February 2, 2024 - 1:20pm

By now the chemical attack perpetrated in Clapham by the Afghan sex offender and asylum seeker Abdul Ezedi has triggered full-throated pandemonium. Ezedi entered the UK on a lorry, had his asylum claim declined twice, was convicted of a sex offence, and was finally granted asylum after claiming to have converted to Christianity. Now he is on the run after throwing corrosive chemicals over a toddler. Not without reason, many are wondering: why was he here at all? 

The same anger and bafflement is apparent across the Atlantic, where illegal migrant arrivals in New York were filmed assaulting US police officers, only to walk free without bail and flip the bird to the recording camera. This moment, and the reaction to it, encapsulates a core grievance in the migration debate: a sense that those at the very top and very bottom of society view the social contract with contempt, as something simply to be looted for personal benefit.

At the top end, the private equity practice of buying up well-loved brands and stripping out everything that made them nice in the name of “efficiency” is one version of this parasitic behaviour. Mass shoplifting rendering ordinary shops unusable is an underclass version. Abusing the social contract for clout is also popular on TikTok: the street harasser and home invader Mizzy is one example, as is the American account Barfly, who has garnered 177k followers for videos that depict him preparing meals such as nachos in hotel bathrooms. 

What such videos reveal is an exploitative relation to the moral commons, which both presupposes and corrodes shared norms concerning acceptable behaviour. There’s a limit to how many “pranksters” a street culture can endure, before basic norms and expectations change. Similarly, there’s a limit to how many people can drain cooking grease and debris down a hotel sink, before the hotel either puts up its prices or closes permanently.

Uncontrolled mass migration also both presumes on and undermines the social contract. The public outrage at Ezedi’s horrific act underlines a widespread grasp of what is at stake: that is, the uniparty indifference to British citizens’ interests where migration is concerned represents an equally destructive pincer attack on the social contract by those at each end of the social hierarchy. 

At the top, business owners and political leaders can dial up migration, while rejoicing at rising GDP, benefiting from rising house prices, or improving their margins through reduced labour costs. At the bottom of the social scale are those — predominantly migrants — for whom there is still upside to be gained from undercutting wages, living jam-packed in slum housing, and disregarding local behavioural norms. In the middle, meanwhile, cluster those still doing their best to uphold something resembling the postwar social consensus. 

This consensus held that there exists an in-group — the national family, as it were — through whose efforts, and for whose benefit, the welfare state and social solidarity exist, as do common moral and behavioural standards. This group is now witnessing an assault on that solidarity and those shared standards with mounting anger, as taxes rise and living conditions degrade in the name of what is in effect financial and moral strip mining. The sense of mutiny is now palpable: it speaks volumes that even on Mumsnet, a longstanding bastion of middle-class liberal centrism on most political topics, the thread discussing the attacks has been hidden — presumably for too many robust views on the topic of asylum seekers and incompatible cultures. 

And yet it seems extremely unlikely that the Conservatives will survive the coming election, having squandered their majority and public trust on doing the precise opposite of addressing public concern on this issue. It is more unlikely still that the Labour Party will do anything to change course. The British middle class now faces another four years of big business, NGOs, the progressive press and Government virtue-signallers tag-teaming with sometimes-violent migrant opportunists to dismantle the basis for social solidarity. How they will respond is anybody’s guess.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.