Tory defence secretary Michael Fallon told Sky News last Sunday that the government would “prevent whole towns and communities being swamped by huge numbers of migrant workers”.
The mainstream parties and press are ramping up racist rhetoric in the run-up to the Rochester and Strood by-election. Ukip hopes to take another Tory seat there.
Fallon continued, “In some areas, particularly on the east coast, towns do feel under siege from large numbers of migrant workers and people claiming benefits.”
His language feeds into the racist propaganda that ordinary people are under attack from migrants.
In reality, migrants come to work. It’s Tory austerity that attacks workers and piles pressure onto public services.
Prime minister David Cameron had already said that limiting European Union (EU) immigration would be a “red line” in negotiations with European leaders.
And last week Labour leader Ed Miliband chimed in with a speech in the Rochester constituency.
He agreed with Cameron saying Britain “needs stronger controls on people coming here”.
Miliband promised a new immigration bill would be among the first laws passed if Labour wins the 2015 general election.
This would increase the number of checks on people entering or leaving Britain.
He has also joined the right in calling for looser rules when deporting foreign nationals who have been convicted of crimes in Britain.
The proposed measures are unlikely to affect immigration levels, but will make it easier to scapegoat migrants who do come.
While Miliband denied pandering to Ukip, he went on to say, “I have a simple message for people considering voting Ukip—we don’t need to risk three million jobs or the NHS to deliver credible change on immigration.
“Labour will do it.”
Fallon has backtracked from using the word “swamped”—but the dog whistle has been blown.
He echoed Margaret Thatcher’s 1978 speech about how “people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture”.
He is also associating immigrants with benefit claimants, feeding the old racist claim that migrants both come here to “steal jobs” and “live off benefits”.
Downing Street told him to withdraw the comments, but this has upset precisely the people they were intended to keep on board.
That same morning Tory environment secretary Elizabeth Truss contradicted Fallon.
She said more migrants were needed in the areas he claimed were being “swamped”.
Yet Cameron is also talking about capping the number of unskilled EU workers allowed into Britain.
The Tories and Labour are competing to prove how tough they are on immigration. This will only strengthen Ukip and pull politics further to the right.
Anti-racists must oppose them and fight for unity.