Governance through spectacle

Governance through spectacle

Fortnightly Bulletin

Written by: IRR News Team

What’s behind the Illegal Migration Bill?

IRR News 2 – 16 March 2023

As the dust settles following the furore over Gary Lineker’s tweet on Suella Braverman’s speech introducing the Illegal Migration Bill, Lineker’s suspension and subsequent reinstatement at a crisis-stricken BBC has let the home secretary off the hook. Lineker criticised Braverman’s rhetoric in parliament that invoked ‘the will of the British people’ whose patience on migrant boat crossings had apparently run out. In her words, ‘the law-abiding patriotic majority have said “enough is enough” …this Conservative government will act now to stop the boats’. The media and political obsession over Lineker’s comparison between Braverman’s language and the 1930s obscures the chilling content of her speech. In a sense she had two different speeches prepared: the first was technical, about numbers and mechanisms; the second (the coda) a carefully managed (if not manipulative) tug at the nation’s supposed heartstrings. Such emotive and incendiary language has real-world consequences – far-right groups have been seen outside asylum hotels with banners saying ‘stop the invasion’ after Braverman used the word in parliament last year. The day before her address, an asylum processing centre in Dover had been petrol-bombed.

But something else is behind this bill, which 300 experts this week declared was unworkable and would, despite Braverman’s unconvincing lamentations, increase ‘the chance of death’ in the channel. Perhaps, then, it is not designed to work. Perhaps her declaration that she is ‘unable to make a statement’ that the Bill is compatible with human rights, is a provocation. The real purpose of this legislation and the accompanying sloganeering is to govern society though spectacle. As Liz Fekete wrote in Europe’s Fault Lines, ‘This is about projecting an image of moral resolve and propping up the state’s territorial authority – it’s about governments sending out ‘insider-outsider’ messages, encouraging the public to take voyeuristic pleasure from the safety of their sofas of the spectacle of enforcement’. And when a feeble opposition’s shadow home secretary tells the Conservative press that ‘a Labour government will aim to stop all small boat crossings’, it falls on the presenter of Match of the Day to provide some moral opposition. It should now be clear to campaigners that a change in government will not solve this crisis – a crisis that has been manufactured and continually inflamed by the government and its cheerleaders in the media.

And it’s not just the British government that is using the unbearable suffering faced by those displaced by war and conflict as an opportunity to govern by spectacle, as highlighted in this thread. In this week’s calendar of racism and resistance, the Italian government exploits a deadly shipwreck that claimed at least 86 lives by shifting its cabinet meeting from Rome to Calabria. Ensuring a media circus, it took the opportunity to announce a new people-smuggling crime, with a possible 30-year sentence.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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