Ours is an era marked by extraordinary human migrations, with some 200 million people alive today having moved from their country of origin. The political reaction in Europe and the United States has been to raise the drawbridge: immigrant workers are needed, but no longer welcome. So migrants die in trucks or drown en route; they are murdered in smuggling operations or ruthlessly exploited in illegal businesses that make it impossible for the abused to seek police help. More than 15,000 people have died in the last twenty years trying to circumvent European entry restrictions.
In this beautifully written book, Jeremy Harding draws haunting portraits of the migrants – and anti-immigrant zealots – he encountered in his investigations in Europe and on the US–Mexico border. Harding's painstaking research and global perspective identify the common characteristics of immigration policy across the rich world and raise pressing questions about the future of national boundaries and universal values.
Economically, the country is far from the visions of recovery and renewal promised by the Coalition and its media retinue. If anything, conditions are getting worse for the majority, while markets remain volatile. Underlying this trend is a continuing engrossment of wealth and privileges enjoyed by the rich. As pointed out by countless observers, while the earnings of the average employed person are either static or declining, the salaries and bonus options of the 1 per cent continue to rise. In this extract from The Extreme Centre, Tariq Ali critiques the politics of Thatcher and Blair.
The origins of the new politics are firmly rooted in Thatcher’s response to Britain’s decline. Unemployment was ruthlessly held above three million for ten years, enabling the Conservatives to push though a programme of social re-engineering – deploying state resources to crush the unions and initiate the privatization of public utilities and housing, in hopes of creating a nation of ‘property-owners and shareholders’ – that transformed the country.1 The defence industry was ring-fenced while the rest of manufacturing was handed a collective death warrant. The defeat of the miners’ strike obliterated any possibility of resistance by the trade-union leaders and the rank and file. The triumph of finance capital was now complete. The decline of large parts of the country continued apace, and in turn, the country became increasingly restive.
For a century, left and right in Britain believed in universal access to education, health and housing. The Thatcher era changed everything. As the political parties battle it out, is there any alternative to the privatisation, breakup and foreign takeover of vital services? James Meek, author of Orwell Prize shortlisted book Private Island: Why Britain Now Belongs to Someone Else, answers these questions for the Guardian.
It was Margaret Thatcher who destroyed the idea of council housing. Photograph: Leon Morris/Getty Images