Mainstream politicians, he writes, “in most cases are clueless on how to deal with the public debate. Petrified by the rise of the populists they try to neuter them by taking their ground and aping their rhetoric. Far from closing down the debates, these steps legitimise their views, reinforce their frames and pull the debate further to the extremes (Sarkozy and the continuing rise of Front National is a case in point).”
Cox, who has spent months touring Europe speaking to campaigners, refugees and politicians to try to understand why populists have dominated the debate on migration, warns that governments, particularly in the UK, are at risk of focusing on the wrong issues: “They obsess over numbers (to most people 10,000 sounds as scary as 100,000), when they should focus on reinforcing frames of fairness and order.
“The UK government policy is a masterclass in how to get the crisis wrong; set an unrealistic target, miss it, report on it quarterly and in doing so show a complete lack of control heightening concern and fanning the flames of resentment.”
He said the forces hostile to refugees have political parties focused exclusively on the issue, whereas “the supportive groups have a few badly funded NGOs and a social media hashtag. In addition, progressive organisations with strong organising ability (whether political parties, trade unions or pressure groups) generally haven’t prioritised the crisis in the way the populist right have.
Indeed, mainstream politicians need to stop shying away from us issue or making empty promises to reduce immigration. They need to be honest and tell the public that immigration benefits us all.