Jackboots at the despatch box and in the comment section
In the Commons and from commentators, dehumanising people seeking asylum is business as usual.
Stochastic terrorism (n.):
”… the use of mass media to provoke random acts of ideologically motivated violence that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.”
— The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism (Hamm & Spaaij, 2017)
There are words that slip easily into media reports and ones which are conspicuous by their absence. On Sunday morning, a man firebombed an immigration centre before taking his own life. Local police said they were not treating the incident as terrorism; reporters and columnists followed suit.
On Twitter, the former BBC foreign correspondent, Hugh Sykes, told me:
The focus here should not be on the media description of an attack which has not yet been determined to have been terrorism but on the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, describing it merely as “a distressing incident”.
I think we can do both, but Sykes was right to point to the wording of Braverman’s first statement on the attack:
There was a distressing incident in Dover earlier today. I am receiving regular updates on the situation. My thoughts are with those affected, the tireless Home Office staff and police responding. We must now support those officers as they carry out their investigation.
Her thoughts didn’t extend to the people held inside the facility, only to their guards.
The morning after the attack, The Daily Telegraph’s front-page headline screeched: Migrants are set to share hotels with public as Channel crisis worsens. Imagine the horror of one group of humans sharing the same space as another which might include Telegraph readers.
By Monday afternoon, Braverman was in the Commons committing her latest act of stochastic terror:
The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast, and which party is not.
The idea that Labour would not continue the cruelty is a political attack line without substance. On October 5, the Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, complained that the Conservative Party simply wasn’t deporting enough people, and the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, echoed that in her reply to Braverman yesterday:
Decision making has collapsed: the Home Office has taken just 14,000 initial asylum decisions in the past 12 months, compared with 28,000 six years ago. Some 96% of the small boat arrivals last year have still not had a decision and initial decisions alone are taking more than 400 days on this Conservative Government’s watch.
The sketchwriters at the most right-wing papers were delighted. In The Times, Quentin Letts — a hobbit so odious even the Sackville-Bagginses cannot stand him — wrote:
Braverman talked about “the invasion” of migrants arriving on the south coast. She expressed exasperation that the hotels being used for some migrants were costing us £150 a person — “by my standards that is quite a nice hotel” — but it was done in a level voice. “I think we have to tell the truth to the British people. These people are not fleeing wars. They are coming here often having paid thousands of pounds.”
You see, the problem with Goebbells’ oratory was not the content but rather that he seemed so excitable when he was doing it; if only he could have used “a level voice”.
In the Mail, hereditary hack Henry Deedes paints a picture of “steely-eyed Suella” facing the “unlovely trio of Yvette Cooper, Emily Thornberry and… Thangam Debbonaire”, who he deems “metropolitan snoots” compared to (the Heathfield and Cambridge-educated KC) woman of the people.
The Old Etonian’s delight is evident in every word:
As [Braverman] took her place at the Despatch Box she greeted her audience with a nonchalant sang-froid. A smile here, a casual toss of the fringe there. She even had the brass neck to look up at the Press Gallery and give an unfriendly Guardian journalist a dainty little wave. Coo-ee!
And then she came out swinging.
The point, Suella elaborated, is that a lot of these so-called refugees are from Albania, which is not at war with anyone even if it does look like it's been bombed. One might add, according to some reports, that these gentlemen have come here to contribute to our world-beating narcotics industry - it makes you proud - which means they are almost certainly under-cutting our homeborn coke dealers.
Once again it is the honest Brit who gets stiffed by mass migration. The GBNews monologue writes itself.
People hearing you talk of the duties we have — international duties we have — to people who are seeking asylum may be tempted to say:
“Well, hold on, a lot of these people don’t look or sound like asylum seekers to me, they look like Albanians who come from a safe country to earn more money. Possibly they’re victims of criminal gangs.”
Has that changed the type of problem your members are facing working at Manston?"
When someone who works for an organisation specialising in international refugee law criticised the question on Twitter, Times columnist David Aaronovitch jumped in to defend Robinson:
You’ve truncated that quote, Daniel. He was pretty obviously talking about some people’s perceptions, and inviting a response, not making his own judgment.
A little later, Robinson himself followed up:
Thank you for pointing that out David. Wonder why [Daniel] thinks it helps to try to demonise people who want an open, calm, fact-based discussion of this complex policy problem?
I haven’t truncated the quote; I’ve transcribed it in full and the same issue remains: The psychic puppet created by Nick Robinson is reading from a script written by the far right. In this “fact-based” interview, he’s not quoting the beliefs of a named person but conjuring them up in his own mind.
“Some people say…” is a rhetorical trick that allows the speaker to launder a view as something someone else over there is saying while pretending they are “simply asking questions”. It is only an “open, calm, [and] fact-based discussion” to Nick Robinson because he feels safe to assume he will never have to flee across borders or have a journalist ponder if he looks enough like an asylum seeker to deserve help.
On LBC, Harry Cole — shilling his remaindering-yard-ready Liz Truss biography — had another variant of “some people are saying” for the listeners:
I think [Braverman] shored herself up last night. No one is going to come out fighting better for you than you if that makes sense. Yes, it was divisive. Yes, it was punchy. And yes, it was controversial. But she was saying what lots are people are thinking.
