I honestly believe the public mood on migration has changed since the terrible discovery of 71 badly decomposing bodies in a lorry in Austria. Included in that number were four children, the youngest being just one year old. Not that our politicians have noticed, mind you. Nigel Farage and the Home Secretary Theresa May are still banging on these desperate human beings as if they were nothing better than parasitical benefit scroungers, neither uttering a single word of compassion. I am not surprised as both Ukip and the Tories are joined in a hideous fight in order to show which one has the nastiest attitude to people who may look a little different from the rest of us and may speak a different language too.
Labour’s leadership candidate Yvette Cooper has made a stunning speech today, one that will not garner any popularity for her in the Labour Party or in the country at large, but she was right to say it. As she herself put it, migration is “difficult politics” but for once a senior politician has made a very public intervention in support of “fathers, sons, sisters, brothers, daughters, mothers.” Yes – a politician that didn’t describe human beings as a “swarm” but as real human beings.
For years, desperate people escaping desperate conditions have been abused and dreaded by our media and by our politicians but the truth, thanks to the likes of Ms Cooper, is finally out there.
I reprint much of Cooper’s speech from today in the certain knowledge that a Tory leader would never say anything remotely like it and indeed that Farage would condemn her unreservedly for making it.
“We seem paralysed to respond. Stuck in the troubled politics of immigration when this is about asylum instead. Stuck treating immigration and asylum as the same thing when they are completely different – and we should keep them so. Stuck hiding behind disputes over student visas, illegal working or European agency workers, when none of that has anything to do with refugees.
“Stuck talking only about ‘migrants’ when we should mean fathers, sons, sisters, brothers, daughters, mothers. Stuck in political cowardice that assumes British voters’ unease about immigration means they will not forgive anyone who calls for sanctuary – even though our nation has given shelter to the persecuted for centuries, and sometimes moral leadership is needed.
“What many are fleeing is a new totalitarianism of our time. From Isil and Islamist extremists – a doctrine that promotes terrifying violence in the name of ideology, that appeals to fervour, yet dehumanises opponents, that persecutes, oppresses and slaughters all those who get in their way.
We may have a generation-long battle against the new totalitarianism just as we did its predecessors. And just as we did faced with totalitarian regimes past, we have a moral responsibility again do our bit to help those who flee to survive.
“It’s time for us to do more. Yes, the politics are difficult. But not if we do this together. Time for the Government to pull together an urgent national conference to work with communities and councils to see how many places we can offer to refugees from Syria and the Mediterranean. Time to ask cities, towns, communities how much they each can do to help. If every city took 10 refugee families, if every London borough took 10 families, if every county council took 10 families, if Scotland, Wales and every English region played their part, then in a month we’d have nearly 10,000 more places for vulnerable refugees fleeing danger, seeking safety. 10,000 instead of 200.”