'A bunch of migrants' and a slough of spite

By Jill Segger
January 27, 2016

“What you say flows from what is in your heart.” These are the words with which Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and instructed his disciples in integrity and the dangers of hypocrisy. It is a lesson which the Prime Minister would do well to heed.

At the beginning of Prime Minister's Questions today (27 January), David Cameron said: “Mr Speaker I know the whole House will want to join me in marking Holocaust Memorial Day. “It is right that our whole country should stand together to remember the darkest hour of humanity. Last year on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I said we would build a striking national memorial in London to show the importance Britain places on preserving the memory of the holocaust.” He continued, saying that this memorial would “stand beside Parliament as a permanent statement of our values as a nation.”

So far, so good and entirely to be welcomed. But scarcely ten minutes later, pressed by Jeremy Corbyn on the Google tax accommodation, and becoming louder, angrier and less coherent by the minute as he struggled to avoid answering questions on a deal which had delivered the internet giant an apparent tax rate of three per cent in the UK, David Cameron yelled – and there is no other word for it – that the Leader of the Opposition had “met with a bunch of migrants in Calais”.

Seventy-one years ago, vast numbers of people were struggling across Europe in search of shelter and food. Many were desperate to to be reunited with family and friends. These were people displaced by war and persecution who had lost everything; many were concentration camp survivors. Members of my mother's family were among them. No-one would, either then or now, have sunk to calling them a "bunch of migrants" with the implication that engagement with desperate and suffering people was a ground for insult.

The plight of the hundreds of thousands fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan and other regions of conflict and persecution does not have a single genocidal originator as was the case with that anguished movement of peoples which followed World War 2. But it is, in Mark Twain's words, a horrible example of history 'rhyming'. It seems that David Cameron has no ear for assonance and that in his play-book our “values as a nation” are rather flexible.

There has been much discussion as to whether the Prime Minister's ugly remark was scripted. If it was, he is in desperate need of new advisers and some rudiments of discernment. But, listening to the context, and looking at his record of flinging insults when challenged or thwarted, I am convinced that these words came from the same slough of spite as that of the angry child who hurls abuse on the lines of “ you smell and your mother's fat”. (Remember his outburst that opposition to UK participation in bombing Syria was the stance of “terrorist sympathisers”?)

It gives me no pleasure to come to this conclusion. I would wish that a Prime Minister – of any party – had far greater self-control and ability to deal with the difficulties of democratic challenge. There has already been considerable criticism of David Cameron's behaviour today. He will, on past record, resist admitting his lack of judgement. But remembering Jesus' words, we and he are warned. Because what lines your brain, Prime Minister, will eventually fall out of your mouth.


© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

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