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As some of you will know, I was a panellist on Question Time last week with Ken Clarke, now a Tory peer, TV presenter Richard Madeley, Labour shadow front bencher Sarah Jones and Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister.

By the end of the show, the two Tories had used up all my patience. Clarke, the affable, one nation Tory showed his true colours. It seemed that to him, the humans arriving on small boats were a serious political difficulty for his party, nothing more, and Stanley Johnson was a good, pro-European chap.

Jenrick has had many ministerial jobs and survived scandals. Now he is the mouthpiece of the unremittingly ghastly Suella Braverman. They both befuddle with figures, knowingly use inflammatory rhetoric and disdain “do-gooders” who oppose them. (English must be the only language in the world where “do-gooders” is an insulting term). On the show he said the people on small boats “break into our country”. This is the kind of language Gary Lineker rightly slammed in his tweet.

In the green room, Jenrick praised Australia’s tough policies. In recent times, the wretched who have attempted to get there by sea have been banished to the small Pacific nation of Nauru and previously the island of Manus. Ostensibly such sites are for “offshore processing” but that’s just the pretence. Those arriving in the country by boat seeking asylum are not settled in Australia. Among those making asylum claims are undocumented Iranians, Sri Lankans and Afghans. In 2016, 77 per cent of those whose asylum claims have been assessed were found to be genuine refugees.

Suspended between life and death

Like in Guantanamo Bay, these bleak places leave the incarcerated suspended between life and death. The media are kept out but some news sneaks out: dozens of incarcerated children and adults have had hope sucked out of them. Many self harm or attempt suicide. Rishi Sunak and Braverman hope Rwanda will replicate Australia’s “successful” deterrent measures.

Clarke did point out that the conditions in Nauru and Manus were terrible. The UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the state sanctioned inhumanity. Jenrick let that pass. But I couldn’t. I noisily broke into the gentlemanly conversation and reminded them that Australia was stolen by migrant Brits, as was New Zealand, and that north America was overrun by invading Europeans – real raiders with weapons. Countless natives of that continent – North and South – were violently displaced or eliminated.

They went silent. Jenrick looked at me as if I was an alien, a dangerous creature he had to get away from. Clarke, who by then was tired, shuffled off.

Look beyond ‘boat peril’

Fair enough. Let’s carry on that conversation here. Europeans went forth more than 400 years ago in boats, wooden boats. It started with adventurers seeking fortunes. Over the centuries, the persecuted, aspirational, the greedy, the poor, those who had committed small crimes, rejects, men and women wanting to live the dream, sailed to all parts of the globe. They still do. Perth, it was reported in i this week, is trying to tempt fed-up Brits to move there. Western Australia’s government is fronting this drive. They won’t give the inmates in Nauru life chances but woo us. I wonder if an Afghan-Brit or Iranian-Brit would be welcome?

To understand why migrants keep on coming, Westerners need to acknowledge their own lives, their ancestors, their past and present, to go beyond the “boat peril” narrative and ill-considered and racist discourse.

A new book landed in January, Migrants: The Story of All of Us, by Sam Miller, a former BBC journalist and author of books on India. It is gripping and wise, it and could be mind-altering for fixated anti-immigration sorts. The blurb for the book explains: “Humans are, in fundamental ways, a migratory species, far more than any other land mammal. For most of our existence we were all nomads, and some of us still are. Houses and permanent settlements are a relatively late development- dating back little more than twelve thousand years. Borders and passports are much more recent. [This is] an alternative history of the world, in which migration is restored to the heart of the human story.”

Millar examines the controversies and contradictions of this global story, the way migrants are cast as “subhuman and superhuman,” how they are castigated and admired, the endless cultural adjustments they must make. Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman should but probably never would read this book. For they are coarse populists using the weak to further their own ambitions and secure another victory for the Tories.

The fables they tell are self-serving too. Their own family journeys to find the good life are portrayed as heroic while migrants seeking safety, asylum and opportunities today are depicted as lawless intruders. The new Illegal Migration Bill reinforces the idea of the worthy and unworthy immigrants. It’s a new caste system. Ignorant and repellent.

Moving forward

The crass Illegal Migration Bill was the starting gun for the general election campaign. Tories are cynically whipping up the population again. Until this March polls showed that the top concerns of the British electorate were the cost of living crisis and the NHS. Tory support was slipping away, Labour was 20 points ahead. So they picked a sure winner – hate the outsider, stop the outsider. They will now attack Labour for being an open border party. Seven days ago, according to Politico, for Tory voters, stopping the boats had become one of the top concerns.

Wednesday’s Budget too was, in part, wooing back disillusioned voters. Free childcare for one and two year olds! Who wouldn’t cheer? But hark. This will only cover a part of the cost, parents will have to find the rest. The sector will not be able to meet the demand. Mumsnet may be uncorking the champagne. Hold back I say, wait, see.

On to getting retirees back to work. Many simply won’t. They have been away too long; the workplace has changed and the best estimate is only 110,000 will get off the sofa. But again, headlines were excellent. Unless voters realise this is all smoke and mirrors, the Tories may well get in. How unbearable would that be?

A conversation I had this week

Andrew Tate leaves court with police cars after his trial in Bucharest, Romania (Photo: Alex Nicodim/Anadolu Agency)

I was talking to some teachers and researchers this week, off the record. They wanted to discuss schoolboys who have been drawn into the Andrew Tate cult. Vast numbers of them are into the charismatic man and his suspect ideas and promises.

One of the teachers seemed to be having a panic attack as she spoke: “It’s spreading. We see the behaviours. We don’t know what to do with them. We are really scared.” What, I asked, what were Tate’s most potent ideologies? She quickly replied: “The get rich quick schemes and how to control females.”

As we carried on, a researcher revealed her major concern: “Muslim boys are really into him, especially since he converted to Islam. They now believe Tate’s messages come from Allah and both want them to own and intimidate girls and women. One of them slapped his mum because she spoke to the milkman without covering her hair.”

I never knew any of this. Too many such young Muslims are already preyed on by radical imams and Islamicist website preachers. Discriminated against by non-Muslims and alienated from their own the families, they are desperately searching for purpose and a new tribe. I dread to think how this will end.

Yasmin’s pick: What’s Love got to Do With It?

Shazad Latif and Lily James in What’s Love Got To Do With It, written by Jemima Khan and directed by Shekhar Shakur (Photo: Robert Viglasky)

Here, at long last, comes an unmissable romcom, What’s Love Got to Do With It? Like Richard Curtis flicks, it is escapist, and also a sweet, tender, meaningful tale of multiracial love which exposes cultural conflicts and hypocrisies. Jemima Khan is the writer. Lily James plays a documentary maker whose best mate is the Muslim man next door, played by the gorgeous Shazad Latif. Her mum is Emma Thompson and his mum, Bollywood star Shabana Azmi. I’m off to see it again. That’s how good it is.

This is In Conversation with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a subscriber-only newsletter from i. If you’d like to get this direct to your inbox, every single week, you can sign up here.

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