A clever trick – used often – when a politician is worried about his party´s ranking in the polls or maybe wants direct attention to something else than the sorry state of affairs in the country he is running, is to point finger at immigrants. It usually pays off really well.
Italian electoral candidate Silvio Berlusconi asked his fellow countrymen to vote for him so as to “stop leftwing parties opening the country´s borders wide to immigration”. This was the very same Berlusconi that during his three stints as prime minister of Italy pushed his country to the brink of economic disaster. However, on the strength of his electoral arguments he once again managed to win a strong hold in the Italian Parliament. The actual fact that immigrants are leaving recession-ridden Italy in droves did not come into the matter.
Facts usually don´t count for much when immigrants are the subject of discussion.
The Danish public debate every now and then works itself into a frenzy over some immigrant related matter. Recently it was the fact that 45 young boys – born to Muslim parents – allegedly has been fighting in Syria alongside the rebels. Yes, Denmark supports the Syrian rebels over the regime. Yes, some 25 000 Danish boys have fought abroad since 1992 or as the US central command puts it: “…compared to the size of the Danish population (5.5 million), Denmark is among the leading countries in the world when it comes to participation in international operations.”
But facts don´t count for much when faced with the threat of 45 Muslim boys potentially turning back to Denmark, now trained in how to shoot. Politicians from most political parties swiftly promised that if the boys survive and return to Denmark, they will be under constant surveillance by the Danish intelligence services. Xenophobic Danish Folkeparti that has lost ground in the polls lately tried to outdo them all with a promise to deport the boys straight away.
The Dutch enjoy a good blame-the-immigrants-game as well. To go with any article about immigrants – meaning any suspicious-looking-therefore-possibly-Muslim boy – the Dutch press have found the perfect illustration. Article after article on the subject of immigration is accompanied by a photo showing such boys proving their shameful ways by covering their face.
Only this picture, pulled out of the archives, was actually taken when 150 Moroccan youngsters visited the Dutch concentration camp in Westerbork, covering their faces in shock as they listened to a camp survivor telling of his experience.
British Prime Minister David Cameron tried the same trick recently, desperate to have the country talking about something else than how badly the economy is faring and how little the government seems to be able to do about it. He too, came up with the idea to blame immigrants, hoping no doubt to win some votes off the xenophobic UK independence Party. (Number of British expats in the world: approximately 5 Million.)
The trick worked less well for Mr Cameron. When he announced that he would stand up for his country and put a stop to Eastern European immigrants filling up hospital wards without paying, he was contradicted by none other than his own Health minister. The fact, lost in the heat of the moment, is that NHS claims the money back from other EU governments.
It didn´t work too well for the Conservative party running the Swedish government coalition either. The Swedish public debate generally tend to react badly to politicians pointing fingers at immigrants but lately the Swedish xenophobic party has been climbing in opinion polls whereas the Conservative party seems to be losing out. Maybe blame-immigrants has become a vote-winner in Sweden too?
The youngest Conservative in government, also immigration minister, Tobias Billstrom was sent out to test the xenophobic waters, to see if any voters could be pulled in. “It´s not blond and blue eyed people hiding illegal immigrants in this country”, Mr Billstrom stated. The remark may not count as blatantly racist in some European countries but in Sweden it does. The reaction came swiftly and was harsh, the critics were vociferous and influential.
The Conservative Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt held back a couple of days but in the end had to come out and order the immigration minister to apologize, giving him a stern warning about making remarks of the kind and telling him that “he (Mr Billstrom) must stick to the party line of humane immigration policies if he wants to stay in office”.
Oh, well. It´s usually a really clever trick but it doesn´t always work.