Yesterday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman gave a speech. The 4,497-word presentation at the right wing American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, marks a new low in the assault on hard won legal rights, often promoted by international organisations or guaranteed by treaties.
The first of those international instruments, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, celebrated its 80th anniversary just a few weeks ago. In the rubble of post War Europe, the UN declared that “the inherent and inalienable rights of all members of the human family was the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.
This international consensus led to a range of binding treaties including the 1951 Refugee Convention, that Braverman roundly trashed on Tuesday and the European Convention on Human Rights that the Tories detest so much. That Braverman chose to make such a speech in Washington is both highly significant and ironic.
The significance lies in the alliance that the American and British right seek to forge on these issues. The attack on migrants and multiculturalism was framed by Braverman as “an existential challenge for the political and cultural institutions of the West” with “uncontrolled immigration, inadequate integration and a misguided dogma of multiculturalism, a toxic combination for Europe”.
Make no mistake, just as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan once combined to dismantle the agreed economic order with their neoliberal revolution, so the forces of the right now seek to rip up our social and political rights. They want to re-define the type of society that we live in. Vilifying migrants and the very idea of multiculturalism, restricting our right to protest and proclaiming a false national sovereignty over international agreements are all part of the same playbook. A Trumpian political gambit to keep the right in power, no matter what the cost. A cultural war if you like.
The irony lies in the fact a daughter of an immigrant, who is the current Home Secretary serving under a Prime Minister who himself is the son of an immigrant, could make a speech that so closely echoes Enoch Powell. Even worse is how synonymous the US has become with this intolerance. After all, Eleanor Roosevelt, a former first lady, was the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights and oversaw the drafting of the Declaration on Human Rights.
More intriguing is the views of the right’s own demi-god, Ronald Regan.
In his last speech as US President, sometimes referred to as a love letter to immigration, he said that the US had strength because Americans came from every country and every corner of the world, renewing and enriching their nation. Pointedly he said that “If we ever close our door to new arrivals, our leadership of the world will be lost”
The Republican party (and indeed the Tory party, who sacked Enoch Powell) have travelled some distance on immigration. They see dog whistle politics as the route to power and the means to hold on to it.
The left needs to block that route, not just by electoral success but by showing leadership on the issues, proclaiming pride in multiculturalism, our human rights and welcoming refugees. It will not be good enough to reach some sort of accommodation that we did with neo-liberal economics. We will do the same things, but with more compassion. Not this time. This time a cultural war has been declared, and we have to win it.
Raj Chada is the head of the Criminal Defence, Financial Crime and Regulatory Department at Hodge, Jones and Allen.
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