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  • Published in Opinion
David Cameron

David Cameron. Photo: Moritz Hager

The Prime Minister's denigrating language about migrants is true to his class, says Alastair Stephens

It's hard to say which is worse.

Is it worse that on Holocaust Memorial Day, David Cameron let hisguard slip, revealing his true feelings, when he described the people sufferin in the refugee camps in Calais as "a bunch of migrants".

Or is it worse that such a quip was a scripted and pre-prepared answer, one thought up and thought about, designed to excite and enrage and rolled out on the aforementioned Memorial Day.

And how to explain the outburst?

The first scenario would suggest his personal belief is that the migrants in Calais are freeloaders and good-for-nothings, and should go back to where they came from, or at least the country next door.

The second that he is willing to play with the language of racism, to blow the dog whistle, and the fact that it was Holocaust day, well it will at least make headlines.

In a way they are as bad as each other, and that is as bad as the Tory party and all who lead it, and the ruling class which stands behind them, actually are.

Which isn't really the image that Cameron seeks to portray. Blair wanted us to think that he was "just a pretty straight kind of guy". Then tried to sell us a dodgy dossier and launched an illegal war.

Cameron would like us to think that he really just wants to hug a husky, or a hoody. Tellingly he only ever did former.

But then this is true to his class. He has positively cultivated the image of himself as a country gent, slightly aloof, uninterested in ideology, genial, jovial and basically well-meaning. And loves dogs.

Anything to get a way from the image of Coke and champers, braces and bullying that the Tories acquired under Thatcher (though he is perfectly happy for his sidekick to retain that imprimatur, all the more to contrast with his own noblesse oblige)

Of course these are just two faces of the same bunch of people. The people who run the banks, lead the Tories and ultimately, whoever is in government, run the country.

This is not the first time he has used this sort of dehumanising, denigratinglanguage about migrants.

This time they were “just a bunch” as if they were idle teens hanging out in the own centre waiting for some trouble to entertain them (or possibly to be hugged).

PreviouslyCameron had referred to them as "a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean”: human beings metaphorically demoted to the status of insects (and is there any good swarm of those?).

He has also described the migrants as wanting to "break in" to Britain.

Thieves, swarms, delinquents: the insinuations are are so obvious that each time he says these things there is an immediate outcry. They might be coded, but like a six year old might write in code. Anyone can break it.

But that's the intention. It's not meant to be a secret, it's meant to be understood. And everyone can understand it, and many will agree with it, because it appeals to prejudices which lie at the heart of the British establishment.

They may make out that they are down with diversity, that all they want to do on a bank holiday is maybe listen to some Public Enemy (or was that Liz Kendall?) before popping down to carnival (as less successful leader of the Tory party did).

They’ve always been able to cope with diversity in privilege. Whether it was maharajas and maharanis of the Empire in India or the sheikhs and sultans of the west’s present day protectorates and client states, they’ll always roll out the carpet for super-rich despots, whatever their creed or colour.

But the rest, the victims of empire, the half of the world’s population who together own as much (or individually little) as the world’s 62 richest billionaires, they will always be beyond the pale.

Whilst the the Tories would welcome any and all of the billionaires to Britain, the great 'unwashed' masses of refugees and migrants, those driven by desperation to risk life and limb travelling across continents just for the chance of a better life for themselves, or even just their children, these people should be kept as far away as possible. Free-loaders who would bleed us dry if only they had a chance.

The Empire may have gone but to the British upper classes, and their hangers on and admirers, these people are no different from the mass of outstretched hands and upturned faces asking for ‘baksheesh’ that the District Collector would have to face as soon as he got on his horse and rode out of the cantonment.

The British Empire may have gone but its attitudes live on in the hearts and minds of its much reduced successor. Inside every ‘compassionate’ Conservative is a Colonel Blimp trying to get out. We can expect to see a lot more of him as the world order that the Tories and their friends in Washington created comes apart at the seams and ever more people, driven by war and poverty, are forced to beat a path to Europe’s door.

Alastair Stephens

Alastair Stephens

Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.

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