British politics needs an injection of sentiment

An attempt to rekindle the Dubs amendment was narrowly defeated in the Commons, as the Conservatives who intended to vote in favour were whipped back into line. The amendment to the Children and Social Work Bill, tabled by Conservative MP Heidi Allen, would have obliged local councils to reveal how many child refugees they had the capacity to host. It is the latest attempt to hold the government to their promise of taking in 3,000 child refugees from camps on the continent.

 
Indeed, some of our elected representatives are guilty of entirely dismissing the moral case for alleviating the plight of suffering children. Certainly, politics is about practicality and making trade-offs, and representatives sometimes have to make difficult decisions for the greater good.

 
But to diminish the role of sentiment and morality from decision-making, as evidence-based policymaking and technocratic governance has done so well in recent years, is a direction we should all be concerned about. As so adequately articulated by Conservative MP, Geoffrey Cox, following the government’s refugee U-turn, the “plight of a child transcends this kind of complexities of push factors and pull factors”.

 
Furthermore, there is little reason to believe that those who support turning Britain’s back on the vulnerable are doing it purely out of pure pragmatism, when all evidence points otherwise.
A report published on Monday found that government claims of a lack of local council capacity and concerns over supporting people traffickers were not backed up by any substantive evidence. Indeed, it seems as if the government has not consulted much with councils at all, after FOI requests revealed at least 368 unreported spaces across the country.

 
This feeling of exasperation with government excuses was expressed best by Lord Dubs himself on Wednesday, stating that, “the councils are clear that they can do more, the anti-slavery commissioner has been clear that this safe and legal route protects children from the deprivations of the traffickers, and the country is clear that children in danger should be protected.” With this in mind, is there much that Pauline Latham can really contest, when the situation has in fact been analysed objectively and logically after all?

 
It seems that only Spock could devise a response to the refugee crisis more devoid of emotion than that of the UK government. Save the Children have recently published a report on the mental health crisis facing Syria’s children, who are now being sent back to temporary camps along the French coastline in more vulnerable conditions than before. Latham’s call for logic over sentiment is simply empty rhetoric acting as a justification for government inaction, and it sets a dangerous precedent for a government increasingly distancing itself from any form of moral responsibility.

 
Using EU citizens as bargaining chips and turning a blind eye to the crisis in social care both count among the examples of obscuring individual human suffering with numbers and text on balance sheets and Brexit bills.

 
This is not to say that we should ignore the left side of our brains. Of course, negotiations matter; of course reducing the deficit matters. But the question is: do these issues outweigh the moral imperative of ensuring people’s safety and security?

 
And when it comes to child refugees, should the government really mask an unwillingness to do the right thing with a call to make politics even less sentimental than the record lows it is currently sailing at? I would say a rebalancing of the scales is needed.

 

Image: Darren Johnson

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