Some acts of government occur which mock the usual political responses and render them meaningless. They are portents of something more universally profound than anything which can be dealt with by the processes of mere tribal politics. They are truly once-in-a-generation events which define an entire philosophy and a nation’s direction of travel in the long term.

In post-war Britain only a handful of these has occurred. The establishment of the National Health Service was certainly the first. Britain’s involvement in the Suez Crisis was another, signifying as it did an end to any delusions we might still have entertained about global supremacy.

Perhaps, too, a case could be made for the enactments of Harold Wilson’s aggregated premiership. In those years Wilson granted us a vision of how socialism might harness market forces and the white heat of technology and not be consumed by them. He captured both the temper of a nation and its aspirations and, for a while at least, made us believe it could work.

The defeat of the mineworkers in 1985, together with the triumph of Margaret Thatcher’s philosophy of everyone for themselves, trampled Wilson’s designs into the coal dust and rebuked their rosy concepts of social responsibility. These were the delusions of the weak. She, too, seemed to have channelled a mood and thereafter exploited our traditional trust in the police, the royal family, and the military to maintain it for a while.

This week another of these seismic, sociocultural events took place when the UK Government announced its immigration plans. We knew something of this nature was coming. When you’ve been propelled into office by a campaign inspired by Agincourt, Waterloo and Trafalgar you must produce something that chimes with such rhetoric. And when you can prevail upon the massed ranks of the English press to paint targets on the backs of foreign nationals then you’ll be expected to deliver something to satisfy the mob.

Even so, few can have predicted with what vengeful ferocity these plans would be clothed. Priti Patel’s announcement was defended by some as being merely a declaration of intent to make good on David Cameron’s previous back-of-an-envelope calculations to curb immigration.

The Home Secretary’s plans, though, presaged something much more sinister than that. They owed much to concepts of ethnic superiority and lofty isolation. This was the government of a civilised nation rejecting its moral duty to find a humane solution to geopolitical crises we helped to create through predatory adventurism in other people’s economic and political affairs.

The practical consequences of Patel’s plan to close our borders to those whom she considers to be undesirable immigrants became quickly apparent. Those 8.5 million people she considers to be “economically inactive” include a majority who are simply not. The Office for National Statistics has calculated that her 8.5 million of

16 to 64-year-olds not seeking work include around 2.3 million students and 2.1 million long-term sick. Another 1.1 million are retired and 1.9 million are maintaining families and homes on a full-time basis. That leaves little more than one million of the total who are “economically inactive”.

Patel’s points-based system has the potential to wreck large parts of our agricultural and service-based economy. Thus, free movement will be replaced with a requirement to have a job offer worth at least £25,600. Around seven out of 10 current EU workers would be threatened, as would the sectors in which they currently work.

Scotland’s scattered economy with its ageing and stagnant population relies even more heavily on skilled and non-skilled migrant workers. The grand betrayal of this country has occurred over six years and come in three parts. The 2014 independence referendum turned on the lie of continued EU membership. This was followed by our departure from the EU against our overwhelming will. And now comes this mortal threat to our economy.

Devastating as the practical consequences of Patel’s plans are, they are less disturbing than the fetid and obscene philosophy which reinforces them. The division of foreign workers into two categories marked “barely decent” and “unwelcome” is malevolent. It also panders to the hard-right notion that a person’s worth can only be measured in money.

Patel is a living rebuke to such a nihilistic concept. Under her points system her own parents would have been considered undesirable and not deemed capable of making a worthwhile contribution to Britain’s economy. Yet they prospered and within a single generation had produced a gifted daughter who would serve in one of the highest offices in the land. That a modern UK government believes in this policy and knows it will brook little dissent among those who put them in office signifies something more poisonous. It has become increasingly evident on the BBC’s weekly Question Time, which these days ought to come with a parental advisory. This programme has become a platform for levels of racism and xenophobia in their most primitive forms. To watch Question Time through to the end is a feat of endurance, but it’s also to understand the forces which morally underpin Priti Patel’s immigration plans.

On the international stage these attitudes are endorsed further. Over two days we have seen a far-right German extremist slaughter nine Turkish immigrants and in the Ukraine, buses bearing coronavirus patients attacked and stoned as they returned home. On Friday, the US President mocked the Academy Awards for honouring a film made in South Korea. “We have enough problems with South Korea,” he said. He then cited Gone With the Wind as a model of award-winning cinema, a film whose black actors were not permitted to sit at the same table as their white colleagues during the Oscars ceremony.

Perhaps, like Thatcherism and the primacy of greed she championed, this will all pass before too long and come to be regarded as a convulsion in time, a series of twitches caused by human folly in far-flung places. Yet, those of us on the left who consider ourselves to be enlightened in our approach to immigrants should inspect our consciences too.

As we proclaim the virtues of immigrant workers and express sympathy for their plight, how much of this extends to treating them fairly when we encounter them each day? Do we pay them a fair wage and provide them with decent working conditions? Do we continue to shop in those places and eat in those restaurants where we know they are being mistreated? Do we stand with them when they are being victimised in communities like Govanhill and beyond?

Or are we content merely to pass by on the other side of the road and see them as someone’s problem?