Watching the Conservative Party go full UKIP on immigration must be like watching the Republican Party go full Trump: in retrospect perhaps inevitable but nonetheless horrifying to witness. As Ian Dunt notes,
“During just three days they have pledged to phase out foreign doctors, cut down on the numbers of foreign students, put landlords in jail for not checking their tenants' residency papers and 'name and shame' companies for hiring foreign workers.”
If the UK had a land border with France, you feel this government would have also announced the building of a great wall. (Ireland please note.)
With words and actions from the government like this, I feel I desperately want to say to the many immigrants I know working hard and contributing to this country: this is not the real England. Most of us do not think this way. And in one sense I’m right. The Brexit vote was about many things but it has been taken by the government as an excuse for a hard Brexit and a demonisation of immigrants. But in another sense I am wrong: physical attacks on immigrants have increased sharply, and few in the media are prepared to condemn the government’s words and actions while many cheer. 
Instead some prefer to highlight the uncharacteristic sight of a Conservative Prime Minister taking some of Jeremy Corbyn’s best lines: about how those that have suffered as a result of the financial crisis are not those that caused that crisis, about the inequities of crony capitalism and so on. Words that got Ed Miliband labelled Red Ed by the right wing press. But this is also part of the Republican play book of diversion. With the Republicans it is about race and also immigration and religion. With today’s Conservatives it is about immigration with a bit of race and religion. The diversion is to pretend that inequality of incomes and power were somehow achieved through increasing immigration, and can therefore be reduced by controlling immigration.
If May was at all serious about wanting to redistribute, her first policy announcement would have been to replace the cuts to Universal Credit imposed by Osborne, which will hit hard just the kind of families she says she wants to help. Or it would have been to reverse cuts to inheritance tax introduced by her predecessors. Instead her first big policy announcement was to bring back segregation of schooling at 11, a measure that could almost be designed to entrench the poor life chances of working class families.
Even if you thought there was some genuine desire behind this latest version of compassionate conservatism, there is a harder reality which means it will never happen. The Conservative government is on course for a hard Brexit with the worse kind of deal for UK business. The strategy so far has been inept: principally giving away the UK’s strongest negotiating card, which is invoking Article 50. Hard Brexit will shrink the size of the national pie, and require plenty of fiscal ‘subsidies’ to placate business and keep them here. Furthermore cutting back on immigration will also reduce the amount of resources the government has at its disposal. If the strategy was to keep the high tax paying skilled immigrant and control only the low tax paying unskilled, the government is showing a bizarre way of pursuing that: telling overseas doctors they are welcome only for so long as it takes for the UK to train up home grown alternatives.
At the Conservative’s conference there was only one grownup in the room, Chancellor Hammond. He noted the appalling productivity record of his predecessor, yet his home office colleague Amber Rudd makes things worse by making it more difficult for universities to recruit overseas students, one of our more successful export industries. No wonder the markets have, through a depreciation, already substantially cut the real incomes of every person in the UK through sterling’s depreciation.
Which brings us to the real problem with a focus on immigration. It is a policy that will not achieve what the Conservative’s pretend it will achieve, which is to make life better for UK natives. Indeed it will almost certainly make things worse. So where do those, like the Prime Minister, who pretend otherwise turn when things do not improve? As we have seen in the US, they just turn up the volume, or their party of Little Englanders just choose someone else who will shout louder. A party that is openly prepared to say that the position of the millions of immigrants currently living here are their best bargaining chip in the forthcoming negotiations have already started along that road.
If England were a paradise among squalor all this could perhaps be understood. But once you leave our big cities, ironically made vibrant partly through high levels of immigration, that is just not the case. A confident successful nation does not fear outsiders but embraces them. What we have today is a Conservative government protecting a dream about a glorious past as if it were today’s reality. I am reminded of some verses from The Last Living Rose by PJ Harvey:
Take me back to beautiful England
& the grey, damp filthiness of ages,
fog rolling down behind the mountains,
& on the graveyards, and dead sea-captains.
Let me walk through the stinking alleys
to the music of drunken beatings,
past the Thames River, glistening like gold
hastily sold for nothing.
 My own view is that it is our UK right wing tabloid press that is largely responsible for the popular intolerance towards migrants that we now see. Yes fear of the ‘other’ is an easy passion to invoke, but a responsible press would not go out of their way to invoke it. Having the ability to day after day plant stories in the minds of those who vote more and probably seek less alternative information than the average citizen remains a huge power, and those with that power use it shamelessly to great effect.