Today saw the resumption of campaigning ahead of next Thursday’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, and so on to The Andy Marr Show (tm) came Vote Leave luminary Michael “Oiky” Gove to be gently grilled by the host on a variety of questions, including the tone of some campaign behaviour, and literature. In the course of the conversation, Gove let slip one rather interesting admission.
After Gove had paid tribute to murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, he was asked about the poster put out last Thursday by Nigel “Thirsty” Farage and his fellow saloon bar propper-uppers at UKIP, which depicted a long and bedraggled queue of refugees from the Middle East who were crossing from Croatia to Slovenia. The poster, titled “Breaking Point”, suggested they were all coming here. And they were brown. And foreign.
Marr broached the subject gently: “can I ask you [about that] poster which went out just a couple of days ago from the UKIP side of the EU debate, which had a big crowd of migrants, in fact not coming into Britain but on the Slovenian border?” Gove’s reply was unequivocal: “Well, when I saw that poster I shuddered. I thought it was the wrong thing to do”. But then the discussion moved to his own side of the out campaign.
Marr again: “let me put to you what the Vote Leave statement said on Turkey - ‘Since the birth rate in Turkey is so high we can expect to see an additional million people added to the UK population from Turkey alone within eight years. Crime is far higher, gun ownership,’ and so forth. That sounds a bit like that’s the other. Those are threats, those people out there. Are you totally happy with the tone of that kind of statement?”
Vote Leave had been caught dog-whistling - telling voters that those brown people were breeding, and doing it faster than our people, then coming over here. So was Gove happy with the tone? Well, yes he was: “Yes, because I think it’s important to stress that when we’re thinking about the enlargement of the European Union it’s the official European Union policy to accelerate Turkey’s accession to the EU”.
Quite apart from conceding that Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan is going backwards on meeting the criteria for accession to the EU - and so not joining in Gove’s lifetime - he said it was OK to use the “breeding” dog-whistle. That’s where it gets singularly unfortunate, because of the precedent set by another Tory luminary.
In late 2010, Howard Flight, who had just been granted a peerage, said of the Coalition’s plans for child benefit changes that “We're going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it's jolly expensive. But for those on benefits, there is every incentive. Well, that's not very sensible”. For that he had to issue an apology and withdraw his remark.
So will Michael Gove do the same, or is it OK to scare voters about people “breeding” if they’re brown, Muslim, and talk foreign? Don’t hold your breath, folks.