Martin Luther King had a dream where little white boys and white girls would stand hand in hand with little black boys and black girls. Suella Braverman, the new Home Secretary, has a different vision. She told the Conservative Party Conference (CPC) in her speech this week that her dream is to seemingly see some other little boys and girls, all grown up, manhandled onto planes and deported to Rwanda.
As I have written previously, Braverman is likely to be a more effective and more dangerous Home Secretary than her predecessor, Priti Patel. What seemed less likely was for her to be a more morally repugnant one. It is one thing to say that you want to ensure that the UK has an effective, if morally and legally questionable, arrangement with Rwanda. It is quite another to say that you literally dream of flights to the despotic regime taking off.
Of course, it may be that this is just the consequence of being at CPC in 2022. Anyone willing to pay good money to associate themselves with the unhinged rump that remains of the Conservative Party will be a fully signed up member of what is now a cult, not a political organisation. Suspending your critical faculties in favour of tribal loyalty is the price of entry. And among this cohort, it is easy for ministers and MPs to find that policies and comments which would ordinarily be beyond the pale suddenly appear eminently reasonable. It’s not inconceivable that a minister floated the idea to their special adviser that they should advocate the return of hanging and flogging, only to have their spad frantically shoot it down.
Given Braverman’s track record though, and her various comments to media outlets before the conference even began, her dreams of deportation are probably only the tip of the iceberg. Braverman also suggested that the MPs who had undermined Truss’ economic reforms had perpetuated a ‘coup’, that the UK should consider leaving the European Convention on Human Rights again, and that immigration – lawful or otherwise – is still the UK’s achilles heel.
Assuming that Liz Truss remains in office until the next general election, the most probable, if not only, route to a Tory victory is going to involve doubling down on social policies like these. Even if the economic reforms that Truss and Kwarteng have put their faith in does somehow bear fruit, the prospect of it being harvested in time for the electorate to even consider putting the Tories in power for yet another five years seems improbable. Instead, stoking fear of immigrants and refugees – aided and abetted by sympathetic journalists for the likes of The Sun – will be key to the Conservatives clinging to power in Downing Street.
It is establishing this culture of fear that ministers are focussing on. In Braverman’s speech and in her briefings to the media, much was made of marauding migrants crossing the Channel, of Albanian trafficking victims, and of lefty lawyers defending asylum seekers’ rights in courts. Braverman peppered her speech with references to the ‘law-abiding majority’ and pitted this majority against people ‘abusing our asylum system’, like the convicted sex-offenders claiming to be victims of modern slavery.
Rather less has been made of how Braverman actually intends to tackle these problems. The Times’ headlines about how asylum seekers crossing the Channel will have their claims automatically refused did not even make it into her speech, while her other solution – leaving the ECHR – has already been repudiated by the government. Instead, in her speech at CPC, Braverman preferred to focus on the scale of the challenge before her, admitting that there are ‘no quick fixes’. There are also no new fixes, judging by her four proposed solutions. She believes that the problem can be solved by working more closely with the French, ‘finding a way’ to make Rwanda work, getting asylum-seekers out of hotels, and by not allowing a ‘foreign court to undermine the sovereignty of our borders.’
Of these mooted fixes, it is the French and the European Court at Strasbourg that are paramount. Not because there is any actual prospect of them helping resolve the question of Channel crossings and illegal migration, but because they create a fall guy. Having created their bogeymen, whether it is the Albanian people-traffickers or the convicted criminals claiming to be victims of modern slavery’, the Tories need to explain why it’s not the Conservative government’s fault that they are able to do so.
Obviously, having been in power for the best part of twelve years, having removed the oversight of the EU and its Court of Justice, and up until recently having had little effective opposition from the Labour Party, anyone with an iota of awareness would know that it is because the Conservative government has been consistently incompetent. A competent, moral government would have introduced safe routes for asylum, would have given asylum-seekers the right to work, and would have introduced an effective and efficient decision-making process.
Instead, government ministers like Braverman have to desperately spin the falsehood that the fault lies with the French for refusing to keep people within their borders and with the Strasbourg justices for refusing to let the UK government violate human rights. It is easy to think that the people won’t fall for this again. After the failure of Brexit to deliver anything close to what it promised, and after the corruption of Boris Johnson’s government, any right-thinking person would reject the Tories’ lies and half-truths out of hand. But if the fact that some MPs are considering restoring Boris Johnson to office tells us anything, it is that right-thinking people can think some very stupid things.
Hopefully the Conservative government has run out of road. Watching Liz Truss flail in every media interview, unable to rationalise either her social or economic policies must show a Conservative Party that is in its death throes. But if it is to find a way back, clawing its way back up the polls, it will do so because of people’s fears, not because of the state of their pocketbooks.