Photo: Mary Finch
Photo: Mary Finch

Tories attempt to stoke division

Editorial of the Socialist issue 1218

Britain, like many other countries, is increasingly divided as the economic crisis continues to hit. The strike wave shows that the real division is along class lines – between those who have profited from the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis, and those who are suffering.

But as the Tories cling to power they are trying to push division in a different direction, attempting to blame migrants for the problems of a lack of housing, underfunded services and more. Contrary to the Tory propaganda, people only choose to try and cross the channel in small boats because they face a nightmare of war, environmental disaster or poverty at home.

Even under the Tories’ unfair and anti-refugee rules, the Refugee Council estimates that 60% of those who crossed the channel by boat last year were granted refugee status because of the horror they were fleeing from.

The Tories know that the introduction of their Illegal Migration Bill will not stop desperate people trying to flee to Britain. This is a cynical and very deliberate attempt to set the news agenda for prime minister Rishi Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman.

Their aim is to break down the working-class unity we have seen against the Tories. The contents of the bill itself acknowledge it is more than 50% likely to be found in contravention of the European Court of Human Rights (incidentally nothing to do with the European Union).

It will therefore face significant and expensive legal challenges and delays. Already it is facing opposition from senior Tories, particularly the bill’s provision to allow the government to detain children in immigration centres.

Tory panic

Polls show the Tories well behind in the polls; one recently revealed 61% of Britons want a new political party. Sunak and the Tories want to use the issue of migrants on boats to shore up some support, including in ‘red wall’ seats where they were able to make gains in the last general election.

Perhaps they think doing battle with a European court will help with that. Although it won’t be lost on some on the right wing of the Conservative Party that Sunak met with Macron to discuss boats and agreed to transfer £480 million across the channel.

The Illegal Migration Bill can have some effect in provoking divisions. In addition, it will mean continued misery for migrants fleeing war and oppression, and can embolden racists and the far-right to spread their hatred.

Exploiting working-class anger about a lack of affordable housing and falling living standards, far-right groups have assisted the Tories joining and organising protests against migrants being housed in hotels. Keir Starmer’s Labour must take its share of the blame for, failing to oppose anti-migrant propaganda and failing to fight for real improvements for working-class people. Football pundits have had far more effect in countering Tory racism than Starmer’s New Labour, whose spokespeople initially condemned Gary Lineker’s tweet.

Local councils spend an estimated £1.6 billion on temporary accommodation for homeless families every year, and rising.

Not a single Labour council has used its powers, such as compulsory purchasing of large-scale empty properties like hotels, for renovation into social housing for homeless people. Neither have any built the numbers of council homes anywhere near what is required to meet need.

So, while it’s necessary for socialists to point out why the Tories are turning now to whip up racism further, our analysis can’t end there. We have to put forward steps that the workers’ movement can take to stop division taking hold, by offering a socialist programme. One opportunity to do this will be standing workers’ candidates in the May local elections where possible and preparing to stand a workers’ list in the general election.

What is needed is to build a political voice for the workers’ movement, which can counter the lies, division and distortion from the Tories, while also offering an anti-austerity socialist alternative to the Labour Party that fights for jobs, homes and public services for all, and trenchantly opposes racism.

If such a party was to be formed, it would be an important tool for the workers’ and anti-racist movements’ preventing the growth of far-right groups, as well as being capable of defeating the Tories’ racist migration laws.