legal limbo than provide a 'reward to those who have broken the law'.
- Tell your audience that immigrants MUST learn English.
- Insist that these 'tough' policies will make Britain a more tolerant and welcoming place.
There you are. You see how it's done: Now off you go and write your own.