It appears there's an election on. It's easy to tell because the Tories have started getting back to their ABCs, like attacking immigrants. After spending all that time and money trying to convince us that they had changed, that they were modern, that they were no longer the nasty party, David Cameron has suddenly remembered that his supporters actually are nasty little racists. In a time when a Tory victory is looking far less assured, Cameron thinks he needs to move to shore up his core vote against the likes of UKIP; that means reaching for the dog whistles. Once upon a time Cameron bent over backwards to shift the public image of his party towards a new fluffy, friendly style. He even changed the logo to a piece of broccoli - what more could we ask of him? However, the general election campaign is beginning to look more and more like it will mirror the despicable 2005 "Are you thinking what we're thinking..." campaign by the day. At the weekend Cameron announced a flagship policy that if he were elected prime minister he would slash net immigration. The Tories have backed up this launch with a national roll-out of posters attacking Gordon Brown personally for letting in too many immigrants. Cameron plans to cut immigration by imposing a strict "cap" on numbers, a policy as reprehensible as it is unworkable.
Of course Cameron can say he is in favour of drastically reducing net immigration but he happens to be pushing buttons that he has little control over. Most British immigration is from the EU and there is no mechanism to restrict this. More than that, when it comes to Tory immigration policy, as with all their other policies, money will trump any other consideration. Left-of-centre think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research asked: "Would the government be happy to tell KPMG that it could not bring over an analyst from its New York office? Or to tell Arsenal that it could not sign a promising young player from Cote d'Ivoire?" The answer is, of course, no. Immigration controls are about keeping the poor out. If you have wealth behind you, your free passage will always be assured. The flip side of this is that immigration laws are frequently used against union organisation. While we allow these laws to force part of the workforce to live in fear of being deported, we hand the employers a union-busting tool on a plate. While we have a situation where there are tight restrictions on the movement of labour while capital is free to travel as it pleases, those who exploit us are being dealt all the trump cards. Our solidarity, sympathy and friendship has to be with those who work alongside us no matter where they are from - because the alternative is to allow their presence to divide us. For the left we have to have the basic understanding that the lines on a map are not some objective standard of worth and if you were born on one side of an abstraction your rights as a citizen should not be quite different from if you come from the other side of that conceptual marker.
The right is quite wrong to cite pressure on our public services as a reason to curtail immigration. Without migrant workers the NHS, for example, would collapse. Whether it's cleaners, nurses, doctors or specialists the health service is propped up at every level by workers who have come from overseas. Far from being a burden on public services, immigrants are responsible for keeping them functioning, yet we treat them like we are doing them a favour. It is not just the Tories, though would that it were. Cameron's announcement came just a day after Defence Minister Kevan Jones attacked the idea that Gurkhas should be allowed to settle in Britain. He explicitly denounced Joanna Lumley, who has been a high-profile campaigner in favour of Gurkhas' rights, saying that she was guilty of "raising expectations" and that she should be making it clear that Gurkhas have no rights. Amid allegations that Gurkhas bound for Britain were being forced to pay hundreds of pounds in legal advice in Nepal, Jones said of Lumley: "Her deathly silence, frankly, irritates me." It's interesting that the Labour minister is more irritated by someone who campaigns for extending people's rights than he is by the laws of his own government that perpetuate the injustice in the first place. In particular Labour's record on asylum has been a disgrace.
There was a grim reminder of this in Glasgow two weeks ago when a family whose application had been turned down committed suicide together. The three Russians jumped from a tower block on the day they were to be evicted from the hostel in which they were staying, having lost their appeal to stay in Britain. These deaths are just the most visible reminder of the horrors that our government inflicts upon people whom it has decided cannot have even the basic rights that we regard as normal. Recent events in Yarl's Wood, with protests and hunger strikes, show that people will stand up for their rights. But without our support they are left in a very vulnerable position. Locking up children is an abomination at the best of times, but locking them up just because they are foreign is a disgrace that no Labour government should ever be associated with. Yet this is not just commonplace, the government takes pride in its harsh attitude towards those from other countries. If the political parties hope to fight this election on the idea of "fairness" then let them start with the way we treat guests to this country. Imprisoning those fleeing torture, impoverishing those seeking shelter and treating as a "problem" those who have come here to make a contribution to society is not fair. It should not be a criminal offence to have the wrong colour passport. It should be regarded as a universal human right to travel from one place to another freely without one state or another treating you with contempt because you don't seem to know your place.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.