Modern politicians believe that each day is a battle to control the news cycle. If headlines are in their favour, they’re winning. If not, they’re losing. So, if there’s an unflattering headline, politicians feel they should do something – like announce a new policy. What’s tricky is that this policy must be invented speedily to make the next day’s papers, end those unfavorable headlines, and make the government seem reliable and useful.

These quick fix policies are dangerous. No government policy can be deemed a long term one because as soon as the newspapers publish a headline condemning it, or proposing an alternative method, the politicians will change their stance on the matter. Sometimes this desire to control the next headline leaves both government and country in places nobody wishes to be in.

When leading newspapers published a photograph of Aylan Kurdi, a child who had drowned and was washed up on the shores of Turkey while trying to get to mainland Europe, the public was outraged and the headlines demanded that something must be done. Hundreds of thousands of British people signed a petition demanding that Britain should let Syrian refugees into the country. So, on the 7th September, David Cameron told parliament that his government would allow 20,000 refugees to come into Britain over the next five years.

The Prime Minister tried to show himself to be a compassionate and pragmatic leader. Then again, if we accept 20,000 people over five years, that means we’ll only accept 4,000 people each year, and this will be out of the refugees who have not travelled to Europe to seek asylum. In comparison, by the end of this year Germany says it will have accepted around 800,000 migrants and refugees into their country. That’s 40 times more than Britain proposes to take in.

David Cameron wanted to end the bad headlines, but at the same time keep the people who are anti-immigration content. The Prime Minister’s told the British public that he will quench their thirst to do good. He will allow refugees into Britain. He will house them and offer them a better life, but not for too many people. This is because some of the British public are strongly anti-immigration. We’ve witnessed the rise of UKIP, the growing anger about high immigration rates (and ultimately the anti-climax of Farage). That’s why David Cameron said in his manifesto, “immigration needs to be controlled… [and] our approach will be tougher, fairer and faster”.

This May the British people re-elected a Conservative government who promised to curb immigration and “protect British values” (even though I suspect no one really understands what makes British values inherently British). So it would seem the British public really are anti-immigration. Yet isn’t it odd that charities have been inundated with support and donations from that same British public, who, now that the media have shown them a horrific picture, fully support migrants ? Some people are even offering up their homes to take in refugee families. Of course, if David Cameron had announced his new policy the week before the photo of Aylan Kurdi was flung in front of the nation’s eyes, he would probably have faced waves of discontent from the public and from the media. But it’s okay, because now Britain doesn’t mind immigration.

What’s interesting is what David Cameron didn’t say in his desire to end the bad newspaper headlines. He could’ve stressed much more to the 400,000 petitioners that after the USA, Britain is the biggest donor to refugee camps – almost a billion pounds a year. It would’ve looked good for the government, especially since the UN has revealed that they’ve only raised 37% of the money needed to fund these refugee camps, which makes Britain one of the only countries offering their money to better conditions of the camps and encourage refugees to stay in the camps rather than risk their lives travelling to Europe.

Sadly, the rest of Europe has heard only David Cameron’s announcement that Britain will take 20,000 refugees. It’s all they’ll remember. They’ll forget the billions of pounds we’ve already given. They’ll just think we don’t want to help with the migration crisis. There will be a price to pay for the Prime Minister’s attempt to silence the headlines.

On the horizon is the EU referendum, which will take place by 2017. In the time before the vote, the Prime Minister will try to strike a ‘better deal’ with the rest of Europe in a bid to persuade the public to vote to stay in the European Union. The key is to show the public that the other EU member states will show leniency to Britain and allow us to have this ‘better deal’. Yet how can we expect the rest of the EU to offer us such a deal when they believe we aren’t pulling our weight in Europe ? We propose to take in 4,000 refugees each year, but they’ll point out this is only from camps in Syria and so it won’t alleviate the pressure being put on the rest of Europe.

Our chances of an EU deal don’t look too pretty. By not taking our fair share of refugees, Britain is isolating itself from its European allies. We risk giving countries such as Germany and France another reason to tell us that we won’t get a better deal with the EU. If the fact that we don’t get a better deal means that Britain exits the EU, we are further dooming ourselves to a generation of being seen as outcasts in the eyes of Europe. All because of a purely cosmetic policy thought up by the happily inconstant politicians to win the news cycle of a single day.

Chris Matthews

Correspondant à Londres.

TRIP Magazine /