This Op Ed appeared in The Statesman newspaper in Kolkata, and skewers the madness of Tory immigration/xenophobia/economic jingoism on this boggy Isle. The writer is a staffer on that paper – jolly good to see that the rest of the world notices your crap Cameron. ‘Independent ethics advisor’ my arse – he is called Sir, which means he’s hardly independent, nor ethical. And anyway, as an advisor, his job is to tell Cameron what he can and can’t get away with. Not a brake, more an alibi.
The moral netherland
2 June 2012
UK’s increasing non-EU visa restrictions and requirements are symptomatic of a country that has not yet found the means or the will to articulate its ever-decreasing position in the world pecking order, writes lara choksey
Of all the things that the Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of British Press has exposed, perhaps one of the most remarkable is that British Prime Minister David Cameron has an ethics advisor. Responding to the possibility of being called up in front of the Inquiry, Mr Cameron said that should any evidence against him suggest the breaking of ministerial codes, he will call in Sir Alex Allan ~ his independent ethics advisor ~ for consultation.
On one level it seems sensible to have someone in or around Downing Street who can determine the ethical dimensions of political quandaries. On another, it is disturbing that the leader of a country that has not ceased promoting itself as a moral leader in the world needs someone else to distinguish between right and wrong.
In terms of the international Press, there are two stories dominating discussions of the UK. The first is the Leveson Inquiry, which started off as a simple matter of investigating the hacking of celebrity phones by itinerant news agencies, and which has now begun to expose the sordid nature of Downing Street’s relationship with the Murdochs under the Cameron, Brown and Blair leaderships.
This in itself is nothing new; anyone who has watched an episode of Yes, Minister! would expect nothing more. But when placed parallel to the second story circulating across the globe ~ that of implemented and threatened restrictions on UK visas for those who do not meet specific economic requirements ~ the hypocrisy and shortsightedness at Westminster’s rotten core becomes ever clearer.
There are two issues at stake here. The first concerns Downing Street’s idea of Britain as a moral leader in global politics. The second concerns Downing Street’s idea of what constitutes Britain’s nationhood. The discursive frame through which Mr Cameron and his ministers frame Britain domestically and internationally reveals a central administration willfully ignoring the economic and cultural heterogeneity of the population under its control, as well as the hypocrisy of its justifying its actions to the rest of the world on the grounds of moral superiority.
Above any other nation ~ in terms of pure numbers ~ India is the country likely to be most affected by the UK’s increasing non-EU visa restrictions and requirements. According to the International Passenger Survey, Indian nationals made up the largest percentage (11.9 per cent) of immigrants granted entry to the UK in 2010-11. Of these Indian nationals, a large number entered the UK on student visas. Those entering in 2010 would have been granted a two-year post-study work visa.
Fast forward a year, and there has been more than a 30 per cent drop in the number of Indian nationals applying for student visas, with many choosing the United States, Australia and Canada as alternatives. This is partly because the post-study work visa was scrapped this April, and partly ~ according to some British university professors ~ due to the increasing hostility and suspicion shown by the UK border agency towards non-EU students, particularly those from South Asia. This observation is compounded by the fact that the total number of student visas granted by the UK to non-EU residents dropped by 62 per cent in the first quarter of 2012.
We could easily leap to charges of xenophobia, and speculate about a small island closing its borders as a four-year recession refuses to budge. The residual prejudices of post-9/11 homeland security become an increasingly convenient justification for reinforcing national borders. Yet, this logic ignores the pre-Olympic pro-investment road show that various British foreign diplomats have been charged with promoting in their respective countries over the last 12 months, encouraging non-EU businesses to invest in the UK.
In February, the UK immigration minister Mr Damien Green announced that from 2016, people not from the EU and not earning at least £35,000 will not be able to apply to be a permanent resident in the UK. The message is clear: the UK welcomes big business and high salaries, regardless of ideology or investment ethics. Diversity is embraced, as long as it comes with a thick cheque book. In return, multinational companies benefit from tax evasion and low borrowing costs on international financial markets. It is undeniably ~ at least for the moment ~ a mutually beneficial arrangement. Prosaic questions of ethics are put out of the window ~ Britain is in a recession, and dog will eat dog.
