Helen De Cruz on the moral damage inflicted by David Cameron on so many — and prior to Theresa May — to respond to the concerns of a xenophobic upper class.

In her recent piece in the Guardian, Miriam González Durántez argues that Theresa May caused moral damage with her “queue jumpers” and other xenophobic comments.

In particular she writes: “Theresa May will pass, as Cameron did; they all do. But while some prime ministers, such as Cameron, do political and economic damage to the countries they govern, by accident as much as by design, May is inflicting moral damage too.”

I disagree. David Cameron definitely caused moral damage when in 2010 he vowed to curb net migration to the tens of thousands — a concept that is meaningless under freedom of movement as freedom of movement means we are citizens, not migrants, moving freely.

David Cameron, disingenuously, even though he knew EU citizens and other people coming into the UK do so overwhelmingly to work and boost the economy, went on about pressures on public services:

“I’m in favour of immigration, we’ve benefited from immigration, but I think the pressures – particularly on our public services – have been very great. I think we should be focusing on the pressure on our public services – on health and education and housing.”

The government could have used our net tax contributions precisely to invest in those public services. Instead, the taxes I pay go to cuts for the rich, keeping the tax on fossil fuel frozen for 8 years in a row, etc. while people are suffocating and our planet is warming up.

By keeping on repeating he would reduce the net migration to the tens of thousands – a meaningless concept within freedom of movement – David Cameron presented us, EU citizens coming into the UK, as a problem to be solved. A priority over, say, alleviating poverty.

Cameron kept on citing voters’ concerns. Meanwhile the voters’ real concerns such as the NHS being dysfunctional (not caused by immigration, as we now know) were being ignored. He indeed put a clear target for reducing the net migration but not a clear target for austerity.

And that caused the lasting moral damage, perhaps more so than Theresa May’s “queue jumpers” comment. At least there was a pushback for May’s comment. No such pushback occurred after Cameron’s idea that EU citizens coming to work and live in the UK were a problem. A bigger problem than say, children going hungry during school holidays, rough sleepers, fighting crime, or the stalling life expectancy since 2010, or any other thing voters actually care about... David Cameron was simply deaf to the voters’ real concerns, except for the xenophobic voters’ concerns.

This is a common refrain everywhere.

Voters want better funded schools: “Sorry, no money!”, a well-functioning NHS: “Sorry, no money!”, alleviating poverty: “Sorry, no money!”, fighting crime: “Sorry, no money!”

Voters want no foreigners: “Your wish is our command (even if it tanks the economy)!”

A bit weird, if you think about it. It is almost like the damaging migration policies of Cameron et al, leading to May’s red lines (ending free movement above everything, even if it makes us worse off) are not really the concerns of voters (who are mostly ignored) but the concerns of a xenophobic upper class.

It will take many years, if at all, for the country to recover from this moral damage. Reducing the net migration to the tens of thousands has led to the Windrush scandal, the deportation of non-EU citizens over tax errors, Skype families of kids growing up away from their parents, etc.🔷

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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article, with the author’s conscent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)

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(Cover: Flickr/World Economic Forum - David Cameron at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. | 26 Jan 2012. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)