Rishi Sunak visiting Border Force in Kent, June 2023. Photo: Flickr/Simon Dawson Rishi Sunak visiting Border Force in Kent, June 2023. Photo: Flickr/Simon Dawson

Lindsey German on toxic Tories, Oppenheimer and the true causes of inflation

Rishi Sunak’s ‘small boats week’ ended with predictable tragedy: at least six people drowned off the coast of France while trying to cross the Channel. More than 40 died when their boat sank in the Mediterranean earlier that week. On Monday, the first asylum seekers were moved onto the prison hulk (for that is what it is) Bibby Stockholm in Portland, Dorset. Their stay was short lived as legionella was discovered in the water supply, underlining how unfit for human habitation this vessel is. The background noise to this was the deputy chairman of the Tory party declaring that those who didn’t like it here could ‘fuck off back to France’.

When Enoch Powell made his ‘rivers of blood’ speech in 1968, he was sacked from Edward Heath’s shadow cabinet. Today, leading figures in the Tory party sound off like the bigot in a corner of the pub, and barely a hair is turned. The ratcheting up of anti-migrant hysteria is not new. But here we have a government deliberately not dealing with the issue – the boats are coming because there are no safe routes to enter otherwise and there is a major backlog of cases because none are being processed – and using the problems that arise to further scapegoat migrants.

We also have an opposition that refuses to challenge many of the premises of the Tory policy and therefore is reduced to arguing that the government is not carrying out its racist policies with sufficient efficiency. Therefore the Rwanda policy of forcing asylum seekers to a distant third country to be processed, the housing of refugees and asylum seekers on barges or in tents, the criminal brutality of refusing safe routes of entry and so forcing desperate people onto small boats – none of these is argued against as a matter of principle. Instead, the assumption of a ‘problem’ with refugees and asylum seekers is one adopted by all mainstream parties.

There are some who argue that the ‘small boats week’ has been a failure for the Tories. In a narrow sense, maybe, with the failure of particular policies exposed to scrutiny. But this rightward drive over the question is deliberate, used to bolster flagging Tory support among its own voters, pressuring Labour to also move rightwards on the question, and building an atmosphere of racism and scapegoating which the government hopes will give it a better chance in next year’s election. 

Everywhere across the richest countries in the world the issue of migration has become a key question and is weaponised by right wing and fascist parties for electoral advantage. For those of us on the left, the worst course of action is to capitulate to the bogus arguments which blame migrants, refugees and asylum seekers for the mess that the country is in.

That means centring the question of class. This is an attack on the poor and working people from across the world. These people have suffered the effects of war, climate change, growing inequality, and the ravages of neoliberal capitalism. They have no choice but to put their lives in great danger in order simply to try to survive. They are not the enemy of working-class people in Britain, but their sisters and brothers, and we all face a common class enemy. This class enemy is content both to exploit migrants when it suits them and to endorse the scapegoating, because this ensures divisions between different races and nationalities within the working class.

Our rulers use the shortages that they have created – of housing, schools, health services – to create fears among the indigenous population, who are also suffering. So the failure of their children to find any kind of affordable housing, or the lengthy waits we must endure to see a GP, are used to justify keeping migrants out. But this only applies when it suits their interests. There are no barriers on rich migrants coming to live in Britain; and Germany alone has taken in 1 million Ukrainian refugees. So this is a war on those who can least afford it, and also on those who in large part come from the former colonies of the west.

There are many good moral arguments against the dominant political narrative and its racist policies: no human being should be treated like this; refugees and asylum seekers are often products of our wars and foreign policies; those who do settle contribute a great deal to British society. But unless we put class at the centre of these arguments, we will fail to understand why our rulers are so determined to promote their racist agenda.    

The bomb that didn’t win the war

I finally caught up with Christopher Nolan’s film Oppenheimer at the weekend and thought it was extremely good, with some political weaknesses. Just to highlight two: in the scene where Oppenheimer is considering joining the Communist Party, the phrase ‘property is theft’ was quoted as from Marx’s Capital. Not only was it not from Marx, rather from the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, but it was expressly criticised by Marx. In a film with such high production values that was a pretty big error. More importantly, on I think three occasions, justification for dropping the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was given that it was the only way of ending the war and thus saving American lives.

This is the conventional justification for it but doesn’t match the facts. Japan had already suffered incredibly heavy conventional bombing in 1945, with over 100,000 dead in Tokyo and 350,000 in all Japanese cities. The US had also cracked Japanese codes and knew there was talk of surrender. Immediately after the two bombings, the Soviet Union invaded Manchuria, and this is often thought to be more decisive in the surrender. The US was also determined to beat the Soviet Union, then still an ally, in the development and detonation of the bomb, to assert US power globally. Many military figures have since recognised some of these factors, yet the old justifications are still trotted out. But as Gabriel Kolko has pointed out, ‘The United States could have won the war without the Russians and without the atomic bomb’.

Overall however the film portrays exactly how the development led to the new Cold War, and the political machinations around the process.

Whose profits?

For those of you having to argue with recalcitrant employers who argue that your wages are pusing up inflation please take a look at this chart from the IMF. It’s those greedy old corporate profits that are making prices much higher. And it’s across Europe. More reason to support the strikes and continue fighting against them. So solidarity with the junior doctors, the consultants, the university staff, and all others taking action this week.  

This week: there’s a protest over those refugees killed at sea. I will be supporting the strikers, and doing some research on equal pay – which seems as elusive as ever.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.