Quite rightly the Theresa May led Conservative government deserves the public outrage hitting them now over the Windrush scandal.
In 2013, when then Home Secretary Theresa May drafted her immigration policy there was not this tumultuous outrage happening today. But while some raised concerns too many others ignored the severity of May’s proposed legislation.
Even the then Labour Party under Ed Miliband displayed little resistance which was no surprise. As a number of his owns MPs were there in government when Labour developed their own draconian immigration policies to impress the xenophobes.
The idea of making West Indian born long term UK residents stateless was sneaky cruel legislation that should never had passed the first hurdle in parliament. Then Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg must take some of the blame as they had the authority to block May’s plans.
- Should David Cameron also apologise as May has done?
- Why did it take 5 years for this scandal to finally explode in the government’s face?
Last year I found it hypocritical when there were protests on UK streets over Donald Trump’s immigration policy. Where were they in 2013 and 2014, 2015 2016 when long term UK residents were facing deportation and clear denial of their basic human rights?
So in recent weeks the scandal came to a head thanks especially to The Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman.
The Conservative government’s apology was more corporate than heartfelt. It means nothing and is a clear signal they were covering up their incompetence. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has looked clueless.
In the past such a huge scandal would immediately cost ministers their jobs. But chief architect May and Rudd seems safe. As the Daily Mail, Telegraph, BBC, Murdoch papers, political pundits are helping the government deflect from the scandal. As they fear the collapse of May’s minority government could leave the door open for Jeremy Corbyn. Can May really sack Rudd over a scandal that she and then Immigration Minister Mark Harper championed?
Labour Party Culpable?
Labour Party MP, David Lammy made some powerful remarks in parliament to Amber Rudd which has gone viral. He has been one of the public faces of anger since the scandal broke.
But where was Lammy’s voice in 2013? 2014?…in 2016? when the immigration legislation was going through parliament? Better late than never?
Why did only 6 Labour MPs (incl. Diane Abbott & Jeremy Corbyn) vote against aspects of the 2014 Immigration Bill? Why did the other 250+ Labour MPs abstain? Incl. David Lammy.
BBC 2013: Labour backs Theresa May’s immigration plan.
We can not forget how the Tony Blair and Gordon Brown Labour governments themselves developed immigration policies that were very anti-Jamaican and draconian at times. Some Labour government ministers and MPs were even condemned for their own right wing rhetoric on immigration.
e.g. Immigration Minister Phil Woolas and Trade Minister Margaret Hodge. Hodge earned plaudits from the far right British National Party.
Despite these underhand anti-Jamaican immigration policies, UK governments have never stopped unashamedly raiding Jamaica for its best nurses and teachers. I am certain this recruitment approach by Britain will again intensify following BREXIT.
The last 17 years has seen some law-abiding Jamaican immigrants dragged from their home or work place and locked up in detention centres for months, only to be released with no further action taken. No apology. No compensation for loss of earnings.
Some of them;
- such as Carlington Spencer died in detention in October 2017,
- had their passports confiscated by the Home Office for over 5 years; which made it difficult to find employment or even to just leave to visit sick relatives,
- lost their life savings thanks to exorbitant fees charged by unscrupulous legal advisers,
- suffered severe depression,
- were wrongfully deported long before the current Windrush scandal was exposed.
Silent Voices & Leadership
I am disappointed that too many high profile figures within the Afro Caribbean community kept quiet over the years. But the biggest disappointment for me has been the response by successive Jamaican governments.
Many Jamaicans have been damaged greatly at the hands of the UK’s immigration bullying tactics and you never heard any public outrage from Jamaica’s elected officials with the possible exception of Mike Henry.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness was asked – recently on British TV – by Piers Morgan about how long was he aware of the Windrush scandal. Holness’ response was “2 months” ago. I was gobsmacked at Holness’ answer, given that Windrush scandal stories were in the public sphere from as far back as 2014. The cases of Neville Mckenzie (2014) and Lloyd Bogle (2015) appeared in the Jamaican media.
