Empire, the Windrush Generation and the Failure of Liberalism

Plenty has changed since the Empire Windrush landed at Tilbury in 1948. The Windrush Generation have transformed Britain: they've lived, worked, and married here; they've paid their taxes; they've woven their rich threads into our shared cultural tapestry. The Windrush Generation didn't just transform the fields of music, gastronomy and culture; some of them had already bled for Britain on the fields of Europe, Africa, and Asia during the World Wars.

David Lammy's powerful speech in the Commons stated that 'despite slavery, despite colonisation, 25,000 Caribbeans served in the First World War and Second World War alongside British troops. When my parents and their generation arrived in this country under the Nationality Act of 1948, they arrived here as British citizens.’

Many of the Windrush Generation who arrived between 1948 and 1973 never planned to travel outside the UK again. Suddenly, they needed passports to keep their jobs and access vital services such as healthcare. Despite evidence of them having lived here for decades, the Home Office decided not to believe them.

How could things go so wrong at the Home Office that it too did not consider them British?

What’s gone wrong when an entire government department works toward illegally detaining and deporting British citizens with such callous disregard? What’s gone wrong that people can be locked up in places such as Yarl’s Wood?

the liberal - even cosmopolitan - side of capitalism is everywhere in retreat

Stubbornly determined to meet her party unachievable immigration target, May created the ‘hostile environment’ that sought to turn teachers, doctors, social workers and landlords into border guards.

May was in a long line of politician who talked tough on human rights and immigration. The ‘War on Terror’ against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan recast ‘the terrorist’ as non-white and Muslim. The Financial Crisis of 2007-8 then resulted in years of austerity under David Cameron and George Osborne. Vital services, such as the NHS, weren’t properly funded. Combined, the liberal consensus began to fray.

Immigrants became scapegoats; the public learnt to suspect non-whites. Amber Rudd, Home Secretary since 2016, yesterday suggested that the ‘Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual.’ It’s not surprising given the department’s recent of increasing its power with terrorism as a cover.

May’s hardline stance was shown again and again in conference speeches to the faithful. Eventually, in the wake of Brexit, that became an outright condemnation of liberal values as she denounce “citizens of nowhere”.  

Everywhere we look, the liberal - even cosmopolitan - side of capitalism is everywhere in retreat: Donald Trump turns on Muslims and Mexicans in the United States and threatens 'trade wars' with China; the EU is wracked by anti-immigrant and anti-globalisation parties in Poland and Hungary; Russia, which has always scorned the principles of liberal democracy, plays an increasingly disingenuous game throughout the world.

Brexit represented a nation perjuring its own history and join in with these nations. Nationalism defeated liberalism. Windrush is the result of that victory.

The Libertines (if anyone remembers them during the death throes of Cool Britannia) lampooned the hypocrisy of this sort of patriotic bigotry in their song, Arbeit Macht Frei: 'Her old man /  He don't like blacks or queers / but he's proud we beat the Nazis / - how queer!'

No doubt, '[h]er old man' voted Brexit then Tory.

too many Commonwealth Britons have been doubly done over by the State

What’s particularly galling about the Windrush Scandal is that those arch-Brexiteers who’ve ridden the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment and directly or indirectly sponsored the ‘hostile environment’ are often the most gushing about the Commonwealth.

Boris Johnson repeatedly spoke of Turkey’s accession to the EU during the referendum along with claims of £350 million for the NHS. He also suggested that the UK's membership of the EU 'betrayed our relationships with Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand.' It's apparent, then, that 'kith and kin' doesn't extend to all parts of the Anglosphere or all British citizens for that matter.

On the same day that Rudd apologised and responded to David Lammy's powerful speech in the Commons, Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary, used a pre-Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) event to opine that Brexit was an 'opportunity to reinvigorate our Commonwealth partnerships and usher in a new era harnessing the movement of expertise, talent, goods and capital between our nations in a way that we have not seen for a generation or more.'

And yet, May’s recent meeting with Narendra Modi to promote trade between the UK and India foundered on precisely those rules governing the movement of expertise and talent. May couldn’t acquiesce to Modi’s requests for relaxed visa rules; after all, anti-immigrant sentiment had helped win the referendum.

Ultimately, too many Commonwealth Britons have been doubly done over by the State: first by its 'liberal' Empire; then by its lurch toward the nationalist right that makes a mockery of the former’s global ‘achievements’.

The Windrush Generation are caught in May's 'hostile environment' that was stoked by cheap xenophobia, and whose cruel techniques were secretly perfected in Home Office during the last two decades. For all his bluster, Johnson’s so-called ‘liberal Brexit’ isn’t all that.

Given Johnson's (in)famous penchant for Kipling, he'd surely recognise the following: 'If England were what England seems / An' not the England of our dreams / But only putty, brass an' paint / 'Ow quick we'd drop 'er. But she ain't.'

Kipling's soldier returns from the Boer War in South Africa as 'a thinkin' man'. Today, what does the UK seem? And, who still dreams?

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