We need to talk about the word “swarm,” Dave

Earlier today, the Prime Minister used the word “swarm” when describing the many men, women and children trying to gain entry to Europe and ultimately the UK from Northern Africa. 

Dave has been criticised by many for dehumanising the plight of these people; people desperate to escape regimes and conditions far worse than we can imagine, conditions bad enough to risk death crossing the Mediterranean in a dinghy or being crushed beneath a goods lorry at Calais. 

Dave was even criticised by little-Englander Nigel Farage although this was somewhat ironic given that Nigel had used the same word himself earlier this morning in an interview. Nige also gave good anecdote as he told of a migrant trying the back door of his car on a return trip which illustrates just how bad things have got. I mean, we have royally fucked up some countries with our gung-ho foreign policy but to see a car journey with Enoch Farage as a means to a better life? Brutal.

Anyway, I’m not focusing on our “blow it up without consequences” approach to international intervention, what I’d like to look at is quite simple and aimed at those who have come out in support of Cameron and his choice of language. My point is this:

If it is okay to describe this group of people in need as a “swarm” then would it also be okay to use it to describe disabled folk  wanting support from the government? Would it have been okay to describe the tourists waiting to return from Tunisia following the recent attrocity as a “swarm”? What about people demanding access to routine procedures which are now being withheld because of austerity related cuts? Are there enough of them to refer to them as a “swarm”?

No, of course not, that’s ridiculous and so is this language being used to describe anything other than a huge number of insects or perhaps birds or fish. “Large numbers of people” is fine; a term which dehumanises the situation, which stops us thinking of the families and children as individual people needing real help is not. 

Cameron knew what he was saying too. His exact phrase was, “You have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live.” He dressed his comments in the rhetoric of UKIP & the far right, the xenophobic and the inward facing, little better than “bloody foreigners coming over here to take your jobs, wives and benefits.”

The word “swarm” to describe people is not okay. To defend it, to shout about “leftie” sensibilities or to quote a dictionary definition as justification is simply inexcusable.


4 thoughts on “We need to talk about the word “swarm,” Dave

    • Hi Sam, thanks for dropping by, reading and commenting.

      Yes, I think language is important everywhere not just politics. Carefully chosen words can change the direction and focus of many a conversation or debate. The comments in social media show a clear split of those who see any immigrant (and is hazard a guess I could insert the term “foreigner” in relation to many) as a drain on society and to be treated as vermin and those who are heartbroken by the human disaster in northern Africa

      It’s polarising and probably what the PM intended. Does he actually think like this? Actually, maybe not but he has a rightwing to keep content and UKIP support to win back


      • Rich, how do you view the media’s role in this use of language? Do they facilitate the labelling of these migrants as “others”? I feel that they also have a greatly understated role in the handling of issues such as this.


      • So much of the mainstream media is an extension of one party or another express – UKIP;
        Sun, Mail, Telegraph, etc – Tories;
        Mirror – Labour

        that their role is far greater than it should be. The reporting of the Calais situation had been skewed toward the line each party was taking and is clearly seen as a vote winner. Before the “swarm” thing broke the front pages were full of “call the army in” type pieces

        Liked by 1 person

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