If Holness spoke truthfully then he should question the effectiveness of his entire High Commission team in London. Holness must reprimand his own Foreign Ministry for being so out of touch with these serious issues in the UK.
Who is our Joanna Lumley?
Governments in today’s pop culture tend to react swiftly whenever high profile figures, celebrities condemn on any of their policies.
A perfect example was in 2009, when British actress Joanna Lumley stood up for the residential rights of some in the Gurkha community who themselves faced deportation from the UK. Lumley became the public voice for the Gurkhas and used her reputation to great success. She publicly embarrassed then Immigration Minister Phil Woolas and forced a u-turn from the government.
Just imagine the British government’s reaction if a Usain Bolt, a Lenny Henry, a Naomie Harris or a Beverley Knight spoke out forcefully in 2013 over May’s immigration proposals.
Bolt had spoken out against British tax laws and had refused to race in the UK. But David Cameron bowed to pressure and amended the tax laws that allowed Bolt to race there once again. Indeed some of Bolt’s relatives were part of the Windrush generation.
For the past 2 decades too many in the Afro Caribbean community stood still and allowed Labour and Tory governments to demean the contributions of the Jamaican community in particular. A contribution that goes back 400 years.
- Debates in the House of Parliament continues and the Home Affairs Select Committee has started their own investigations with public hearings. In these open forums we are learning more on the incompetence of the Home Office and in particular Amber Rudd; who was clueless of her own department’s removal targets. The victims in all this I am certain will be invited to speak at the select committee hearings.
- High profile figures from Britain’s Afro Caribbean community need to get more involved publicly. Yes, some may fear being black listed or lose sponsors if they do so. But their voices and leadership is needed on issues such as immigration, deaths in custody, education, jobs, violent and youth crime, reparations, economy or police corruption.
- The government in the past week has taken steps to correct the injustice petered out to the Windrush generation. Sounds promising but the Afro Caribbean community must scrutinize the governments new proposals, check the fine prints, keep up the pressure and challenge without delay.
5 years was too long for the Windrush scandal to be exposed and shame the Conservative government. But this is not only a scandal for the Conservatives, but also for the Afro Caribbean community.
We should have demonstrated more resolutely from 2013, when it became clear that May’s proposals would affect the Afro Caribbean community the hardest. We didn’t bombard MPs, Ministers and the media with our concerns. We did not protests in our tens of thousands outside Parliament or the Home Office. Our leadership and campaign throughout this episode was pathetic.
We should have fought back stronger with our messaging and activism from when the Jamaica immigrant-bashing first started under the Blair government and has continued up to today.
For that, many of us in the Afro Caribbean community – including me – also need to say sorry to the victims of the Windrush scandal.
Updates since 7 May
- Rudd has been replaced as Home Secretary by Sajid Javid who promised to do everything for those affected. But..
- Labour Party’s motion for the government to release all the background Home Office papers over Windrush was voted down by the government. Of the the 258 Labour MPs in Parliament only 180 supported the motion, meaning approximately 78 abstained. https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-05-02/division/3EF4C05B-49AA-4A0D-B42D-B8704A4429DC/Windrush?outputType=Party
- Gretel Gocan, 81, was stranded in Jamaica for nine years after she went to the island for her sister’s funeral in 2009 – and was wrongly refused entry..
- “The past 13 years Hubert Howard has tried repeatedly to persuade the Home Office that he is in the UK legally, having arrived here in 1960, aged three, with his mother. His repeated attempts to obtain a British passport were rejected, and as a result he lost his job and was denied benefits, leaving him with no money to live on. More significantly, he was unable to travel to visit his mother in Jamaica before she died.” – The Guardian 11 May 2018
- After visiting Jamaica for his sister’s funeral in 1998, Windrush victim Ivan Anglin was given two days to pack up his life
- Vernon Vanriel came to the UK in 1962. Trapped in Jamaica for 13 years…This week he learned he could return but, ill and destitute, wonders how he will afford the fare
- Family of a Windrush citizen who died after being told he was in the UK illegally and sacked from his job have walked out of an inquest over the coroner’s refusal to make the Home Office an interested party in the hearing.