Shoved Under The Carpet - Migration

The G20 Communique issued on July 8th has a standard issue policy on co-ordination and co-operation on displacement and migration.

It is the penultimate section before anti-corruption and after partnership in Africa but you would scarcely have thought it was there from the post-Summit 'spin' given to the media. The biggest issue affecting European politics, and a major issue in American politics, was studiously ignored in public discourse in favour of ... climate change! The impression we have here is of an elite still in denial about the conditions underpinning its own potential instability.

In the UK media coverage of migration has dropped dramatically since the Brexit Debate. This is partly because Arron Banks and his populists have gone silent and UKIP has collapsed to all intents and purposes but it is also because the political class and mainstream media are actively avoiding the subject unless and until it sticks its nose in their faces as an awkward fact on the ground. There was an edgy moment when the Grenfell Tower disaster seemed to indicate that there were more illegal migrants than were being admitted but the populism here was from the Left and not the Right.

Migration in the UK is being repositioned as an economic issue by Remainers. Access to cheap and skilled labour is central to business' resistance to the Tory Party's instinct for a Hard Brexit. Liberals and business are in alliance on this but, as the Marxist New Left Review's analysis should suggest, the Tories are political creatures who fully understand now that the Brexit vote was far more complicated than it appeared to them two months ago. Many working class Brexiters appear to have been not so much nationalist as national socialist, Brexit yes but also anti-austerity and wary of corporate claims.

From this perspective, the Labour Party has to be cautious about its instinctively liberal approach to migration (what works in London may not work elsewhere) while the Tories want to keep off the subject because they do not want to alienate their own liberal business wing or taunt the populists back into the field. And, so, there is a conspiracy of silence or rather one of news management in which most of the broadcast and print media are totally complicit. But things are bubbling up outside the UK and eventually something may crack, something that says what open borders really means.

For example, the Calais problem has simply been replaced by a Dunkirk problem in which small children are sleeping rough in woodlands. Common decency suggests one set of actions but awareness of what is piling up behind Dunkirk, in Italy, in Libya, in West Africa, suggests another set of actions. NGOs are engaged in a propaganda war to demand entry for migrants, targeting governments that know what the effects of a liberal policy would in practice be at home and abroad. Social media divides culture: outrage at the treatment of migrants matches rage at the prospect of more migration.

But the flow of migrants into Europe is now remorseless. Algeria has offered a progressive strategy of legal status that is only possible because it is not a democracy. Bill Gates has tried a backhanded way of getting more European development aid into Africa by (unusually) talking up the migration crisis. Austria had to back down on its populist claim that it would use troops on its border with Italy to block migrant flows. The Italians are under intolerable pressure. Yet no one seems to be offering anything more decisive than the liberal aspirations of that penultimate section of the G20 communique.