Cameron’s speech served a number of purposes. It reassured the Tory party’s right wing and drew a dividing line with the Liberal Democrats – which also gave Nick Clegg something he could object to and so help to appease his dwindling voters. It also played the race card just as the cuts are really starting to bite and face growing opposition.
Cameron spent a considerable amount of time “de-toxifying” the Tory brand, trying to turn the image of the “nasty” party into one of caring conservatives. The re-toxification of the Tories is proceeding rapidly.
What was particularly striking though about the speech was that Cameron used it to explicitly link the argument about immigration to the need for welfare cuts.
“The real issue is this: migrants are filling gaps in the labour market left wide open by a welfare system that for years has paid British people not to work. That’s where the blame lies – at the door of our woeful welfare system, and the last government who comprehensively failed to reform it.”
He added, “So immigration and welfare reform are two sides of the same coin…we will never control immigration properly unless we tackle welfare dependency. That’s another powerful reason why this government is undertaking the biggest shake-up of the welfare system for generations . . . and ending the option of living a life on the dole when a life in work is possible.”
So, after taking away benefits from migrants and making it more and more difficult for them to get access to the welfare system (a process started, of course, by New Labour), Cameron now wants to extend this process to all workers. The Tories see the welfare system as an impediment to work, allowing workers some minimal buffer against being forced into total desperation. Instead they want workers desperate for any employment, a fact which would erode workers’ bargaining position over wages and conditions to the advantage of employers.
And to drive this through the Tories aim to divide workers in work from the workless as well as from immigrants.
Yet what it really shows is that it is in the direct interest of all workers to defend migrant workers. What is forced onto migrants today will then be forced on all the unemployed tomorrow, with the aim of driving down wages in general. It is a clear demonstration of the interest all workers have in uniting to fight against racism and to defend immigrants.
And Cameron’s “facts” are of course all nonsense. The immigrants concerned, who are picking fruit in Kent or serving coffee in the City or labouring on building sites, are nearly all from EU states in eastern Europe. As such they are exempt from immigration controls.
It shows how desperate and weak the Tories are, but also how nasty. Fighting to defend the cuts will need solidarity with migrants if we are to avoid the Tories dividing us.
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