The promises that politicians have made and continue to make about immigration have been a source of great controversy in modern British policymaking ever since the end of the Second World War. The most recent example of this is the Windrush scandal, the deportation of people of West Indian origins. About 550,000 people came into Britain from the West Indies between 1948 and 1973 to work in Britain’s labour-starved economy. However, according to census data quoted by the Guardian, more than 21,000 of those people currently have neither a British passport nor a passport from the country where they were born, placing them in the crosshairs of the Home Office’s ‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policy. Windrush’s scale and effects might be most visible today, but the causes behind this controversy originated in the 1950s and early 1960s when the boundaries between Britain and its former colonies first began to change.
Issues of immigration and race were noticeably introduced into British post-war politics after the Conservative Party passed the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1962. The MP for Louth, Sir Cyril Osborne, who was infamous for his extreme views on immigration, managed to convince the Conservative leadership of the need for control in the early 1960s. Despite intense opposition from Labour, Conservative moderates chose to support the new legislation. Instead of regulating the arrival of Commonwealth citizens, the Act did not tighten control on migrants from the colonies who came to re-join their families, leading to ‘Britain’s Racist election,’ as a recent BBC documentary termed it, in 1964.
Looking in greater detail at 1964 general election addresses casts new light both on Labour’s early resistance against populist demands and the emergence of the Tory far right. Likewise, the often underlooked constituency of Southall demonstrates the wide gap between Conservative and Labour attitudes towards immigration and the various ways in which candidates made use of their election addresses. Most importantly, many of the harmful ideas and misconceptions about immigration that emerged in 1964 are resurfacing today, which makes the 1964 election crucial for understanding current immigration debates. Continue reading “What does the 1964 General Election tell us about immigration debates today?”→
Archival practices rarely make headlines. Databases are sexy, archives less so – at least for most people. Whenever we do read about archives, it’s almost exclusively in the context of something disappearing. Apparently, we never know a good thing until it’s gone.
Most recently, it transpired that the Home Office apparently destroyed Windrush landing cards eight years ago. These, it now seems, were crucial documents in establishing the legal status of Caribbean-born residents who arrived in the 1950s and 1960s. The question of exactly who is to take the blame for this action remains under debate.
This is not the first time the government has had to admit to this kind of practice. A few months ago the Foreign Office admitted to its role in key documents “disappearing” from the National Archives. Among them were papers on the colonial administration of Palestine, the Falklands, Northern Ireland’s Troubles and a score of other sensitive issues.
Six years ago, in 2012, the dramatised arrival of the ‘Windrush Generation’ provided many British viewers with one of the most moving moments in the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games. The dozens of black Londoners and the giant model of the Empire Windrush, which had docked at Tilbury in June 1948, entering the stadium during the ceremony’s historical pageant stood for the hundreds of thousands of black Britons who had migrated from the Caribbean to Britain, which was then still their imperial metropole, between 1948 and 1962.
The moment when the ‘Windrush Generation’ joined the pageant’s chaotic whirl of characters drawn from modern British social and cultural history symbolised, for millions of its viewers (if not those people of colour with more reason to be suspicious of British promises), a Britain finally inclusive enough to have made the post-Windrush black presence as integral a part of its national story as Remembrance or Brunel. Today, however, members of this same symbolic generation have been threatened with deportation – and some have already been deported – because they have been unable to prove their immigration status despite living in Britain for more than fifty years. The Daily Mirror’s Brian Reade was far from alone in wondering where it had all gone wrong since 2012.
What kind of British government would deport the children of the Empire Windrush? Not the openly fascist regime that the National Front took to the streets for in the 1970s, or that Alan Moore imagined taking control of a near-future Britain in his 1988 comic V for Vendetta (written at the height of the Thatcher years). Rather, as most of the British public only realised after the revelations of the Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman connecting dozens of individual stories into a chilling pattern, the answer lies with the Conservative government of Theresa May. Continue reading “Where did it all go wrong? The Windrush myth after London 2012”→