I’ll tell you what’s got us choking on our granola…

The death of a young Sudanese man in the Channel this month should have caused more than a pause in the culture wars

The nation will fall. The monarchy will collapse. The ravens are leaving the Tower of London. They flee not in anticipation of another Landrover-crash Prince Andrew interview, but because they are bored by virus London’s lack of bustle. I understand. Without live music, live comedy, and live yoghurt, London is the congested, polluted, overpriced hell-hole flat-capped northern friends telegram me from trams to tell me it is. But, despite this, London and the UK as a whole remain a final destination of choice for pestilential locust swarms of cockroach migrants (™ ® the Sun). They flee political instability, food shortages, chemical weapons, guided missiles, environmental collapse, and national radio stations where late-80s Samantha Fox singles still top the playlists. And so would you.

These pull factors should have been addressed by some benign but effective pan-European political entity. Such a body, if it existed, could enforce the just distribution of migrants across the continent according to the ability of respective nations to accommodate them, rather than by their ability to shirk their moral responsibilities on waves of pint-pot populism. After all, we may as well formulate fair formulae for the redistribution of the new diaspora now. In less than 30 years, people from Surrey will be seeking shelter from the smouldering sun in still-soggy Strathclyde. We need to know if independent Scotland will be ethically obliged to accommodate refugees from Guildford. Would they learn to fit in? Is it possible to batter and fry an entire branch of Waitrose?

In the second week of August I heard home secretary P Patel boast about the divisiveness of her asylum overhaul: “The left are going to have a meltdown.” The Tory mean girls love the idea of lefty spasms. Earlier this month Merkin Dwabney, the Brexit party MEP and former editor of Ladwang magazine, imagined angry lefties “choking on their granola in Islington”. The public association of political progressives with healthy grain-based foodstuffs and shock-induced throat trauma has become an end in itself for the unscrupulous British right, irrespective of any hard evidence of the left’s difficulties with cereal consumption.

Patel’s ongoing assault upon the migrant millions was framed both to placate heartless islanders and to fan the flames of an electorally expedient culture war. Lefties would be spewing up their Fairtrade hand-knitted woollen muesli into their Islington sawdust eco-toilets made of tofu and placentas and scented blah blah briefs blah dinner party blah blaby blab blab Remainer blab shit piss wank.

But even as Patel envisioned attitudes to migrants as a way to make annoyed lefties gag on their corduroy polytechnic media studies mung bean casserole transgender Port Isaac Ocado bleurgh wap wap scallops copy and paste wap smashed avocado, I wondered how long it would be before Britain witnessed an incident, like the discovery of the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach in 2015, that would show the wickedness of Patel’s weaponised words.

Remember little Alan, suddenly sensitive newspaper cartoonists? Perhaps N Farage could camera-phone a sea-swollen cadaver to Breitbart? Maybe Sky TV’s ex-SAS pundit Phil Campion, Arron Banks’s football lad Igor, could float fake bodies into shot? Or perhaps washed-up migrant corpses could be strung along the Dungeness skyline from pylons like wind-buffeted plastic bags, a decomposing phantasmagoria to deter the desperate.

Would this work? The desperate are, predictably, desperate to reach Britain. And who can blame them? The post-Brexit boom years are imminent. If we hadn’t wanted the world’s starving and brutalised millions to head here we shouldn’t have spent so much money telling everyone we were soon to be a world-beating buccaneering nation, or forced them all to speak our language in the 18th century, or to covet the Beatles, James Bond, Twiggy and the Mini Cooper in the 1960s.

Liam Fox was Brexit’s pantalooned pied pirate piper, his jolly hornpipe of prosperity and freedom carried by the breeze to hungry ears in Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Ethiopia, Chad, Eritrea, Syria and Sudan. The Foxmeister is a buccaneering Brexiteer gripping the bucking buccaneering Brexit bronco between his splayed white thighs. Migrants cannot resist the charismatic Fox.

Why would any asylum seeker, steering a supermarket inflatable with lolly stick paddles, settle for France or Germany, where they will be made to eat straight bananas and where kettles are illegal (™ ® Boris “I Shook Hands With Everyone” Johnson and Michael Gove)? Freewheelin’, bucaneerin’, bendy banana, boiled water Britain is within sight, with its £350m a week extra health spend and randomly distributed exam grades. Anyone could end up at a Russell Group university, given the right postcode! The opportunities for those who work hard here are limitless, bound only by the algorithm. All hail the Algorithm. Algorithm! Algorithm! I have been chosen! Farewell my friends!! I go to a better place!!! Warwick University!!!! With its outstanding on-campus arts centre!!!!!

In the end, the UK’s own Alan Kurdi moment came quickly, but the pause in culture-war hostilities evaporated fast. A young Sudanese man died in the Channel in a toy dinghy 12 days ago, and an undignified bad faith blame game began. But will you picnic on the beach, Britannia, while the bodies bloat into bluebottle birth pools around you? I think you will. Will you, Brexit Britain, still accommodate the government that sees such sights as collateral damage in attempts to make lefties sick up their whole-food gluten-free lesbian blah blah? I think you will. Will you say this young Sudanese man deserved to die? Yes. You definitely will. You already did. I saw it, however briefly, burning “below the line”, on the Daily Mail website.

Take that! Press send! Now, pass me my champagne, Karam! This week’s Observer column is done! They eat this acrid fog! Yes, I’m very lucky to be working during the pandemic. And so are you, Karam. Have a glass yourself. I’m not a monster.

• This article was amended on 31 August 2020 because an earlier version referred to the death of “a 16 year old Sudanese boy”. Initial reports, citing a French minister, gave his age as 16. He was later said by his family to be 22, although documents found on his body give a 1992 date of birth, making him 28.


Stewart Lee

The GuardianTramp

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