That the left-wing Labour MP Clive Lewis should have organised a letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel opposing the deportation of Jamaican criminals hardly comes as a surprise. Being against the removal of foreign nationals, almost irrespective of what they have done to deserve it, is pretty standard fare for a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs – the leftist caucus associated with the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. That Lewis’s letter was signed by around 60 Labour MPs – easily more than a third of Labour backbenchers and twice the total membership of the Campaign Group – was more surprising.
To see the names of mainstream Labour figures such as Tony Lloyd and Barry Sheerman listed as backers tells us that opinion on such matters in the party has shifted decisively since the Labour administration of Tony Blair brought in the UK Borders Act 2007, under the auspices of which the deportations were arranged.
More telling still was the fact that senior Labour figures once regarded as uber-Blairites decided to hop aboard this bandwagon for allowing a motley crew of foreign national killers, sex offenders, thugs and drug dealers to stay in Britain.
Liam Byrne, a minister in the administrations of Blair and Brown, wrote his own letter calling for Patel to 'pause, reflect and reconsider the planned mass deportation of citizens to Jamaica'. His use of the word citizens here was curious indeed, for a central fact was that none of the putative deportees was a British citizen. Like Lewis, he cited the Windrush scandal as a reason for aborting the deportations.
More strikingly still, so did the current Labour frontbencher Lucy Powell during an appearance on Times Radio. Powell even described the deportation of migrants with criminal records as a 'very grey area', when in fact one would have thought it a crystal-clear principle for any government concerned with the well-being of its own citizens. Again her objections were peppered with references to the Windrush scandal.
Yet what turned the Windrush affair into an outrage was that those being lined up for deportation were not criminals – indeed the large majority of those targeted were law-abiding people who had worked and paid taxes in Britain for decades. As Immigration Minister Chris Philp told the Commons on Monday, this did not apply to the current deportees:
'This charter flight to Jamaica is specifically to remove foreign criminals. The offences committed by the individuals on this flight include sexual assault against children, murder, rape, drug dealing and violent crime…This flight is about criminality, not nationality. Let me emphasise: it has nothing to do with the terrible wrongs faced by the Windrush generation.'
When Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy tried to lever 'racial disparities' into the argument, Philp shot back that over the last year only 33 removals out of 5,800 have involved Jamaicans, with the vast majority of deportations being made up of removals to European countries.
So this is where we are at: Labour MPs, including the frontbencher Lucy Powell, have decided to exploit the Windrush affair to campaign to stop foreign criminals being removed from Britain. This is a significant insult to the actual victims of the Windrush affair.
The motivation of these MPs – beyond exposure to campaigns by open borders activists in their own constituencies – would seem to me to be highly ideological. Nobody who recognises that the first duty of a government is the protection of its own citizens could possibly think chucking out foreign nationals who have victimised those citizens a bad thing.
The reality is that respect for borders and the nation state is no longer a powerful strand of ideological thought within the Labour party. Rather, its activists and its cadre of professional politicians these days are fixated on notions of global citizenship and the desirability of 'no borders'.
The persona of socially conservative British patriot constructed by Sir Keir Starmer for his party conference speech is thus exposed as a fake. Starmer has dodged giving his opinion on the deportations and has not, as yet, even responded to the outpourings of his frontbencher Ms Powell.
This former human rights lawyer, whose Labour leadership campaign was peppered with crowd-pleasing pledges to make immigration control more lax, is playing the working-class voters he wishes to win back for fools.
As Blue Wall MP Ben Bradley – often one of the quickest Tories to pick up the public mood – told MPs on Monday:
'The overwhelming majority of Mansfield residents will feel that foreign criminals of any nationality who violate our laws and our values should be removed from this country.'
Simply taking a page out of the Biden playbook by not talking about issues upon which his party is at odds with the public in general and swing voters in particular cannot be allowed to become a serviceable strategy for Starmer. The Tories need to highlight this fundamental values divide time and again between now and the next election. Starmer is stuck with it because he is, in truth, part of it.