… Labour obsessively tries to hound Home Secretary Suella Braverman from office because she is unfashionable blunt over this wicked cross-Channel racket and determined to fix it.
Again, there’s that pretence that Labour isn’t as rabid on immigration as the Tories, a line designed to ensure that it lumbers even further right in the hopes of securing old Rupe’s favour. And Braverman’s “unfashionable” language? It was meant to have gone out of style in the 1930s but never has.
On the same page in the print edition, The Sun gets Kevin Saunders, billed as the “former chief immigration officer at Calais”1, to dust off the idea of “[processing] them on a liner in international waters”. Saunders has been a regular interviewee on the BBC, GB News, LBC and ITV since late 2021. His views about ‘them’ remain consistent as does his insistence that offshore processing is the answer, whatever the question.
The Times — The Sun with a more expensive thesaurus and a better grasp of table manners — opens its leader column on the topic by saying:
There’s no question that the situation at Manston, the Home Office’s processing centre in Kent for newly arrived asylum seekers who have crossed the Channel in small boats, is dire. A facility constructed to accommodate no more than 1,600 people is currently holding about 4,000, many forced to sleep on mats on the floors of marquees. Some have been detained for weeks in a centre that by law is only supposed to hold people for 24 hours while their details are taken and they receive medical checks. There have been outbreaks of scabies and diphtheria as well as cases of violence that staff attribute to overcrowded conditions.
There’s a feigned ignorance at work here. The suffering at Manston is not a bug but a feature. The government designed its “solutions” to be cruel and to fail in order to justify ever “tougher” measures. It’s a mindset echoed by the Telegraph’s leader:
… a more robust approach is needed. Mrs Braverman is being criticised for failing to provide enough accommodation to house the flood of asylum seekers arriving in Kent in boats. But the cramped conditions in which they live is a function of the growing number of arrivals. The key to this is to stop so many coming in the first place, not provide hotel facilities to welcome them. That would merely become another of the many pull factors that are already drawing them to the UK.
This “us vs. them” writing in its most literal sense; human beings are reduced to a “flood” to be feared and dealt with. These arguments don’t deal with data — the fact that France receives many more asylum applications than the UK is ignored — but instead, rely on more racist vibes than a flat-roof pub’s EDL fun day.
I'll tell you what's the real national security scandal — the illegal, uninterrupted arrival of 40,000 foreign nationals in Kent this year alone, many of them military-age Albanian men who will quickly disappear into criminality and the black economy.
… What if all 40,000 turned up together on a single day? Would we still be obliged to roll out the welcome mat? Or would we be entitled to treat it for what it really is — an invasion — and muster the forces to repel it?
If I take a hot-glue gun and start attaching Cornettos to Shetland ponies, can I start calling myself a unicorn breeder? Look at how the words stack up in Littlejohn’s first sentence — illegal, foreign, military-age — and how that drum beat quickens as he defines the “invasion” and longs for “forces to repel it”. There’s the stochastic terror again; Littlejohn won’t deliver the violence but he knows there are people out there in his readership who will hear the call.
Later in the same column, Littlejohn writes that he has “been at this game for more than 50 years, almost 35 as a columnist”. And “game” is the right word. It is a game for him, one where the rules don’t require him to back up his claims with anything more than the brutish force of his ego and the intensity of his hatred.
On the day after the petrol bombing, the talking heads were tweeting…
Mail on Sunday columnist Dan Hodges tweeting:
We’re supposed to be welcoming the return of grown-up politics. Fine. What if there’s actually no solution to the migrant crisis? Everyone — on all sides — is acting as if there is some magic fix. What if there’s no magic fix? What is there’s no fix at all?
Robert Peston tweeting:
There is a full-scale political crisis for the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, and new PM Rishi Sunak in the failure to prevent the Manston migrant processing centre from being totally overwhelmed by asylum seekers.
Allison Pearson tweeting:
Lots of complaints about conditions at Manston processing centre. No understanding — or empathy — for the huge pressure on public services (and deteriorating quality of life for the poorest Britons) caused by out-of-control immigration.
Hodges howling about the “crisis” that the Mail fuels and feed upon; Peston peddling Home Office talking points as though they were facts he just stumbled upon; Pearson writing, as ever, although she’s gunning for a new job with Der Stürmer, a chick-lit Leni Riefstensthal.
The words that are missing are “people”, “humanity” and “empathy”. It took minutes for the British press to feel sympathy for the man who threw the bombs (described in The Times as “a motorist”) and to fold his actions into their ever-ready argument: “The asylum seekers are to blame.”
Thanks for reading.
There are 5,723 subscribers to this newsletter (up 23 since last time). 445 people are currently paid subscribers (up 7 since the last edition). If you’re among them, thank you.
If you’re not, please consider upgrading to help support this newsletter. If I can reach 10% paid subscribers I can write more, commission guest posts, and offer more extra editions and bonus content.
Sometimes he’s called “the former chief immigration officer for the Border Force” if the editors want to make him sound more important.