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

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Ken Livingstone says publicly what many are saying privately: tomorrow belongs to John McDonnell

The Shadow Chancellor has emerged as a frontrunner should another Labour leadership election happen. 

“It would be John.” Ken Livingstone, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most vocal allies in the media, has said publicly what many are saying privately: if something does happen to Corbyn, or should he choose to step down, place your bets on John McDonnell. Livingstone, speaking to Russia Today, said that if Corbyn were "pushed under a bus", John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, would be the preferred candidate to replace him.

Even among the Labour leader’s allies, speculation is rife as to if the Islington North MP will lead the party into the 2020 election. Corbyn would be 71 in 2020 – the oldest candidate for Prime Minister since Clement Attlee lost the 1955 election aged 72.

While Corbyn is said to be enjoying the role at present, he still resents the intrusion of much of the press and dislikes many of the duties of the party leader. McDonnell, however, has impressed even some critics with his increasingly polished TV performances and has wowed a few sceptical donors. One big donor, who was thinking of pulling their money, confided that a one-on-one chat with the shadow chancellor had left them feeling much happier than a similar chat with Ed Miliband.

The issue of the succession is widely discussed on the left. For many, having waited decades to achieve a position of power, pinning their hopes on the health of one man would be unforgivably foolish. One historically-minded trade union official points out that Hugh Gaitskell, at 56, and John Smith, at 55, were 10 and 11 years younger than Corbyn when they died. In 1994, the right was ready and had two natural successors in the shape of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in place. In 1963, the right was unprepared and lost the leadership to Harold Wilson, from the party's centre. "If something happens, or he just decides to call it a day, [we have to make sure] it will be '94 not '63," they observed.

While McDonnell is just two years younger than Corbyn, his closest ally in politics and a close personal friend, he is seen by some as considerably more vigorous. His increasingly frequent outings on television have seen him emerge as one of the most adept media performers from the Labour left, and he has won internal plaudits for his recent tussles with George Osborne over the tax bill.

The left’s hopes of securing a non-Corbyn candidate on the ballot have been boosted in recent weeks. The parliamentary Labour party’s successful attempt to boot Steve Rotheram off the party’s ruling NEC, while superficially a victory for the party’s Corbynsceptics, revealed that the numbers are still there for a candidate of the left to make the ballot. 30 MPs voted to keep Rotheram in place, with many MPs from the left of the party, including McDonnell, Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John Trickett, abstaining.

The ballot threshold has risen due to a little-noticed rule change, agreed over the summer, to give members of the European Parliament equal rights with members of the Westminster Parliament. However, Labour’s MEPs are more leftwing, on the whole, than the party in Westminster . In addition, party members vote on the order that Labour MEPs appear on the party list, increasing (or decreasing) their chances of being re-elected, making them more likely to be susceptible to an organised campaign to secure a place for a leftwinger on the ballot.

That makes it – in the views of many key players – incredibly likely that the necessary 51 nominations to secure a place on the ballot are well within reach for the left, particularly if by-election selections in Ogmore, where the sitting MP, is standing down to run for the Welsh Assembly, and Sheffield Brightside, where Harry Harpham has died, return candidates from the party’s left.

McDonnell’s rivals on the left of the party are believed to have fallen short for one reason or another. Clive Lewis, who many party activists believe could provide Corbynism without the historical baggage of the man himself, is unlikely to be able to secure the nominations necessary to make the ballot.

Any left candidate’s route to the ballot paper runs through the 2015 intake, who are on the whole more leftwing than their predecessors. But Lewis has alienated many of his potential allies, with his antics in the 2015 intake’s WhatsApp group a sore point for many. “He has brought too much politics into it,” complained one MP who is also on the left of the party. (The group is usually used for blowing off steam and arranging social events.)

Lisa Nandy, who is from the soft left rather than the left of the party, is widely believed to be in the running also, despite her ruling out any leadership ambitions in a recent interview with the New Statesman.However, she would represent a break from the Corbynite approach, albeit a more leftwing one than Dan Jarvis or Hilary Benn.

Local party chairs in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is profiling should another leadership election arise. One constituency chair noted to the New Statesman that: “you could tell who was going for it [last time], because they were desperate to speak [at events]”. Tom Watson, Caroline Flint, Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall all visited local parties across the country in preparation for their election bids in 2015.

Now, speaking to local party activists, four names are mentioned more than any other: Dan Jarvis, currently on the backbenches, but in whom the hopes – and the donations – of many who are disillusioned by the current leadership are invested, Gloria De Piero, who is touring the country as part of the party’s voter registration drive, her close ally Jon Ashworth, and John McDonnell.

Another close ally of Corbyn and McDonnell, who worked closely on the leadership election, is in no doubt that the shadow chancellor is gearing up for a run should the need arise.  “You remember when that nice Mr Watson went touring the country? Well, pay attention to John’s movements.”

As for his chances of success, McDonnell may well be even more popular among members than Corbyn himself. He is regularly at or near the top of LabourList's shadow cabinet rankings, and is frequently praised by members. Should he be able to secure the nominations to get on the ballot, an even bigger victory than that secured by Corbyn in September is not out of the question.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.