UK

David Cameron Calls Calais Campers A 'Bunch Of Migrants' And Divides A Nation

28/01/2016 12:22 GMT | Updated 28/01/2016 16:59 GMT

When David Cameron stood at the Commons despatch box yesterday and dismissed those camped in Calais as a "bunch of migrants", debate over the rhetoric used to discuss people seeking sanctuary in Britain reached a peak.

Commentators - and indeed most of the public - are divided on whether Cameron's choice of words deliberately belittled the plight of migrants, which include hundreds of asylum seekers, or were simply a statement of fact.

'Refugee Action', a charity that supports those fleeing political persecution to Britain, said it was "disappointed" at the language employed, claiming the phrase lumped genuine refugees together with those simply migrating out of choice.

"Many in Calais are refugees. And all of them are human beings," the organisation wrote on Twitter.

It was a sentiment echoed by parliamentarians, including MPs Ronnie Cowan and Diane Abbott, and Scottish Government minister for Europe Humza Yousaf.

Many took issue with the comment seemingly devaluing the experiences of many who have travelled to Calais; some have lost whole families travelling by sea to Europe on ramshackle or overcrowded people-smuggling boats.

Owen Jones was among the crowd of people who thought the "bunch" remark did not do justice to the "misery few of us will ever suffer".

Other commentators disparaged the quip as having come just minutes after Cameron paid tribute to Jews across the world, marking Holocaust Memorial Day.

While BuzzFeed's Tom Chivers explained it was not the word but the sentiment and context surrounding it that enflamed people's tempers so greatly.

"Can we all agree that it's not the word "bunch" itself that makes Cameron's phrase unpleasant?" he wrote. "It's the whole sentence, and its context."

Several prominent figures, Labour's Chuka Umunna among them, pointed out they thought the language was "unbecoming" of a prime minister.

But a hefty number of people took contention with any suggestion Cameron's comment was inflammatory or disparaging.

Julia Hartley-Brewer said she was "intrigued" why the term 'bunch' had been interpreted as a bad phrase.

She proceeded to highlight several instances where the word had been used without causing a stir, including by Guardian columnist Jones, once the pair engaged in a heated exchange of messages.

Others voiced their support, saying they saw no problem with Cameron's language.

One view that garnered significant support was that people seemed more offended by a phrase uttered in Prime Minister's Question than the "mass molesting" of women in Cologne on New Year's Eve.

(Police confirmed the perpetrators of sex attacks in Germany were "almost exclusively" of a migrant background, mainly North African and Arab.)

Katie Hopkins was also one of those to defend the Prime Minister, congratulating him for employing the phrase but agreeing it was "dismissive".

There was division, too, over whether Cameron had meant to speak as he had done.

The Huffington Post UK's executive editor for politics, Paul Waugh, claimed the line had been deliberately deployed and scripted in advance by the PMQs prep team.

Those who agreed were left torn, though, over whether it had been engineered to ease pressure on the government over condemnation of its 'sweetheart deal' with Google to backpay 10 years of tax.

The technique of diverting attention away from one issue by presenting another is affectionately referred to as the "dead cat".

But Anna Soubry, the government's small business minister, played down any claims Cameron had rehearsed the line, saying she didn't believe them to be true.

"I would be amazed if that was a scripted line," she told BBC Radio 4's 'The World At One'.

"I don’t believe that for one moment. If anyone says that they are being silly."

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Jeremy Corbyn, who was sparring with Cameron in the Commons when "bunch of migrants" was first uttered, has written to his opposite number saying the comment "demeans people’s suffering and demeans the office of Prime Minister".

Leaving one journalist to ponder:

But regardless of whether Cameron's outburst on Wednesday was pre-mediated, numerous people have noticed a theme emerging in his language when it comes to describing migrants.

They took issue with the word "bunch" being used several months after the PM branded those trying to enter the UK a "swarm".