Two weeks ago at PMQs, David Cameron referred to the refugees living in the squalor of the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp as a “bunch of migrants”. This is not the first time the PM has demeaned the plight of refugees. In the past, he has dehumanised the people fleeing from war as a “swarm” and spoken of making “sure our borders are secure so you can’t break into Britain”. Such associations are dangerous; they imply a reality of Britain versus an invading criminal force, rather than of Britain and the role it must play in this unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
This time, however, the impact of his comment will go even further. In describing the refugees as a “bunch of migrants”, Cameron was not only playing on society’s fear of otherness, and consolidating his far-right support; he was simultaneously diverting the public’s attention from other, more important matters than a verbal own-goal during PMQs.
In the same week, the government had to contend with the High Court ruling which stated that their draconian Bedroom Tax policy was illegal in at least two cases, relating to domestic abuse and disabled children. Perhaps even more significantly, tax authorities struck a 3% corporate tax deal with Google, a multinational company which generates profits of around $66bn each year.
When questioned on this latest outrage, Cameron dismissed Jeremy Corbyn’s legitimate line of enquiry through a combination of sensationalist and historically emotive associations. He refused to directly answer Corbyn’s question of whether “the Prime Minister thought an effective tax rate [for Google] of 3% was right or wrong”; instead, he attacked Corbyn for his association with “the unions”, “the Argentineans” and the “bunch of migrants”, claiming that Corbyn prioritised the above over “hardworking taxpayers”. The statement was likely tactical, a distraction from questions about the hegemony of multinationals like Google, the ones who pose a real threat to taxpayers, and it is vital that his divisive rhetoric should be disseminated, in order to fully grasp its implications.
Firstly, it seems farcical that unions (including, but not limited to, the striking teachers, doctors and steel workers) should be treated as a separate entity to “hardworking taxpayers”, and it is extremely telling of Cameron’s detachment from the real world.
Secondly, Cameron is pandering to the residual sentimentalism of the Falklands war by saying that Corbyn’s democratic dialogue was giving “them the Falklands”. The use of “them” is particularly telling; it denotes an alien other, separate from the ‘us’, which, in Cameron’s mind, is defined as his government and a selective proportion of “hardworking taxpayers”. The “them”, meanwhile, refers not only to the 323 young men killed aboard the General Belgrano, the Argentinean warship sunk by the Royal Navy in 1982, but also to the unionists and the aforementioned “bunch of migrants”. It seems he is associating refugees with armies and acts of war, consequently implying they are an invading force, an existential threat to Britain and its selective assortment of “hardworking taxpayers”.
In reality, these taxpayers should be asking themselves why a multinational corporation like Google is being taxed through its Dublin office (Ireland has a corporate tax rate of 12%) rather than in England, where the rate of tax stands at a still comparatively low 20%, especially given that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has just been valued as the most expensive tech. multinational, having overtaken Apple. In Germany, the strongest Eurozone economy, the corporate tax rate is 33%, yet throughout its European operation, Google redirects all sales to Ireland, thus paying the minimum tax possible on every transaction. The French, Italian and German governments have all proposed harmonising tax rates in Europe, so as to close up multinational loopholes, but the Conservative government is still resistant.
The ‘other’ the public need to fear is not the unionists, Argentineans or refugees; it’s the big multinationals, and the corporate politicians protecting their interests, who are the real threat to taxpayers.
Why should a society as wealthy as our own be throwing people who are disabled and abused out onto the street? Why are we cutting the public sector to the bone, and dismantling the NHS? Why are we dehumanising and ignoring refugees who have already suffered so much? If you want the answer, then you need to ask the Tories.