SOMETIMES a crisis makes odd bedfellows of us; and sometimes a crisis might not be all it is got up to be. So it is with the migrant crisis.
The unexpected sleeping partner for Man On Ledge comes in the shape of the Church of England, or more specifically the bishop of Dover, the Right Rev Trevor Willmott.
We have never met, unsurprisingly, as we don’t have bishops round at our house all that often. But the bishop speaks sense when he says: “We’ve become an increasingly harsh world, and when we become harsh with each other and forget our humanity then we end up in these standoff positions. We need to rediscover what it is to be a human, and that every human being matters.”
That is one of the best responses to the migrant crisis Man On Ledge has yet heard. This ledge is a place without a church; this thin shelf of vertiginous rock owes no allegiance to any particular god. But that man of God strikes me as someone who is speaking sense. For the biggest danger at such times is that we forget our common humanity.
It doesn’t help when David Cameron, pausing in one of his globe-skimming political PR exercises, refers to those trying to get into Britain as a “swarm” – a “dehumanising” description, as the Refugee Council rightly complained. Yet it was probably more of a thoughtless slip than a word intentionally dipped in poison, as Cameron doesn’t normally stray into racist ramblings, leaving that to the nastier fringes of his party.
Still, to these atheistic ears the churchman on this occasion speaks more sense than the politician. But making the important observation that we shouldn’t forget our humanity doesn’t solve any problems; it just reminds us of our obligations, reminds us not to forget that those trying to get into Britain are human beings at the sharp end of life’s difficulties, severely put-upon individuals who have suffered much to reach that squalid camp in Calais, not some sort of insect swarm. They are fellow human beings and, as Nick Cohen wrote in The Observer, “In hating those in Calais, we hate ourselves” – another sound comment in a piece well worth reading.
As for solutions, the answer must lie somewhere between allowing in those with a decent claim and realising that not everybody who wishes to come in can do so.
The trouble is that making the decision is never going to be easy – especially as we operate at such times by pressing the panic button. And ‘pressing’ is the word for it, in a sense, as the migrant crisis is to some extent a creation of the media.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t a problem; it isn’t to say that the media has invented this crisis. It is just to point out that the way the media works is to concentrate huge attention on one story, relentlessly going over and over the same ground, and finding the pictures that confirm our prejudices. The focus is so intense that the media becomes like a magnifying glass left out in the sun: a fire is inevitable.
In a sense the politicians and the media then become locked in headless panic mode, the one feeding off the other.
Incidentally, in the name of political balance, it is worth pointing out that Labour has been pathetic on this matter, with stand-in leader Harriet Harman merely writing to Cameron to demand compensation for those who have been inconvenienced. Now it is true that Labour has its problems, but surely someone could have come up with something a bit more meaningful, sharp and relevant than that bit of pointless finger jabbing.