How the Conservatives became the lightning rod for xenophobia

By Sahej Grover


"Immigration is a fundamental process for boosting productivity and general prosperity in any country but when did immigration turn into a hatred slogan for the mainstream right?"

Nancy Pelosi said in her inauguration speech as the Speaker of the House of Representatives that “if we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.” However, you will probably be surprised to learn these words were not actually spoken by the respective Democrat but by the firebrand, former Republican president, Ronald Reagan in his last speech in 1988. Revered by conservatives around the world, Reagan defended civil liberties and individual freedoms. Immigration is a fundamental process for boosting productivity and general prosperity in any country but when did immigration turn into a hatred slogan for the mainstream right?


Under the Coalition government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the Conservative party started a campaign against (supposedly) illegal immigrants that was spearheaded by the robotic Theresa May who served as home secretary. However, as we all read in the news, the victims of these hostile environment policies are usually the migrants who come to this country legally and through the correct channels. So, why did the Conservative Party turn its back on those who sought a better life? The answer lies not within Conservative Party today but the party of Margaret Thatcher.


While beloved by many conservatives, such as Reagan, Thatcher won the 1979 election over the issue of immigration; suggesting that four million immigrants from the New Commonwealth would be an “awful lot” and leave the country “swamped with a different culture”. These comments and Thatcher’s stance on immigration began an era in the Conservative Party where hardline views against immigrants became mainstream. Of course, we must not forget the infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech by the notorious Enoch Powell a mere decade before in 1968. However, his dismissal and Prime Minister Ted Heath’s outward-looking stance on immigration counter-balanced the nastiness of said speech.


Under Thatcher, immigration and the process of becoming a British national became more and more about having blood relatives in the UK rather than a person’s hard work, qualifications or desire for a better life. However, Thatcher’s record on the EU suggested otherwise. She was a staunch pro-European, pro-single market prime minister. It was she who changed our passport’s colour to the much-beloved burgundy. Yet the Conservative Party of today scorns the idea of a burgundy passport and worships the ‘Britishness’ of the new blue passport (ironically, the colour of our passports before the burgundy came into force was black).


"Under Thatcher, immigration and the process of becoming a British national became more and more about having blood relatives in the UK rather than a person’s hard work, qualifications or desire for a better life"

The Conservative Party has for the past few decades been a party of turmoil, hypocrisy and ideologues. Yet its immigration legacy survived the New Labour era, the Coalition era, May era and is in full force under our current government. The frankly xenophobic immigration policy proposed by the exotic duo, Boris Johnson and Priti Patel, would be a disaster for the economy. Why? Our NHS, for starters. Immigrants are the foundation of the National Health Service. The starting salaries for nurses, junior doctors, care assistants, and all those essential to our NHS, is under £25,000. How is the service supposed to survive without these key workers - when they might not have enough points to enter this country?




The current Covid-19 crisis has shown once again shown the importance of our workers. Not only are they on the frontline, battling this malicious disease, but they have also shown just how vital immigrant workers are. As the Tories do so often, another U-turn took place over the pandemic – a free year-long extension to those immigrant NHS workers. Why has it taken a pandemic for the government to realise just how important these workers are? Why must they wage a war against those who we need desperately? Retail workers, care workers, pharmacy workers, cleaners. Next time you hear someone belittle them, remind them that these workers, some of them immigrants, kept our economy going; our needs going; our motivation to strive towards the unknown.


Over the summer we also saw an influx of refugees who, having escaped their war-torn, famine-induced homelands, came face-to-face with the appalling, horrid conditions in the camps of Calais before attempting to escape on a dingy and enter our beautiful country. When they look across the channel, as mentioned by a refugee crossing the Channel, viewing the borders of our beautiful Britain, they see a better life. A life of hope and peace for their children. Yet, we treat them with contempt. While it was no surprise to anyone that the abhorrent right-wing media reviled these helpless folks, it was a surprise, somewhat, to hear the negative and frankly disgusting responses from so-called “socially liberal” Tory MPs. For people who have suffered so much already through no fault of their own, facing such hatred from representatives of our democracy must crush any dream of a better life.


As Britons, we must be proud of our heritage, proud of the fact people look at our borders and think of a better life. Alas, Rule Britannia! is only fitting for our stages, not our attitudes. We must do better. We must fight such injustices.


Sahej Grover became more engaged in politics due to two main factors: immigration and Brexit. Being an immigrant and navigating the immigration system made him really passionate about vocalising the treatment being faced by migrants and highlight their injustices.


Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.

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