David Cameron is said to have remarked that Theresa May was the oddest person in his cabinet. I have been constantly reminded of that comment during the past couple of weeks listening to the prime minister and her home secretary, Amber Rudd, struggling to defend their sinister — and now abandoned — proposal to deport hundreds of British citizens who moved to the UK from the Caribbean, implying they are not fully entitled to be here.
As the son of Jamaican parents who arrived in Britain in the 1950s, I have a stake in what happens to the “ Windrush generation”. My mother once told me that the first flag she ever saw was the British one, flying in downtown Kingston, Jamaica.
She had never been to the UK, but from that moment she understood and valued the historic ties between them and us. Members of my family fought in the second world war and helped Britain to victory.
So it didn’t seem odd to my parents when the Conservative administration of Harold Macmillan invited citizens of the empire to come and live and work in Britain, helping relieve its labour shortages after the loss of life in the war. I was born here and have never felt anything other than British by birth and by culture. I never ruled out the possibility of having to fight for “queen and country”, nor that, if the call came, I would.
My early interest in politics was aroused by politicians like Norman Tebbit and Margaret Thatcher. I never felt it incompatible for immigrants to match the substantial economic contribution they make with a political one.
But during my time in the Conservative party, I came to realise many of my peers didn’t agree. They told stories of what they did out canvassing. When a black person opened the door they would say, “Sorry, wrong door” and quickly move on. They didn’t hide their horror when another son of Jamaican immigrants, Lord Taylor of Warwick, was selected to stand for Cheltenham: “He should stand in Brixton, that would be more suitable,” and so on.
My choice to become a Conservative was hard wired by the economic realities of the day. As a child, I remember not understanding how trade unions could go on strike without a ballot of their members. I could not make sense of why governments funded lossmaking industries. I never expected the party to be good at compassion.
When I became a Young Conservative at 15, I hardly fitted the Tory stereotype. For many years I was looked at as an object of curiosity. How could you be black and a Conservative, insiders wanted to know. The mistrust was mutual; in immigrant communities distrust towards the party is very strong.
I had thought all this was in the past, but Mrs May has shown she likes things this way. Decades have passed during which divisions should have faded, but they haven’t.
It was under Mr Cameron that it first occurred to me to question my membership of the Tory party. I have known the former prime minister for many years and when he called me to ask for my support in the Tory leadership election, I was excited by his commitment to modernisation. However, his enthusiasm and energy waned quickly in government and momentum ebbed away.
The difficulty is that for every Conservative party leader, immigrants have been a “problem”. At some stage, they need to be attacked in order to shore up the traditional Tory vote. Even Mr Cameron did it. His decision to authorise the truly repugnant “Go home” advertisements that seemed like ghostly echoes of the National Front was so distressing. I was relieved when the policy was dropped, but not before the Conservatives had generated the publicity they had all along intended.
Things started getting noticeably worse when Mrs May became leader of the party. Peculiarly, for someone who was apparently the weakest candidate in the field, the former home secretary ended up being elected unopposed as leader. I am still surprised that Mr Cameron appointed her to his cabinet, but, in one crucial sense, I can see how he made sense of it. Mrs May more accurately embodies the authentic Conservative party values than he ever did.
Under her leadership, the spirit of the “Go home” ads seems to have taken root in the Home Office. Mrs May is better known for what she stands against than for what she is for. One is forced to conclude that the policy of evicting Afro-Caribbeans was nothing to do with the wider issue of immigration but that the intention was to deport hundreds, possibly thousands, of British citizens who have as much right to be here as does the prime minister herself. The target was people from one specific ethnic group — Afro-Caribbeans — in a way that deliberately deprived them of the means to defend themselves.
The policy has nothing to do with what I understood by Conservatism and I find it unforgivable. Nothing Mrs May or Ms Rudd have said in the past few days can whitewash that. I am therefore quitting the Conservatives, but it is they, not me, who have made it plain we should belong to different political parties.
The writer is a broadcaster, former political speech writer and the author of ‘The Problem With Immigrants’
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