David Cameron wants to ban Greeks from Britain. What would Shirley Valentine think?

While more than a million Britons live in the EU, Cameron's immigrant-bashing rhetoric rings hollow.

Apply a small amount of force to the correct area of your patella and your leg kicks out in an involuntary reaction. This is known as a “knee-jerk”. Apply a similar amount of force to the City of London and the Prime Minister kicks a minority.

And so it was on Tuesday. Like a concupiscent peacock, shaking his tail-feathers to the BNP and UKIP, David Cameron announced to the House of Commons Liaison Committee that contingency plans were being hatched to block Greek citizens from entering the UK. He would do this because his “first and foremost duty” as Prime Minister is “to keep our country safe, to keep our banking system strong, to keep our economy robust”. Although, as the latest round of Quantitative Easing indicates, not necessarily in that order.

That’s right folks. As the country slumps from recession to depression, as banks run amok distorting competition and costing the entire globe trillions, as the NHS is being dismantled and sold off piece by piece to any willing provider, the real danger we face is the possibility of immigration from a country with the total population of London.

This is the rancid point of concurrency where imperialist xenophobia, heartless disregard and class prejudice meet. To understand this one must contrast his latest statement with his reaction to proposals by Francois Hollande to tax those with obscenely high incomes. Cameron said that he would “roll out the red carpet” for such French tax exiles. And this applies to rich Greeks too, the ones most complicit in the sovereign debt crisis, who got their money out of the country months ago and have been snapping up London property at astronomical prices.

Rich Europeans are not only welcome – they get the red carpet treatment. Poor Europeans are another matter. We got what we wanted out of them. They bought our goods and services when times were good. They took out unsustainable loans from our banks to do so. The logical thing to do now is to cut them loose. The same Dalek logic which labels the sick, the disabled, the elderly and the unemployed as “a burden”.

It is an utterly misconceived debate. If Cameron’s thinking is that the rest of Europe will allow the UK to somehow cherry-pick the bits of the common market which suit them – to export freely, to actively distort other countries’ tax policies, to continue to act as the financial capital and skim the cream of all income – while rejecting the bits which are inconvenient, then he is more deluded than first thought.

But it is also a dishonestly framed debate. More than one million Brits live in EU countries at the last count. That's a significant part of the 5.5m Brits who live abroad – nearly ten per cent of the population. There's an odd double standard here: Foreigners coming to this country are unskilled scroungers, taking our jobs, using our health-care, taking advantage of our welfare state. Britons going abroad are productive, law-abiding, contributors to that society.

This is a key ingredient in the bitter, bigoted jus of Cameron’s scaremongering. By flipping a coin which has the Queen’s head on both sides, he performs a parlour trick, the aim of which is to strike fear. At its heart is a world view which would have seemed more at home three centuries ago: Immigrants are funny-looking intruders, barbarising our society. Emigrants are the good folks of the East India Trading Company who illuminate, educate and civilise natives.

No mention of Shirley Valentine, the image captured brilliantly in the tender Willy Russell character - the cinematic version of which was filmed a few yards from my house. Shirley lives above the restaurant, works there as a waitress cash-in-hand, doesn’t pay municipal or income tax or NI and doesn’t speak Greek. This loveable British institution is absolutely typical of the thousands of Europeans who flock to my island every year. Nothing other than scrounging immigrants, of the kind Cameron detests.

Yet, Greeks welcome them. We take them into our hearts and our homes, break bread with them, knock back shots of Raki with them. We recognise that our different backgrounds, outlooks and experiences will teach us both something and make us better. Migration enriches culture, it does not threaten it.

No mention either of the hundreds of thousands of Brit pensioners who retire to the Spanish Costas, the South of France and the Greek Islands. People who have not paid a penny of tax in that country, but take advantage of its roads, its emergency services, its health system, its infrastructure. The rest of Europe is meant to shrug its shoulders, generously and warmly, and say “That’s what free movement means. The benefits outweigh the disadvantages.” While the UK tightens its borders and carefully selects the richest of each country for entry. This is Cameron’s ludicrous vision of a single market.

