Monday, April 05, 2004

What a long weekend that was

Friday seems like several months ago. Yesterday I spent the day helping Graham move in to his new house at the top of a big hill with an amazing view in Oldbury. I've discovered that you can fit a fridge in my car (I don't mean fit one for use on long journeys, I mean fit one in for transportation.)

Listened to five live whilst doing the washing up yesterday morning. There was a debate about immigration. It's an issue which concerns me a lot - not so much the issue actually, more the representation of it. As far as I have gathered, the Beverly Hughes thing all centres on the fact that the government's publicly stated position differed from their actual policy. Now, it's pretty clear that this is essentially an unsustainable position, and lies at the heart of the apparent distrust felt by the public at large about politics in general and, increasingly, this government in particular. However, in this case, whilst I'd never say it was a good idea, I do understand the government's predicament. After all, large swathes of the population, fed by a basically racist right wing media frezny, are clearly concerned about immigration and this leaves the government in what appears to be its least favourite position - having to offend the socially conservative (as opposed to say, the econonomically conservative.) It doesn't appear to have the same concerns about offending the socially liberal (Iraq, tuition fees, foundation hospitals etc etc) presumably because it feels that essentially it will never be deserted by enough of them, and perhaps also because there is the belief that social liberalism is in the minority in this country, at least when it comes to picking governments. The government have made some important "liberal" concessions - gay partnerships, the cannabis reclassification, probably some other things I can't think of at the moment, but on asylum and immigration, their rhetoric is slightly to the right of Thatcher.

But is that helping the asylum and immigration situation and the relationships between different ethnic, national and religious groups here? The Hughes business shows how in some cases at least they feel this hardline talk is unenforcable in practice. And the massive social problems caused by immigration and asylum are not made any better by the government sounding like the Daily Mail. It's easier for the government to hide behind the small minded rhetoric than it is to say "look, we need to take a bunch of people who look a bit different and understand God in a different way, but man, that's what this country is based on" because it polls a lot better with the focus groups. But politics should not always be about pandering to mass opinion, because mass opinion is (shock horror) not always based on real wisdom - its formed by education, newspapers, televisions, and life experiences. Some people think long and hard about the beliefs they hold, and where those beliefs originate but some people never do, and this is where the government can play a roll in changing and forming opinion. They must believe that too, because otherwise why would Blair have gone on television and held public debates on tuition fees and Iraq. Wait a minute - both of those are issues which cause more concern to the socially liberal "left wing" agenda. Blair has spent all of his leadership career winning over the left in his own party- clause 4 being a prime example. Maybe he needs to start believing he can win over the right too.