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

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses