There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat . But when his disciples saw it , they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor. When Jesus understood it , he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. …
It did not take long for the wheels of the Great British Hug-A-Refugee bandwagon to fall off.
Yesterday in response to a rabid Daily Mail headline the story occupied the airwaves of a Home Office contractor using a luxury car to ‘transit’ asylum seekers from one hovel in London to another in Manchester. The BBC served up an earnest reporter to explain to concerned viewers in their sincere voice saying that the firm had apologised for the error of using inappropriate transport for asylum seekers and that the premium which presumably usually attaches to such taxiing would not be passed on to the public purse. And so the nations anger is quelled.
Inappropriate. When has there ever been an appropriate use of a limo? The rapid transiting of Russian kleptocrats or Chinese autocrats through foreign capitals? Lary hen parties giving it large in Basildon and environs?
In August David Cameron and his foreign secretary Philip Hammond spoke respectively of ‘swarms’ of ‘marauding migrants’ threatening our ‘standard of living’, in a sort of imagined reverse siege of Calais, where England’s island tranquillity had to be shielded from the unshaven hordes in ‘the Jungle’. Then in September the images of a three-year-old Syrian washed up on a Turkish beach made it suddenly fashionable for politicians and journalists to substitute ‘migrants’, with its connotations of mischief and opportunism, for ‘refugees’, more redolent of unfortunate strays in desperate need of our pathos and donations. It has not lasted long. Yesterday the familiar dehumanising lexicon made its exuberant return, with ‘intimidating’ groups of migrants ‘overwhelming’ an English village.
First of all this should not be a story at all. So what if a carload of the world’s downtrodden have happened to travel in a posh vehicle for a few miles. And so what if it was a mistake and they should actually have been bundled into a minivan?
Second, if it was to be of journalistic interest, it could have been a semi-humorous, saccharine piece of journalism about how Mr Whatshisname had within weeks gone from fleeing torture and barrel-bombing in Syria to leather upholerstered chauffeured stretch Hummer.
But no, in England there must be outrage that the government may have funded a one-off expensive taxi ride for an asylum seeker. The implication that these are the least befitting of any form of luxury. That they ought to be grateful for even being admitted to detention in the country, pending an asylum decision. Any upgrade on a shithole is an insult to hard-working taxpayers and to unemployed servicemen. It is now necessary to issue public apologies for inadvertently dispensing modest and ephemeral privilege upon displaced Africans.
In other words, asylum seekers are subhuman.
This was a week after Theresa May cynically inverted facts about economic benefits of immigration. From a Home Secretary who has attempted to curtail freedom of expression on grounds of ‘incitement to hatred’, this was brazen, inflammatory and divisive right wing politics at its most contemptible. The Tories are sowing and cultivating animosity between poorer sections of society, diverting frustration at inequality and injustice towards the most defenceless. I heard the other day Emily Dugan, a thoughtful and conscientious investigative journalist, documenting the social fracturing which afflicts Boston Lincolnshire, the town with the highest proportion of people from post-2004 EU enlargement in Britain.
We are told that this is an overcrowded island. Bollocks. It’s like food shortages, famines and malnutrition when two thirds of the affluent west are overweight or obese and where waste enough food to feed the planet. Of course there is room for immigrants, the thousands or hundreds of thousands who are committed and resourceful enough to find their way to this wet corner of Eurasia. I would offer them temporary digs not on former inner city council estates, or in Longford, LB Hillingdon, or Boston Lincs, but on country estates, in the Prime Minister’s bucolic constituency, or in the west London penthouses left empty by oligarchs in order to launder their ill-gotten wealth. I would even offer a family my spare room while they get themselves set up. Why, in the 21st century, should the indigenous, relative poor of western countries be burdened with accommodating the migrating poor?
It is often speculated in pulpits around Christendom that Jesus, had he appeared today, the suffering servant, would appear in the guise of a stateless unshaven migrant, or a trafficked prostitute: ‘despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not’.
Jesus did not have an easy life, but he did not make a virtue out of misery.
John Reid, one of the fix-it-men of the late Blair years, though certainly not a star of the first magnitude in recent political life, did to his credit trot out some memorable – albeit overworked – clichés. One of his commonplaces seemed to paraphrase partially the sentiment expressed by Christ in the house of Simon the Leper when he was annointed with perfume, a vignette indicating the nervous restiveness among the disciplines; the last anecdote in the Gospel of Matthew before Judas sloped off to offer his betray for thirty silver coins and the story of the passion gets underway. ‘Nothing,’ Reid once said to me, with a twinkle in his eye and a twitch in his neck, ‘nothing is too good for the working classes’.
Nothing is too good for the tired, the huddled masses, yearning to be free.