That our Prime Minister has a chip, the size and shape of Crete, on his shoulder about Greece is well known. From his earliest days as a humble MP in 2003, he waded into the delicate Balkan soup of historical dispute and diplomatic incident, by declaring that from now on he would call my country "the former Ottoman possession of Greece". Also, it is clear that his latest statement is just posturing. So why should one care?

Because a moment like this reveals the darkest and most unsavoury core of the party which leads our country. Because it makes life in the UK for the many thousands of tax-paying, enterprising, contributing, hard-working people of Greek origin a little bit harder to endure. Because it shows that the manifesto, which had on its cover a Cameron dressed up in compassionate conservatism, nakedly reveals him by page three as the topless, busty centrefold of the far-right.

Shirley Valentine, pack your bags. I’ll be getting ready too. It seems we are both going home.

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here. You can find him on Twitter: @sturdyalex

Shirley Valentine, begone! Photo: Getty Images

Greek-born, Alex Andreou has a background in law and economics. He runs the Sturdy Beggars Theatre Company and blogs here You can find him on twitter @sturdyalex

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Leader: Theresa May and the resurgence of the state

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years.

Theresa May entered office in more tumultuous circumstances than any other prime minister since 1945. The UK’s vote to leave the European Union was a remarkable rebuke to the political and business establishment and an outcome for which few had prepared. Mrs May recognised that the result was more than a revolt against Brussels. It reflected a deeper alienation and discontent. Britain’s inequalities of wealth and opportunity, its regional imbalances and its distrusted political class all contributed to the Remain campaign’s ­defeat. As she said in her speech in Birmingham on 11 July: “Make no mistake, the referendum was a vote to leave the European Union, but it was also a vote for serious change.”

When the financial crisis struck in 2007-2008, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, was caught out. His optimistic, liberal Conservative vision, predicated on permanent economic growth, was ill-suited to recession and his embrace of austerity tainted his “modernising” project. From that moment, the purpose of his premiership was never clear. At times, austerity was presented as an act of pragmatic bookkeeping; at others, as a quest to shrink the state permanently.

By contrast, although Mrs May cautiously supported Remain, the Leave vote reinforced, rather than contradicted, her world-view. As long ago as March 2013, in the speech that signalled her leadership ambitions, she spoke of the need to confront “vested interests in the private sector” and embrace “a more strategic role” for the state. Mrs May has long insisted on the need to limit free movement of people within the ­European Union, and anticipated the causes of the Leave vote. The referendum result made the national reckoning that she had desired inevitable.

More than any of her recent predecessors, the Prime Minister seems willing to challenge the economic and political orthodoxies of the past 35 years. She has promised worker representation on company boards, binding shareholder votes on executive pay, improved corporate governance and stricter controls on foreign takeovers.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has set the ­Labour Party on a similar course, stating in his conference speech that the “winds of globalisation” are “blowing against the belief in the free market and in favour of intervention”. He pointedly criticised governments which did not try to save their domestic steel industries as China dumped cheap steel on to global markets.

We welcome this new mood in politics. As John Gray wrote in our “New Times” special issue last week, by reasserting the role of the state as the final guarantor of social ­cohesion, Mrs May “has broken with the neoliberal model that has ruled British politics since the 1980s”.

The Prime Minister has avoided the hyperactive style of many new leaders, but she has deviated from David Cameron’s agenda in several crucial respects. The target of a national Budget surplus by 2020 was rightly jettisoned (although Mrs May has emphasised her commitment to “living within our means”). Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement on 23 November will be the first test of the government’s ­fiscal boldness. Historically low borrowing costs have strengthened the pre-existing case for infrastructure investment to support growth and spread prosperity.

The greatest political ­challenge facing Mrs May is to manage the divisions within her party. She and her government must maintain adequate access to the European single market, while also gaining meaningful control of immigration. Her statist economic leanings are already being resisted by the free-market fundamentalists on her benches. Like all prime ministers, Mrs May must balance the desire for clarity with the need for unity.

“Brexit means Brexit,” she has repeatedly stated, underlining her commitment to end the UK’s 43-year European
affair. If Mrs May is to be a successful and even transformative prime minister, she must also prove that “serious change” means serious change and a determination to create a society that does not only benefit the fortunate few. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories