Most of you will be familiar with George Orwell’s classic essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ in which the great man argued that political leaders twist words into their opposite meaning. Thus:
Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.
Phil Woolas is the kind of politician who is routinely described as ‘brave’ and ‘outspoken’. But as Orwell might point out, these words have different meanings in the language of the political class than they do in general usage.
For example, ‘outspoken’ in political language means ‘Someone prepared to talk ill-informed bullshit, in public, without embarrassment and often looking directly into reporter’s eyes.’
And ‘brave’ as applied to a politician doesn’t mean bravery as you and I would use the term: i.e. to describe someone who fought in Afghanistan, or someone who intervened against a mugger or bully. Bravery in political language is always used to describe a comfortably-off politician who will denounce the weak and vulnerable and those who can’t answer back.
This is Woolas on immigration:
Immigration minister Phil Woolas has attacked lawyers and charities working on behalf of asylum seekers, accusing them of undermining the law and ‘playing the system’. In an interview with the Guardian, Woolas described the legal professionals and NGO workers as ‘an industry’, and said most asylum seekers were not fleeing persecution but were economic migrants.
Are we really back to the old 1990s binary thinking of ‘asylum seekers’ versus ‘economic migrants’? Perhaps Woolas hasn’t considered that economic migrants are good for the market. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, so far economic migration has:
a) pushed up economic growth, allowing the Treasury to revise its projections of future performance upwards by a quarter of a percent,
b) reduced labour costs, thereby helping to keep a lid on the inflation rate,
c) had no appreciable impact on the employment prospects of British workers – migrant workers have, for the most part, been filling gaps in the UK labour market rather than displacing British workers because they’re doing the jobs that British workers either don’t want or don’t have the skills to do, and
d) had no negative impact on the public finances. In fact migrant workers are net contributors to both the British economy and to the public purse. They pay their taxes, like everyone else. They contribute to the local economy in the area they live, by spending some of their earnings in local shops and on renting accommodation – and, of course, to the profitability of their employer. And they take less out the system than UK workers, because they have fewer rights in terms of access to welfare benefits, social housing and some other public services and have much less need of those services because, in general, they have fewer dependants and also tend to younger and therefore less likely to require the services of the NHS than Britain’s ageing population.
As Unity (from whose site the report can be read) has it, we’re in a win-win situation.
Woolas denies an affinity with Enoch Powell, claiming that ‘Enoch Powell was trying to divide this country. I’m trying to heal this country by allowing us to have a mature debate on immigration.’ Well, no one’s against debating immigration – but I think that Enoch had his own ideas of what national unity would look like.
But Woolas does concede that there are some genuine asylum seekers:
He recounted how another asylum seeker visited his constituency office in Oldham: ‘One lady showed me the scars on her thighs from where the soldiers had raped her, so I know,’ said Woolas, ‘but I cannot take a decision on that lady’s behalf if I am fogged by cases that are misusing the law.’
Oh, but Phil, don’t be taken in – that woman could have scarred her own legs to take advantage of Britain’s bloated welfare system.
In one case, Woolas said, an asylum seeker had won the right to stay after going through six layers of appeal. ‘That person has no right to be in this country but I’m sure that there is an industry out there [with] a vested interest.’
Why would someone want to get into this country so badly that they would appeal six times? Hmmm…
Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the appeals process was a vital safety net for asylum seekers who are ‘criminalised’ on arriving in Britain. ‘Having your asylum claim rejected does not make you an economic migrant. For some nationalities, such as Eritreans and Somalis, almost half of refused asylum seekers have their cases upheld on appeal. These are people who would be in danger of persecution such as murder, torture or rape if sent back to the repressive regimes they are fleeing.’
Come back, Liam Byrne: all is forgiven.