The Tories want to turn us against migrants by dividing people between ‘us’ and ‘them’; well, let me tell you about another bunch of guys who believed in ‘us’ and ‘them’ – the Nazis. Radio presenter James O’Brien made near enough this exact parallel when he quoted from Mein Kampf to show the eerie similarities between Amber Rudd’s speech and the former German chancellor’s words.
Of course, Mr O’Brien didn’t need to quote Hitler. He could have cited the former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who had the same idea; he might be a less famous figure, but he’s marginally more relevant to British politics in 2016. Or instead of reminding us of Nazi Germany as a precedent, Mr O’Brien – or any of the hundreds and thousands of people referencing the Third Reich – could have cited the USA, which already publishes data on H1B visa reports.
I’m not sure how useful such information would be; companies that excel in poor wages and working conditions will most likely have a large number of overseas workers, but so too will very highly skilled, elite firms. Immigrants tend to be disproportionately represented at both extremes in employment (as they are in every other measure, whether it’s wealth, educational outcomes etc etc).
But the collective hysteria that followed shows what happens when Nazi Germany crowds out all other history. The poverty of peoples’ collective memory and imagination is such that the first minute any politician strays from the path of universalism, commentators reach for the most shocking (and only) historical comparison they can think of.
What has simply happened, as often happens in history, is that a progressive idea has overstretched itself and run out of steam, and the tide is coming back in. History is full of examples of society becoming more conservative; it did so in the 11th and 12th century with regards to sex and marriage, and once again in the mid-19th century; outside of the West most of the world is becoming far less liberal right now.