In “The Observer” today the editorial is all about Paulette Wilson who has recently died. I confess that although I have tried to follow the Windrush saga her particular name had escaped me. I do not reproduce it all but the gist can be gathered from the first two paragraphs . . .
“Paulette Wilson, the Windrush campaigner who died last week aged just 64, played an essential role in exposing one of the worst injustices inflicted by the British state in recent years. Wilson was the first member of the Windrush generation who bravely went public with her plight to the Guardian in 2017. Her story shocked the country – as someone who had moved to Britain from Jamaica aged 10, she had lived and worked legally here for decades. Despite that, she had her benefits withdrawn and was wrongfully arrested, detained at Yarl’s Wood and almost deported to a country she had not lived in for 50 years. Her story paved the way for others to come forward with equally dreadful accounts. Wilson has since campaigned tirelessly for justice; just last month, she and other campaigners presented a petition with more than 130,000 signatures to Downing Street calling for the full implementation of the independent Windrush review.
What happened to the Windrush generation is an indelible and ugly stain on this country; one of the most dreadful examples of the institutional racism we like to think of as long banished but that still lingers everywhere from police stop and search, to the over-representation of black young people in young offender institutions, to the high unemployment rates among young black men. As a direct result of Theresa May’s hostile environment policy, members of the Windrush generation, who had been actively encouraged to come to the UK from the Caribbean Commonwealth to take up public service jobs, including in the NHS, have wrongfully lost jobs they had had for decades, been denied NHS treatment for life-threatening conditions and been detained then deported to countries they had not visited for decades.”
The article concludes thus . . .
“The hostile environment is the direct consequence of a government that views migrants not as people who have much to contribute to the fabric and culture of the UK, but dehumanises them as convenient fodder for prejudice; as numbers that get in the way of unachievable and arbitrary immigration targets. Even as Boris Johnson launches yet another racism review, his government continues to pursue policies that are racially discriminatory. The only way to honour Paulette Wilson’s legacy is to immediately scrap the hostile environment (my italics) and for us all to embark on a period of self-reflection as to how and why the terrible injustices inflicted on the Windrush generation were ever allowed to happen.”
Scrapping a policy is easy to do. The minister writes a memo or two, papers are put through a shredder. The Minister’s speech is recorded for posterity in Hansard. But this is not what matters. What is needed is a change for the better of hearts and minds. Changing the mental attitude of a Conservative hard liner is not easy. Until some line of thought hits them positively and personally they are a pretty impervious lot. It took (if I remember aright) some thirty years of campaigning for the question of slavery to get to the point of abolition in the UK Parliament – and was only achieved after great opposition and the payment of an enormous sum in compensation to the people who would lose by slavery’s ending.
So it will be with this immigration problem – for that is what is is. “Windrush” is a shorthand journalistic term for the whole problem of hostility to immigrants. We had a good and most helpful neighbour where we last lived who referred to anyone with coffee coloured skin as a “pakky” – usually spelt paki, and regarded them as inferior human beings. I recollect a clergyman (sympathetic to immigrants) who laughed at a skirmish he saw in Middlesbrough where a crowd of whits lads drove a similar crowd of immigrants (Bangladeshis ?) off the street and into their homes. There the immigrants regrouped and emerged, suitably armed, and drove out the white lads in disarray ! My father, the mildest and most well balanced of men was very critical of “the Jews”. Not all Jews, but those who had moved into his old home area of Hackney (we are talking the turn of the Century here) and lowered the tone of the place as he saw it. Getting over Mrs. May’s hostile attitude (which was never her’s alone) will take a long, long time. It arises from the natural paranoia of the human being to fight against or flee from something new, or strange, or different. It is reason against instinct and that is a long educational process of which I shall not see the end.