Still nasty after all these years

22nd April 2018


Amber Rudd – boasting she would get “ruthless” with illegal immigrants

Since becoming Prime Minister Theresa May has stated her desire to see the Tory Party shake off its tag as the Nasty Party.  The past week, in particular the events surrounding the so called Windrush generation, have simply reinforced the inherent nastiness of the Tories.  Nastiness is endemic, it is part of the Tory DNA, and no amount of scrubbing will ever wash out the stain.

Following the Second World War Britain made a call to the nations of the Commonwealth to send citizens to help with post war reconstruction.  The first such ship, the Empire Windrush, landed at Tilbury Docks on 22nd June 1948 with 492 West Indians on board, hoping to make a better life for themselves in Britain.

The name of their ship has become a shorthand for the wave of migration which followed, encouraged by the 1948 British Nationality Act, which enshrined in law the right of all British subjects to have the automatic right to travel to and settle in the United Kingdom.  The following two decades saw increasing numbers migrating from the Commonwealth but increasing tensions as the politics of race increasingly took centre stage in the UK.

The political debate took on a new momentum with the famous “rivers of blood” speech by right wing Tory politician, Enoch Powell, in 1968.  Powell’s speech led directly to racist attacks and increased intimidation of the black and ethnic minority community in the UK.  Powell gave a veneer of respectability to deeply held prejudices in British society and laid the basis for race riots which continued in parts the UK in the seventies and early eighties.

One immediate impact of the Powell speech was a new immigration act in 1971, which stemmed the flow of new Commonwealth immigrants, while granting those who had already arrived indefinite leave to remain.

In spite of this we are now in a position where up to 50,000 migrants are facing problems securing citizenship, health care and benefits as the Home Office demands proof of their right to be here.  Even the Church of England, hardly a hotbed of radicalism, has been moved to call for an inquiry into immigration policy.

Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, has been forthright stating,

“The truth is now out.  Hard working, tax paying immigrants who were invited to this country to help with post war reconstruction have been treated appallingly.  It is never too late to repent, but it is unwise for the penitents to boast about their achievements.  Instead the government needs to set up an inquiry urgently to discover where other aspects of our immigration policy are treating people as less than human.”

The current scandal dates back to the decision of then Home Secretary, Theresa May, in 2013 to create a “really hostile environment” for people living in the UK illegally.  This was the policy which introduced the now infamous Home Office ‘go home’ vans, with billboard size slogans stating “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest” emblazoned on the side.

The Immigration Act 2014 includes measures to restrict NHS access, limiting so called ‘benefit tourism’, as well as introducing the “right to rent” policy.  The impact of the latter measure, according to the Residential Landlords Association has been that the checks on tenants mean that 42% of landlords are less likely to let to anyone without a British passport.

Quite how May thought these measures would lighten the Tories’ nasty image is anyone’s guess.  The racist character of much of the Leave campaign, allied to the hi-jacking of the Brexit debate by the anti-immigration lobby, has served to reinforce a climate of intolerance and xenophobia in the UK.  This has allowed the Windrush issue to go virtually unnoticed, in spite of having been consistently reported in the national press, over the past six months.

Theresa May’s initial reluctance to meet Caribbean leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting this week had to be quickly reversed and the Prime Minister was forced to issue an apology, claiming that she is “genuinely sorry” about the treatment of Windrush era migrants and their families.

That is scant compensation for many who have been denied medical access, lost jobs due to being unable to verify their citizenship status and then being denied access to benefits for the same reason.

Current Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has not resigned over the scandal.  The main perpetrator as Home Secretary and current Prime Minister, Theresa May, has not resigned.  For both they would appear to regard glib apologies as being enough.  For many still caught in the anti-immigration net that may simply not be enough.

Speaking at the Welsh Labour Party Conference this weekend Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn said,

“This week, something rotten at the heart of government has come to the surface. The Windrush scandal has exposed how British citizens who came to our country to rebuild it after the war have faced deportation because they couldn’t clear the deliberately unreachable bar set by Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ for migrants.

“And it’s not as if they weren’t warned. At the time the Tories were pushing their hostile environment policy through parliament, some of us – sadly far too few – warned about the consequences for those born in the UK and those born abroad alike. So now we’re seeing those consequences in a string of harrowing human stories. People’s lives ripped apart because of the personal decisions and actions of Theresa May and her government.”

Labour will continue to press for a review of immigration policy and a reversal of the “hostile environment” policy.



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