At 1:48pm on Wednesday 3 July, the official Home Office account sent the following tweet, accompanied by the photo above:
“There will be no hiding place for illegal immigrants with the new #ImmigrationBill”.
They say that a picture does the work of a thousand words, but this image instead gives rise to a thousand questions.
Who within Government thought this tweet was a good idea? Who still thinks it’s a good idea? Why was it tweeted? Is it some sort of twisted focus group exercise to gauge the public’s hostility? How many people who see it will quietly nod in approval? How many of those people are people whom I work with or would regard as friends or casual acquaintances? Does this tweeter hate people? What’s with the gleeful tone of this tweet? Why does this image remind me of human trafficking? Does the Home Office see illegal immigrants as cattle? Is this really where we want to take this conversation about immigration? If this tweet were published by the BNP or the EDL, would there be far greater uproar? How many voters will forget the nastiness of this communication come election day? Will anyone in the Home Office ever come forward to explain it? Is this the beginning of a deliberate online strategy to whip up public anti-immigration sentiment? Will the Lib Dems distance themselves from it? Will Labour?
What unpleasantness does the Immigration Bill contain? Since when did controlling immigration go from being about the efficient management of resources to the naked and aggressive ostracism of foreigners? What is this tweet trying to distract us from? Where will this ideology lead if it goes unchecked? How many thugs will be emboldened in their hate by this tweet? Why aren’t more people angry about this? Why do people find it so easy to shrug it off? Is it really the case that illegal immigrants must be chased from house to house as if the Home Office were ratcatchers?
All these questions and more. But, in a time of rising economic inequality, with our communities still struggling with the brutal effects of the financial crisis and the subsequent array of cuts to public services, someone at the Home Office has chosen to post a tweet like this to 90,000 followers, and hasn’t seen fit to remove it. And in symbolic terms, that’s far more worrying, in itself, than the answers to any of the questions that I have posed above.