After a court judgment forced the government to remove more than half the people from the recent deportation flight to Jamaica, the prime minister’s press secretary said that the reaction to the case showed that ‘certain parts of Westminster still haven’t learned the lessons of the 2019 election’.
What this tells us is that for Johnson and his chief of staff, Dominic Cummings, the Tories’ success is winning Northern and Midlands seats (the so-called ‘red wall’) from Labour, was not primarily because of voters’ desire for better infrastructure but was, at base, about racist hostility to immigration and ethnic diversity.
This should not be surprising because the same team won the 2016 referendum by serving up a flood of racist anti-migrant propaganda and reprised the crude propaganda, with xenophobic language about Europeans thrown in, during the General Election itself. Remainers have often been criticised for calling Leave voters racist – but that is what Johnson/Cummings themselves believe! Labour leadership contender Lisa Nandy may be right in principle that we should ‘listen’ to the Northern voters who backed Leave and switched to the Tories – but we should be careful to hear more than the recycling of Cummings’ propaganda.
Racist symbols like the deportation flight give Johnson cover to ditch Cameron’s and May’s unworkable ‘tens of thousands’ target for immigration numbers, despite the continuing support for this from groups like Migration Watch, and introduce small changes to the immigration system like reducing the earnings threshold from £30k to £25.6k. However as I argued when Johnson/Cummings took power, there is no real liberalisation of the ‘hostile environment’ system, just a recalibration. The Windrush flight reminds us of its bottom line.