THE Tories may need a reboot, but few disguises could be less convincing than Theresa May’s latest incarnation as a champion of racial equality.
This is the woman who, as home secretary, commissioned the infamous Go Home or Face Arrest vans.
It was on her watch that Britain introduced earnings thresholds so citizens could not bring spouses or partners from outside the European Economic Area into the country unless their pay packets were big enough.
Her obsession with keeping out immigrants has led to high-profile clashes with Cabinet colleagues who pointed out that her hostility to students from abroad made no economic sense.
More cruelly still, she lost little time as Prime Minister before ditching the Dubs amendment on providing a safe haven for unaccompanied child refugees, a humanitarian concession wrested from the David Cameron government only after dogged parliamentary and extraparliamentary campaigning by Labour.
When May shut the scheme down, just 350 child refugees had been given a home here, a fraction of the thousands it was intended to help.
At the first Conservative Party conference with May at the helm, Amber Rudd’s speech was officially recorded as a hate incident after suggesting that employers could be forced to publish lists of foreign staff.
May and the Tories will argue that there is no correlation between shutting out refugees and disparities of wealth and status among British residents.
Even if that were the case, the Cameron government in which May had a front-rank position for six years ploughed ahead with devastating cuts to public services despite being repeatedly warned that the impact would be most severe on the already disadvantaged.
And that’s not to mention measures such as employment tribunal fees, preventing the poor from calling out racial discrimination by their bosses.
But it is not the case. Because May, as a minister and now as head of government, has promoted a poisonous agenda which has helped normalise racism across the board.
The Conservatives played on the worst prejudices when fighting for the London mayoralty, with Labour’s Sadiq Khan smeared as a terror risk simply because of his Muslim faith. What would have been the effect of that disgusting campaign on other Muslims in this country and the way non-Muslims see their community?
When Jeremy Corbyn visited a refugee camp to hear the stories of children, women and men displaced by genocide, famine and war, Cameron spat that the Labour leader was hanging out with “a bunch of migrants,” a riposte dripping with contempt.
How would those words affect refugees who do manage to make a life here? They were designed to sow a suspicion in people’s minds that refugees are not really fleeing horrors we can barely imagine, but simply after an easy life at the expense of the British taxpayer, just as tabloid furore over a handful of refugees allegedly pretending to be younger than they were served to slam the door in the faces of tens of thousands of orphaned children.
Tory cuts have depended on divide and rule: public support for slashing benefits has been whipped up by the mantra that Britain is a magnet for grasping layabouts.
The same prejudice sees children locked up in detention centres, torture victims told their suffering doesn’t tick enough boxes for us to protect them and ethnic minorities treated as second-class citizens.
It’s a narrative central to the Conservative Party, and one which can only be countered by a movement based on hope instead of fear, tolerance instead of bigotry and collectivism instead of selfish individualism.