The Windrush generation are the 'right kind' of immigrants, otherwise we wouldn't care

Would the consensus binding the Labour front bench to the Daily Mail in Windrush outrage stretch to Muslims of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin? 

Matthew Norman
Sunday 29 April 2018 14:24 BST
Protesters hold placards about the government's 'hostile environment' in Brixton
Protesters hold placards about the government's 'hostile environment' in Brixton (Rex)

On the eve of Amber Rudd’s latest make-or-break Windrush statement, a colleague chips in his twopenn’orth.

Sajid Javid clearly wants to help – though whether it's to help save the home secretary or help finish her off is harder to call.

Either way, in a Telegraph interview, the son of Pakistani immigrants considers the abomination from a personal perspective. When he heard about Windrush, he says, “I thought that could be my mum, my dad, my uncle … It could be me.”

This intervention needs refracting through the prism of his job. As communities secretary, Javid has a special interest in Thursday’s local authority elections. If a collapse in ethnic minority support costs the Tories their flagship London boroughs of Westminster and Wandsworth, it will do him no favours.

Amber Rudd says she 'bitterly, deeply regrets' failing to see the Windrush scandal sooner

In this light, his calculated rage about Windrush is transparently designed to reassure minority voters, though they may not be entirely blind to his own interests. Perhaps he senses a chance to bolster his credentials should the Tories feel the need for a dark-skinned leader to repair the Windrush damage when Theresa May departs.

But beneath any electoral and personal opportunism, Javid hints at an intriguing question. What would the reaction be if the cruelty were directed at someone like him? Would the consensus binding the Labour front bench to the Daily Mail in the Windrush outrage stretch to Muslims of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin?

Whenever the scent of racial tolerance smugness is on the national breeze, it’s best to pop an antiemetic. It may be a relief that everyone supports the Windrush generation, but no one gets brownie points for acknowledging an inarguable legal right. Lauding someone for that is like praising a driver for stopping at a zebra crossing.

This government is belatedly recognising Windrush rights, but not from any sense of morality. If right-wing newspapers had stayed silent on Windrush, there’d be no ostentatious hand-wringing now.

We know this because for as long as the Tory press was content to leave the story to liberal media outposts, the government was equally content to ignore it.

"It felt very personal to me,” says Javid, “and that’s why I’m pleased that as soon as it came to light, the PM and the home secretary acted so decisively.”

The chutzpah of the man. It came to light months ago, as he well knows, but he chose to keep his rage private until days before the council elections.

The only reason May, Rudd and the rest are fighting over the scratchiest hair shirt in the Opus Dei summer collection is media pressure. Whether the same pressure, or any at all, would be generated by similar cruelty to British Muslims must be doubtful.

Of all Britain’s immigrant communities, the most popular and accepted is the Afro-Caribbean. This is partly due to longevity, and partly due to sharing a religion and cultural values, though sadly less to residual guilt about the wickedness they suffered after being imported as cheap labour.

As recently as the mid-1970s, the most-watched show on television was Love Thy Neighbour, in which a Mancunian regaled the West Indian next door with such epithets as “nig-nog” “sambo”, “coon” and, quaintly, “chocolate drop”. After soaking up five or six, the neighbour would counter with a lone “white honky”. Which made it all OK.

Time passed. Love Thy Neighbour was supplanted by Mind Your Language (hilariously accented Indian and Pakistani stereotypes, along with a Greek, a Spaniard, a Little Red Book-quoting Chinese, etc).

Boarding house owners took down the “No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs” signs, and the spite transferred to newer migrants – first to subcontintentals; then eastern Europeans like the Romanians Nigel Farage said thou could never love as thy neighbour; now it's would-be refugees from Middle Eastern hellscapes, like the almost 3,000 Syrian children May turned away last year.

So before anyone yields to complacency, consider that this near unanimous support for the Windrush generation is mostly thanks to them being the right kind of immigrants.

Meanwhile, immigration policy will remain as vindictive as it’s always been, regardless of the ruling party.

The most disgraceful episode came under Labour, when in 1968 its Commonwealth Immigrants Act removed the right to a passport from brown-skinned East Africans, but not from “white settlers”. Enoch Powell himself denounced it as worthy of Nazi race legislation.

Jim Callaghan, then the home secretary, tattooed that indelible stain on the national soul because it was what the public, duly goaded by segments of the press, plainly demanded.

Later, when the Labour administrations of Blair and Brown were terrorised by the same papers that signal their virtue over Windrush now, the system was rigidly callous.

In 2009, I went to an immigration court near Heathrow on behalf of a Jamaican brother-in-law who’d been forcibly removed. The case was clear cut. He won right of re-entry but the Home Office prolonged the agony with a money-wasting appeal that never stood a chance.

The same year, a friend returned from a holiday to meet the family of his Ecuadorean wife. Apart from having lived, worked, and paid taxes here for years, she was eight months pregnant with a future British citizen. She was stuck on the first flight back to Quito. My friend never saw his child born. Months of anguish and legal skirmishing later, she was graciously allowed back in accord with the law.

This idea that Windrush is a solo aberration, as Javid and the rest would have us believe, is almost endearing in its absurdity. The presumption that people have no right to be here is the norm. The government’s mistake was to pick a fight with the wrong minority. If it chooses its victims more carefully in future, the apathy will be deafening.

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