Why does this matter to India? Apart from the fact that Britain is still considered to be a desirable place to visit, study and live (although this view is undoubtedly changing), this matters because Britain is behind the times. Specifically in the context of India’s increasing importance on the world stage ~ both economically and diplomatically ~ Britain’s restrictions on non-EU immigration seem ridiculous. Such restrictions are symptomatic of a country that has not yet found the means or the will to articulate its ever-decreasing position in the world pecking order.
For the sake of argument, let us just speculate that Britain once had a right to claim moral superiority over other nations (we need not go very far back in history to look at the violence of such a claim). But as the Cameron government decimates the welfare structures that might have once allowed Britain to claim a certain moral superiority with regard to providing the infrastructure (if not always the materialisation) of holistic care for its population, the claim becomes increasingly fragile. A national heath service, financial support for people at the bottom of the food chain, and ~ perhaps most pertinently in the context of the visa discussion ~ open borders for economic migrants and political refugees: these are some of the structures that might convincingly constitute the discourse of moral superiority.
Yet, in the last twenty years, these structures have become dirty words in Downing Street, replaced by privatisation, austerity and border security, seemingly in direct spite of the increasing scale of global poverty and warfare: so many people have never been so poor, and genocide has never been simpler. India should take heed: there is a fast-appearing vacancy in the global moral high-ground market that needs prompt filling. In an interview published in The Daily Telegraph on 25 May, 2012, British home secretary Ms Theresa May responded to a question on curbing immigration by saying: “The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration.” We might ask, what constitutes an illegal migrant? The term suggests an international law preventing movement between countries. However, while the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights decrees that a country should grant entry to its own citizens, there is no international law that prevents a person from entering a country in the first place.
Immigration laws are national laws, coded by national interests and national understandings of who should be allowed entry. Thus, we learn much about the way in which a country understands itself by the way in which it categorises those who arrive on its shores. In the UK, the terms of ‘illegal migration’ are clear: it has everything to do with economic status. Those who are not considered fit to make a significant economic contribution to the UK, quite simply, become illegal ~ outside legitimacy ~ and vulnerable to any form of physical or mental subjugation. The right to claim access to Britain is based on purely economic terms: this is the new model of national belonging.
Downing Street has thrown off the mantle of social responsibility, both domestically and internationally. Internationally speaking, its participation in Libya on the grounds of humanitarian intervention is laughable when we consider that there is a British Ambassador ~ Nicholas Ray ~ permanently stationed in Khartoum, Sudan. His purpose is to perform diplomacy with the al Bashir government, an administration currently carrying out ethnic cleansing operations on its borders. Domestically, the British government’s claim to provide for its population (as opposed to its citizens) is being made forfeit by the systematic destruction of structures built on the ideas of a common right to life, and the responsibility of government to provide for its population. The Cameron government’s policies are regressive to a Dickensian degree, and increasing internal unrest ~ characterised by last year’s riots ~ will only be kept at bay by Jubilee morale boosting for so long. With the removal of welfare structures, Downing Street would model Britain as nothing more than a vast, transnational bank, complete with hordes of the hungry standing outside. From an international perspective, this is the only form of diversity Cameron’s government is currently interested in promoting.
The writer is on the staff of The Statesman
[10.6.2012 Lara adds: Clarification: I take it for granted that ‘morals’ are socially-inscribed codes, whereas ethics – broadly speaking – are a means of defending concepts of right and wrong actions. My use of the phrase ‘moral superiority’ is therefore performative – the description or impression of a national discourse, as opposed to ‘ethical behaviour’. A longer piece might make this distinction clearer, but I did not feel it was necessary to point out the ethical importance of, for example, the NHS etc.
To clarify my argument and take it forward: firstly, that Britain’s claim to moral superiority is being made forfeit not because it ever had a right to make this claim in the first place, but because the infrastructure supporting this claim (class/gender/race equality and equal opportunities and so on) is being dismantled: the discourse, or performance, can no longer support itself.
Or so it would seem from one perspective. However, taking this forward, I would suggest that if Britain maintains its performance of ‘moral superiority’ on an international stage, then the discourse (and infrastructure) of ‘moral superiority’ is now based on codes of economic viability. To be ‘moral’, in the context of Downing Street’s national aspirations, one must be financially solvent. Foreign investors are invited to buy a stake in moral superiority.]