Outrage at Patel and the Home Office is easy: but here’s why we shouldn’t just react

Migrants and refugees arrive by dinghy behind a huge pile of life vests after crossing from Turkey to the island of Lesbos Greece, Sept. 10, 2015.

Something I’ve been thinking a lot about this week is just how ‘good’, for want of a better word, Home Office communications are. I mean, they’re hideous, but they are also effective in their intended outcome, which isn’t really to ‘communicate’ so much as to undermine opposition.

The ‘activist lawyers’ line was a masterstroke, because despite it being objectively wrong and misleading, there is no way to demonstrate that misrepresentation without them being able to reinforce the message to their target audience.

It also provides them with the perfect cover for their claims that the asylum system is ‘overwhelmed’ despite actual numbers of asylum seekers being down on previous years. “Don’t look at us guv. Look at those activist lawyers holding up the process”.

Likewise, the strategic use of ‘consultations’ with NGOs, INGOs, legal authorities etc. It doesn’t matter that all of them say the Home Office can’t legally do what it suggests. They can still put out press releases saying they “spoke to UNHCR before implementing plans” etc.

For most of the public, this reads as though they have gained the support of the very organisations which are out there condemning their actions at every step. It is quite a striking way of taking out the opposition before it has even managed to start opposing plans.

Then you have the carefully leaked batshit crazy ideas, like wave machines in the channel, or carefully coordinated ‘trials’ of using jet skis to ‘deter’ dinghies crossing the channel. They know they can’t actually do these things, but they also know they can stoke outrage

All of that makes it easier to push through equally abhorrent policies, such as penalising asylum seekers for their manner of entry despite it violating international law, because those policies sound ‘moderate’ in relation to some of those policies leaked.

The problem facing organisations which oppose government plans is that we risk getting sucked into them the minute we do so. They know what the objections are: they might be callous, but they aren’t stupid and they have planned for it.

They are treating it as a game, and it is one which, if we are all being honest with ourselves, they are winning. That’s why it is so important to think before getting outraged (and I do get outraged myself so I hold my hands up to that.)

Personal attacks against Patel might be cathartic, and easy, but they yet again play into the Home Office’s hands. Why do you think she is still in post? They can be brushed off and used to make advocates for human rights seem unreasonable at best, unhinged at worst.

No-one ever considers themselves the ‘bad guys’. The Home Office definitely don’t. So, when attacks get personal, and often misogynistic and racist in the case of Patel, it just helps them reinforce the idea that they are the ‘righteous’ ones.

The same is true when misinformation is used to attack them. There are plenty of genuine things to condemn and oppose, but when we light upon something which sounds juicy but is easily disprovable, they can say we are just making stuff up and discredit legitimate criticism.

We all need to be more strategic about this; because they definitely are. We are getting out-manoeuvred for the most part, although some groups are trying hard not to be, but often it is well-meaning social media activists who are hurting us the most

Outrage is easy. You see a story and rant. We all do it, I definitely do. It’s not helpful though. They have planned for it. We become part of their comms campaign.

It’s time to stop being played and start being more aware in our objections, or we will keep losing.

A version of this article first appeared as a twitter thread.