Mark Harper’s cleaner

Yesterday’s news was that Mark Harper has resigned as minister for immigration after learning that his cleaner was not permitted to work in the UK. Before saying anything else, we should applaud Mr Harper’s courage and honesty in holding himself accountable to the laws over which he presides.

But I believe Mr Harper does not go nearly far enough. This event must also call into question the very immigration laws by which Mr Harper finds himself accused. If even the minister for immigration is unable to comply with the immigration laws, something is wrong. We should be asking ourselves whether it is really the minister who should go. Or is it, perhaps, the laws which need to be removed?

In making and upholding laws, we must remember that laws exist to serve human beings. Right at the centre of this debacle are two human beings, Mr Harper and his cleaner. Mr Harper has acted honourably throughout (so he claims and I have no reason to doubt him). And yet he finds himself forced to resign his post. The plight of his cleaner is even worse. We should all be painfully aware that there is now a lady who is (presumably) suddenly unemployed and is (definitely) being pursued by the immigration enforcement authorities. Her offence is to have been born in the wrong place and to have wanted something better for her life.

We don’t know Mr Harper’s cleaner’s story. We don’t even know her name. The Daily Mail claims she is Columbian. I think, however, that it is not unreasonable to suppose that she came to our shores driven by need. What should our response be to a fellow human being in need? Frankly there are only two alternatives. First, we may reach out the hand of friendship – which is rather scary because it could draw us down into the need as well. Or we may deny the humanity of the other person: shut the door in her face and forget that she exists. (As I write this, I have in mind the chilling scene in the recent movie version of Les Miserables where Fantine is cast out into the street and the door slams behind her, effectively annihilating her from existence for those still safely within M. Madeleine’s factory). This latter option is, bluntly, nothing short of murder. It is exactly the same crime of dehumanising our fellow man to which Jesus refers when he equates calling someone “fool” to murder.

As I write this, I am also in the process of preparing this evening’s sermon on Amos 2, in which the prophet lambastes the so-called people of God who “trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and push the afflicted out of the way”. The society which does this receives the angry condemnation of the just God. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that our society is any less judged.

Our government is demanding that we, the people, act as its policemen. It demands that we collude with and enforce its laws against foreigners. We must become the inquisitors who demand proof that another human being is “valid”. But if we keep these laws, as Mr Harper has so diligently attempted to do, let us not think that history, in the end, will judge us any less harshly than it judged those who handed over their neighbours to the Nazis in WWII Germany. It is exactly the same crime which is committed: to coldly deny the humanity of a fellow human being and cast them into the jaws of an uncaring system which will grind them into the dust. And don’t let us pretty it up by saying that our injustices are less than those of Auschwitz because our system does not exterminate those caught in its grip. There are many ways of killing a human being beyond the mere killing of the body.

The problem Mr Harper has faced is that he is a human being who has acted humanly towards another human being. His falling on his sword is directly parallel with the suicide of Victor Hugo’s Javert (to return to Les Miserables), who finds that even he, in the end, cannot reconcile being human with the cold, dispassionate law which he has served so faithfully for so long.

Mark Harper’s resignation colludes with an unjust law. We, the people, should reject it wholesale and demand, instead, that he remain in post and fix the mess which his department has created.

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