Back in the 80s and 90s politics was easy. The Tories were the bad guys, Labour were the good guys, and no-one needed to think too hard about it.
There were lots of reasons why the Tories became the pantomime villians of British politics, but 2 stick in my mind: Clause 28 and Primary Purpose. Clause 28 was a spiteful act of homophobia and the fact no-one was ever prosecuted under it is no mitigation -it was as pointless as it was nasty.
Just as awful was Primary Purpose – a set of immigration regulations that targeted non-white people coming to the UK for racial harassment. It wasn’t widely known about outside the Black and Asian community, but Labour’s commitment to repeal won their votes in huge numbers in 1997.
Since then the Tories have tried to turn a corner- Cameron may have been a hapless failure at PM but he promoted a generation of ethnic minority politicians who became Britains first non-white Chancellors and Home Secretaries. While this was going on Labour were mired in a racism crisis and an EHRC investigation
So why is article 9 of the Nationality and Borders bill so abhorrent?
It gives the Home Secretary the power to strip a British citizen of their citizenship without warning.
The power has actually existed in a limited form since 2006 when it was introduced in the aftermath of 7/7. Anyone who is a dual UK national can be deprived of their citizenship if the home secretary deems that doing so would be “conducive to the public good”. It was used incredibly sparingly, less than 5 cases a year, and was used exclusively against people who had travelled aboard to commit terrorist acts to stop them coming back to the UK to kill again.
When the Tories came back to power in 2010 use of the act increased massively, and since 2016 another 150 people have had their citizenship removed, including Shamima Begun. The proposals massively extends the scope of the powers and takes away any safeguards for their use.
Nearly 6m people could have their citizenship taken away under the act – nearly 10% of the UK population, but 40% of people from Ethnic Minorities. The new measures create a two-tier citizenship in the UK. Native Britons with no foreign heritage can never lose their citizenship no matter what they do; wheras those with foreign heritage can lose their citizenship for bad behaviour. The scariest thing is that the definition of what constitutes grounds to remove someone’s citizenship is left vague. It could be anything the Home Secretary wants it to be.
It’s a terrible policy and 100 CEOs of charities, and civil society organisations have written an open letter to the House of Lords (where it is currently being debated) denouncing the clause as racist.
But it is also terrible politics. Decades of hard work by the Tories in winning back ethnic minority voters flushed down the toilet, just at the moment when Labour are cleaning up their act.
So why on earth is this happening?
The answer is pretty simple. Boris is weak and on his way out. Anyone seeking to replace him will need to appeal to a Conservative base who are energised by nativist and anti-immigrant sentiment. Ethnic Minority Conservative politicians have sadly been in the fore-front of promoting these ideas, either because of ideological commitment, or personal ambition.
I’m not a Tory, but the way that the Conservative Party addressed their problems with race and sexuality were an important part of making the UK a less bigoted and racist country. We should cheer that.
But we should also fear Article 9 and shift back to a form of reactionary racist politics. This is the spiteful bigotry of the 80s back again, a return to nasty politics. There is no suggestion that the current powers have stopped the Government acting, in fact the opposite.
We should all be afraid of where this ends.