Stop the Boats | Why the obsession?

Last week the Government has had only one thing they wanted to talk about – being tough on people coming here to claim asylum.

You would have thought that having made such a mess of things they would want to keep their mouth shut.

While all of this was going on a much lower profile story came out. Last month the Government pushed through the Illegal Migration Act 2023, against opposition in the Lords, including from their own Peers.

Despite pushing this through the Government has quietly declined to introduce the powers contained in the Act. The Asylum system is in such a mess that any attempt to introduce the new powers and responsibilities would be impossible. Their new policy has failed before it even started.

So given what a mess the Government have made of this why do they keep going on about it?

In “The Righteous Mind” political sociologist Jonathan Haidt argues that most political values are based on instincts and that political theories are just post hoc rationalisations. We make political decisions based on instinct not analysis. Politicians who can connect with those instincts do much better than ones who try to appeal to political theory, or economic strategies.

Haidt argues that the left and the right share a similar spectrum of values: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression, however the given different weight to them. The left emphasis care and liberty, the right loyalty and authority.

Loyalty to the group is a powerful instinct among conservatives, which often manifests itself as protecting the group against outsiders. The Government hopes that by presenting asylum seekers as a horde of illegal immigrants threatening the group they can connect with some powerful basic instincts. The huge problem with that is that it only connects with their core vote, and does little to impress broader groups of voters. It might help shore up the Red Wall, but I doubt it. These voters don’t like being cheated, and Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have left them feeling taken for a ride. They won’t forget quickly.

But there is another, more prosaic reason why they talk about immigration. The Government have nothing left to say.

​British Conservative politics for the last decade has been driven by 2 big ideas:

1. free market economics; tax cutting, state shrinking, de regulating

2. strident Brexity nationalism

Both of those ideas have foundered.  Austerity and Covid exposed the shortcomings of their economic ideology, and the Truss catastrophe nailed down the coffin.   Brexit has become a humiliation, and led to national decline. No-one even wants to talk about Brexit any more, most people wish it would just go away. The failure of these 2 ideas has left a huge void at the heart of British Conservatism.  A void that is being filled with performative cruelty and mad conspiracy theories.

The country is gripped by an economic crisis that the Government has no answers to, a collapsing NHS whose problems were the predictable consequence of the Government policy, and a decline in standards of public life.

And so they will keep on shouting about immigrants and try to stoke up more culture wars in the hope that it will fill the emptiness in their politics. They have become political nihilists dedicated only to clinging to power and denying the opposition the chance to fix things.

While all of this goes on the Government has awarded a contract for £1.6bn to run 3 Asylum seekers barges for 2 years. Assuming full occupancy 365 days of the year that works out at £14.6k per person per night. Except of course right now no-one is in them.

Another failed asylum policy slips into oblivion.

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