Our ‘Hostile Environment’ Towards Migrants Only Exists with Public Consent

The Windrush storm is passing but in its wake we aren’t seeing a nation bridging the vast discrepancy between propaganda and the reality of its immigration policy. The waves of anger still lap at Theresa May’s feet, but this rage is oddly disembodied, with the hostile environment still as popular as ever. Windrush was never going to reverberate enough with the public to turn around negative attitudes to immigration. So how do we reform perception, not just policy?

The public support for Home Office victims and other signs of softening attitudes, such as the decline in Ukip’s influence, are not as heartening on second glance. Ukip’s electoral collapse is largely to the benefit of the Tories. The vote to leave the EU sucked the air out of a one-cause party and Ukip’s inertia fed the Tories’ momentum. Even at a time when an entire nation can get behind elderly and vulnerable victims who have been wrongfully deported or denied healthcare, it failed to translate to a more compassionate view at the ballot box. The Tories have successfully ignited Brexit’s anti-immigration fumes by sharpening the tone and rhetoric. A UN representative has even reported a Brexit-related growth in racism.

There seemed to be a return to the three mainstream parties, with the Liberal Democrats having a better-than-expected showing, but the collapse of the Ukip vote didn’t benefit them all equally. Labour did not make the kind of gains the Conservatives did. The Tories ended up in net terms not that far off from where they started, but the majority of the seats they lost were in immigration-tolerant areas such as London, and the majority of seats won were in areas where support for Brexit is high. Three of the four councils the party took control of (Basildon, Peterborough, Redditch) are places where the leave vote in 2016 was more than 60%. There is a sentiment grounded in closed borders, and withdrawal from the EU, that is impervious to the picture that has emerged of an overly harsh immigration system.

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