I’ve sounded off about the ‘cruel’ Home Office before: https://bernardjporter.com/2018/05/31/our-unhomely-office/. Windrush, the ‘hostile environment’ policy, those huge posters telling undocumented immigrants to scat – ‘or else’; people being deported summarily and quite illegally; the terrible conditions in the refugee holding camps; the Office’s entire lack of sympathy for asylum seekers and their children who may have risked death to come to Britain – this last a huge contrast to the 19th century Home Office’s treatment of refugees, about which I wrote in The Refugee Question in Mid-Victorian Politics… and so on.
(It’s the research I did for that last book which made me realise how fundamentally Britain has changed over the past century; with the inevitable corollary: that no characterisation of ‘British national identity’ can base itself on our history. We’re not the same country we were then. In some good ways, too, of course. But in any case, my general point is that heritage is not identity.)
It seems to have got particularly cruel when Theresa May was in charge. The ‘hostile environment’ was hers. What an extraordinary ambition for a ‘patriot’ to have for her own country! Almost her main purpose in life as Home Secretary seemed to be to get the numbers of immigrants down. It’s why she won’t budge, today, on her ‘red line’ forbidding ‘free movement’ in Europe; which, if she could show just a little more flexibility about it, could solve our ‘Brexit’ problem at a stroke.
It’s a mystery to me why she is so obstinate on this issue. Does she genuinely hate foreigners? (Despite having done a Geography degree?) Is she so convinced of the great unwashed’s xenophobia that she feels she needs to appease it at all costs? She’s a mystery; which is one reason why it might be useful to get to know more about her upbringing before she entered politics. She was famously, of course, the only daughter of a clergyman. I’ve mentioned before that it’s difficult to find out much about him, either (https://bernardjporter.com/2018/12/26/theresa-and-god/). That has given rise to rumours, unworthily, I’m sure, but not likely to be lifted by the known scandal of her ‘loss’ shortly after she became Home Secretary of a large file on paedophilia among the Establishment. But apart from that – and I probably really shouldn’t have mentioned it – you would have thought that the daughter of a vicar should have displayed more Christian charity.
The latest example of Home Office cruelty comes under her successor, Sajid Javid, who is apparently non-religious, though of Moslem heritage, and so seems to have avoided Christianity’s softer side. In any event his reaction to requests by Shamima Begum to be allowed to return to Britain – Shamima was an East London girl who joined ISIS in Syria four years ago at the age of 15, had two babies there, both of whom died in infancy, and is now nine months pregnant with her third – continues the Office’s cruel streak. (See https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/shamima-begum-isis-bride-latest-uk-return-home-secretary-sajid-javid-syria-a8780401.html.) He ‘will not hesitate to block her return’. – But she was a child, for pity’s sake!
“It’s a mystery to me why she is so obstinate on this issue. Does she genuinely hate foreigners?”
It is not such a ‘mystery’: there are huge quantities of votes for the Tories in holding to this view. If one reason had to be isolated as the cause of the Brexit vote, it would concern a wish by Brexiteers to rid the UK of foreigners.
Being ‘obstinate’ on policies of this kind is now a feature of conservative parties and rightist social movements across the globe, not just in the UK.
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Well. I think the degree of xenophobia among the British working and lower-middle classes is exaggerated, and always has been. I’ve written about this (historically), and may blog about it later. But it has become of those accepted ‘facts’ that it’s difficult to disabuse people of.
I did not assert that Brexit voters were entirely working or lower-middle-class. However, almost all the research I have read about why voters ticked the Leave box includes the significance of migration as an issue. Indeed, there appears to be no shortage of middle-class voters who reject refugees and migrants from the EU. May herself – as you point out – is a member of the upper-middle-class with a personal animus against the ‘foreigner’. She allows herself the luxury of projecting this prejudice into the political sphere because it is a clear vote winner, going with the flow of the current zeitgeist.
“I’ve written about this (historically), and may blog about it later.” I look forward to reading what you have to say on this issue. Xenophobia is of course different from feelings of superiority to the subject races. At its height, the strength of the British Empire and its supporting ideology gave the British little reason to fear the outsider, who was more often deferential than otherwise. Perhaps with the waning, and then disintegration of Empire, the foreigner loomed as a more threatening presence in certain circles.
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