When starting a column such as this, the sense of inadequacy is even more overwhelming than usual. The following question about the Prime Minister is plainly way beyond my range or abilities. It ought to be devolved to a specialist in the field, though whether the most relevant field is psychiatry, psychology, philosophy or even theology is something else I’m unsure about.
Anyway, the question is this: what can have happened to Theresa May, in the years between hearing her father spread Christ’s message from his pulpit and becoming a senior politician, to enable the mistreatment of Irene Clennell?
Little that stems from Donald Trump’s second crack at his Muslim ban will be as callous, vicious, moronic and heartrending as the tale of the middle-aged woman from County Durham who – despite being married to an Englishman for 27 years, having two British children and a British grandchild, and being a volunteer of excellent character – has been deported to her native Singapore.
After a refreshing six-week break in a Scottish detention centre, she was escorted on to a plane by four immigration officials the Sunday before last with her hands restrained, and without access to legal advice. She wasn’t allowed say goodbye to her ailing husband, John, whose primary carer she was (and presumably will be again thanks to the torrent of publicity the story has provoked, and the almost £60,000 raised so far to fund an appeal).
The facts of this immigration case aren’t simple. For various reasons, including a six-year spell back in Singapore caring for her dying parents, she lost the right to permanent UK residence she once had. The Government acted in accord with its rule book.
But there are fundamental laws of human decency which should countermand the transient dictates of statute. Any rule book that legalises handling innocent human beings like cattle, and facilitates the ruination of family life for no compelling reason, is a moral abhorrence.
You need not be a deeply religious person to regard that as axiomatic, though as it happens, Theresa May is. Or so she says. More unembarrassedly than any PM in memory, she talks about being a Christian. Her faith “lies behind what I do”, she has said. “Our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of,” she told the House of Commons.
Which scriptural passage, or element of that proud heritage, explains the brutal immigration policy she enforced during her six years at the Home Office, and the nastier one she presides over now, is a mystery. But we can probably rule out the bit in Matthew 2:13 about how, on being so advised by the angel of the Lord in a dream, Joseph fled to Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus to escape Herod.
Theresa May will have read and heard that passage down the decades. She must understand from it that her Christian faith would not exist if its founder hadn’t started life as a child refugee. Today, meanwhile, the Commons is debating her decision to scrap the Dubs scheme to take in 3,000 child refugees, many from Jesus’s part of the world, even though various local authorities are able and willing to house them.
May is hardly the first avowedly Christian politician who would have made Jesus ruin his cute trick with the loaves and fish by puking over the lot of them. The inhumane detention of child migrants was ongoing under Tony Blair. No Republican presidential candidate discerns any contradiction between an abiding love for Jesus and a passion for further impoverishing the poor to make the rich richer. What about Bill Clinton, when he was Governor of Arkansas, and he timed the execution of a brain-damaged man to help his chances in a New Hampshire primary?
It would be faux-naive to come over all Victorian maiden and be driven to bed by a fit of the vapours by the rampant hypocrisies of politicans who claim to be devout Christians. But Theresa May has not, until now, struck me as a power-fixated super-cynic on the Blair-Clinton model.
Perhaps she isn’t. Perhaps it isn’t something as crude and obvious as having her soul gradually corroded by the craving for power. Perhaps, by some glorious feat of cognitive dissonance or spectacular triumph of doublethink, the vicar’s daughter truly believes the faith she claims to hold to be compatible with shackling the arms of harmless women and frogmarching them on to planes.
Sincerely I haven’t a clue how May came to cauterise her sensibilities so absolutely that she can deny sanctuary to desperate children without waking in a muck sweat at 4am, screaming, “God forgive me, what have I done?”
Her fathers, mortal and heavenly, will forgive her, even though she knows exactly what she does. Those of us who feel the national shame, and could weep for the degradation of what we still like to imagine are British values, will not.
Even so, we should try to be pious and dredge up a little Christian sympathy for May. For what does it profit a person if she gains Downing Street, as Mark quotes Jesus as so nearly saying, and suffers the loss of her soul?