The so-called ‘migrant crisis’ isn’t really a crisis threatening the British way of life, whatever Nigel Farage and his ilk tell us. It’s a wholesale human tragedy. And the deadly new Covid variant from Southern Africa that could threaten our recovery also sharply underlines global inequalities. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, no one’s safe till everyone’s safe.
The pandemic’s been far worse sur le continong than here this year, partly because we were quicker off the mark with vaccination.
Also partly because, since Brexit, Brand Britain is a bit tarnished in Europe. So they rather took against the Oxford jab.
But the underlying reality is the nasty Omicron strain may find a way of dodging existing inoculations. Giving us as much of a problem as anyone else.
Mercifully, manufacturers are confident they can adapt their products pretty quickly to meet the new challenge.
Please god they’re right. So scary. But as long as less well-heeled countries can’t afford to catch up, they remain potential breeding grounds for new, deadly developments.
Feeding into this miserable mix is the pitiful deaths in the Channel of all those people fleeing extreme danger or poverty.
Every one of them was someone’s daughter or son. Many had children, sisters, brothers, wives or husbands.
And, for all the crocodile tears shed by folk who dismiss them as mere ‘migrants’, the British and French governments have blood on their hands.
Yes, there has been a huge spike in the number of people making the perilous crossing in flimsy little boats.
But they’ve chosen to take that risk because tightened security has made the previous method of choice – the backs of lorries – hugely more difficult.
And, that ‘B’ word again, they used to be able to claim asylum elsewhere in Europe then cross the Channel legally later.
Now they have to be on UK soil to do so. Which is why this unpredictable and desperately crowded shipping lane has become the pinch point.
So why not just stay in supposedly safe France? Because they’re treated pretty brutally there, and, besides, many have family or cultural ties with us.
This harrowing tale says it all.
Mariam Nouri Hamadameen, a twenty-four-year-old student from Iraq, risked her life – and lost it – in a desperate attempt to join her fiancé, a Kurdish immigrant living in UK.
He was tracking her during the crossing until her signal abruptly disappeared just over four hours into the journey.
A love story with a tragic end.
‘Her mother and father are totally devastated,’ her cousin, Krmanj Ezzat, told Sky News.
‘The situation is just awful. She was a woman in the prime of her life.’
Nonetheless, this year nearly twenty-six thousand other people have made it here.
But branding them ‘illegal immigrants’ – face it, often a euphemism for greedy scum – is factually incorrect, according to the Refugee Council.
Nearly all arrivals in the last eighteen months, they say, have been from countries where there’s an awful lot of persecution.
Which is why a clear majority of them have in the end been granted refugee status or protection.
Of course, MP’s operate at the whim of public opinion. And many of them are getting a lot of grief from constituents about UK being a ‘soft touch’.
And, certainly, Angele Merkel’s popularity plummeted when she responded to an influx of refugees from warzones with the words: ‘Wir schaffen das.’
‘We’ll manage this?’ The punters didn’t think so.
But Germany regained its sense of proportion in time. And last week’s tragedy might help us do the same.
It is after all surely not inconceivable we might manage to integrate twenty-six thousand people, in an overall population of nearly seventy million.
That’s not to say there isn’t a problem, because there is. But it’s far more complicated than it might seem.
As the Refugee Council’s boss, Enver Solomon, puts it, we could do with: ‘Less empty rhetoric, more intelligent realism, less nationalist posturing.
‘More global leadership .. and less punitive control. At the end of the day, more compassion is what we really need.’
Back in the Bubble, meanwhile, there’s not been a lot of compassion for Boris Johnson’s cockup at the Confederation of British Industry.
Twenty-one seconds of footage – must have felt like several lifetimes to him – in which he fumbled with his script, saying ‘forgive me’ and ‘blast’.
Doubtless he felt something more, shall we say, Anglo-Saxon, would have fitted the bill better. But he managed not to. Just.
Of course the papers had a field day, not only concerning that bit, but about his then rambling on about some kids’ theme park.
As the Daily Star put it, as only the Daily Star could: ‘Bizarre Bozo Speech on, ahem, Peppa Pig – A Pork Pie Short of a Picnic.’
Certainly his audience wasn’t laughing. One seasoned commentator’s take was brutally barbed.
‘Sometimes when a comedian’s shtick falls flat it’s the beginning of the long, slow transition ..
‘From a highly-rated BBC One show to failing to pack out the venue on a cruise ship.’
But will the episode will do him as much damage as was initially thought? To coin the phrase, only time will tell.
Bojo’s backers say for god’s sake he got Brexit done and did pretty well on the vaccine rollout, so it’ll just evaporate like most shock horror headlines.
But his enemies point out it’s an image, so people haven’t got to be bothered to read anything, or think about it. Just soak up the metaphor.
The impression of overweening overconfidence conveyed by one-time Labour leader Neil Kinnock falling into the sea certainly lingered.
As did the awkward sense caused by Ed Miliband struggling to eat a bacon sandwich.
Even the word getting out that John Major used to tuck his shirt into his underpants did damage to his credibility.
Same applies to the Sun headline ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ under a picture of the then Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan.
He didn’t actually say it, but in the toxic atmosphere of the so-called winter of discontent three decades ago it was deeply harmful.
Right now there can be no doubt of the frustration at the top of government about Bojo’s bungling ways.
And his potential successor, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, is said to be ever so cross about what a government source called ‘the maelstrom of chaos at No 10’.
Funny way to spell the word in this magazine, but let’s let that pass.
And let’s hope, and pray also, that between them the vax makers and government’s new travel restrictions knock the new Covid variant for six.
Assuming they do, we can look forward to a reasonably trouble-free Christmas, though getting used to living with the virus has complications of its own.
The fact that restauranteurs are being hit hard by no-shows is indicative of people’s inner turmoil, according to experts.
Clinical psychologist Linda Blair argues that planning nights out then not going ahead suggests fear is fighting friendliness.
‘Cortisol is the hormone that shoots up when we are alerted to danger,’ she says.
‘And nobody has previously had to live with cortisol levels as high as we’ve had since March 2020.’
What’s more, she goes on, the months of on-off lockdowns have meant we’ve never regained our equilibrium. Her advice, then?
‘We should still go back to socialising because it is so beneficial .. but take it slow, be nice to yourself and recognise that everybody is feeling it.’
So it seems, as the acronym FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) has been replaced by HOGO – the Hassle Of Going Out.
Which younger readers will recognise as a Covid-specific variant of CBA. Can’t Be *rsed.
Or, for those who can’t even be *rsed to say can’t be *rsed, read ‘Ceebs’. Which is quite sweet, in its maddening sort of way.
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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