Sometimes a government does something so stupid, so nakedly opportunist that the giant pandering is visible from Mars. In their infinite wisdom, the present Tory-dominated coalition has created an image that will sum up the Nasty Party for years to come.
Some genius in the Conservative Party considered it a good idea to dispatch a van around the streets of London emblazoned with a huge yelly placard exhorting "illegal immigrants" to GO HOME OR FACE ARREST. (It is rumoured to be the brainchild of Lynton Crosby, the Australian lobbyist who advises David Cameron on election strategy.)
Never mind that immigrants are probably already aware of whether their status is legal or not, and that they probably can't even read what's written if they aren't. Reminiscent of the worst far right anti-immigrant language of the 1970s, the "racist van" been lampooned across the net as marking the moment Cameron's cuddly mask slid off. It has been subsequently disowned by the Tories' Lib Dem partners, and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is investigating whether it could incite racial hatred.
Hardly surprising, considering the vans have been sent into those London areas with the highest immigrant population.
The racist van stunt comes hard on the heels of a series of raids on Chinese restaurants from Cornwall to Scotland by UK Border Agency immigration officers imposing fines of £10,000 for each violation. The China Glen restaurant in West Lothian faces a bill for £80,000 for its eight illegal workers and the Sun Wah in Launceston will have to eat £40,000. A bit harsh for two tiny takeaways. Shame we never see the same vigour applied to the bankers and tax avoiders who wrecked the economy,
Chinese caterers have argued in the past that their cuisine requires specialist knowledge — or at least a lifetime eating it — and that these skills can't be taught on the hoof to youth more accustomed to burgers and pizzas. However, hard-hearted politicians with eyes on the next election appear unmoved regarding the authenticity of their next chop suey. Raids are due to start all over again in November.
Now that a network of people smugglers run by fiendish Chinese masterminds has been uncovered in France and Spain — whose objects of migratory desire are the US and UK — Chinese businesses are a primary target for British authorities. This government's message: if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen and country. Meanwhile, the nation goes steadily prawn crackers.
First published in the South China Morning Post.
By Anna Chen, who blogs under Madam Miaow.