This week Theresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd were forced to apologise, after the government demanded as many as 50,000 British citizens – not immigrants – of Caribbean descent prove their right to live and work in the UK.
This is not an isolated incident: the Tory party has a shameful record of betraying black Britain.
For months and in some cases years, the Home Office has been asking for official residency documentation from thousands of ordinary Brits, citing changes to immigration law in 2012. For many affected – who have been living and working in the UK for decades – job loss, homelessness, refused access to public services and the NHS or even deportation have been the brutal consequences.
A lack of documentation to prove indefinite leave to remain status – in other words, ‘landing cards’ – are now being cited by the government as necessary evidence of citizenship for the Windrush generation.
Yet only Theresa May could fuse together prejudice and incompetence in such a way that meant the ‘landing cards’ of hundreds of thousands of people who came to the UK in the 50s, 60s and 70s were destroyed by her Home Office in 2010 – against the warnings of her staff.
And only the brazen nature of the current Tory party would enable the Prime Minister to feel justified in then using PMQs to falsely claim that it was actually the previous Labour government who had given the order to delete the files.
It is plausible to interpret the scandal as a natural result of the Tories folding to pressure from an element of British politics and society – Nigel Farage and UKIP territory, not to mention the Conservatives’ own right-wing – which conceals its deep-seated racism and hatred of foreigners under a veil of “concern” about immigration.
And it’s not hard to see how this has become a permanent feature of today’s political discourse. The BBC seem to be specialists in giving neo-fascist (let’s please call it what it is) rhetoric a platform, with Farage making a record 32 appearances on Question Time.
Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech was cheerfully broadcast this week on BBC Radio 4 (thanks Amol Rajan) – it’s almost as if the state broadcaster wanted to give the Windrush generation one final public slap in the face.
In policy terms, Enoch Powell would probably be satisfied by Theresa May’s record both in the Home Office and as Prime Minister, as a crusader against immigration and black Britain. Given Powell was considered too racist for the Tory party back in 1968, this is quite something.
Hammering immigrants – and now, seemingly, black British citizens who happen to be of Caribbean descent – is one of the few areas where Theresa May can genuinely be described as pro-active. Indeed, Powell’s “encouragement of re-emigration” now seems to be standard policy in the case of the Windrush generation. In 2013, May’s Home Office even made a handy guide on how to put on a Jamaican accent for people they’re trying to kick out.
But it’s okay – because Home Secretary Amber Rudd apologised and put on her most sorry eyes. Except it’s really not: the Windrush mess isn’t the first time the Tory party has shown outright public disdain to black Britain.
And I’m not even having to hark back to Tory “If you desire a coloured for your neighbour vote Labour” election posters from the 1960s. Last July a Tory MP used the phrase a “real n***** in the woodpile” at a meeting about Brexit, of all things.
Her suspension was lifted – and party whip restored – just a few months later by Prime Minister Theresa May, although the Conservative party gave no explanation for their gesture punishment of Anne Marie Morris MP and abrupt abandonment their support for basic ethics in public office.
“real n***** in the woodpile”
– Multiple former and current Tory MPs.
According to the Independent, there are at least seven other examples of Tory MPs using the above phrase – most of these occurring in the last 15 years.
It is not, therefore, out of the question to suggest that anti-black sentiment is a significant part of Tory political culture. If there are this many recorded instances of one single relatively obscure racial slur being used by Conservative MPs, it’s fair to suggest that there may be a huge number of unrecorded instances of Tories at all levels using racist, anti-black language.
Regrettably, this translates into social and economic policies. Big political decisions made by both David Cameron and Theresa May since 2010 are now having knock-on effects in many predominately black communities. The recent wave of violent crime, particularly in parts of London, is a result of a wider war by the government on disadvantaged – and as such, black Britain too.
An obvious cause of the community unrest is decaying public services, which go hand-in-hand with the current government. The utter decimation of the youth work sector costs a lot more money than it saves, when you consider the preventative role youth workers play in a range of social, health and criminal issues.
David Lammy’s report into institutional racism in the UK justice system was timely and extremely valuable. His reflection that ‘BAME individuals still face bias — including overt discrimination — in parts of the justice system’ is completely on point. But the bigger picture is there are factors outside the justice system that are the root causes of its racist, anti-black outcomes.
Black children are more likely to grow up in a single-parent family, get permanently excluded from school. There’s also the harrowing paradox that BAME and particularly black people have a much higher incidence of mental illness than average, but are also least likely to seek support and help. Afro-Caribbean people are also more likely to be sectioned, forcibly restrained and placed in seclusion as a result of mental illness.
Family breakdown, substance abuse, poverty, living in areas with low social cohesion – not to mention being subject to racist abuse in everyday settings are all key risk factors for mental illness. These social pathologies are experienced acutely in many black communities across this country; without doubt, they are key factors in the likelihood of a person offending.
And they correlate with poverty, so let’s talk about that. It’s no secret that the Conservative government is compounding poverty rates – 4 million kids across the UK face poverty by 2020. It’s a very serious issue – Iain Duncan-Smith even stooped to uncharted lows in attempting to change the rules on what defines “child poverty” in order to fudge the statistics and fool a potentially outraged public.
A disturbing anecdote is that this time last year, after seven years of Conservative-led government, the Metro observed that key parts of the 2005 British National Party (BNP) election manifesto were now mainstream government policy. Yet the defining feature of the last eight years of British history has been the grinding, managed-decline of our public services. The set of policies that enable this are called austerity.
The Runnymede Trust found that black families in Britain were hit much harder than average by austerity. The report also highlighted the importance of household assets in families absorbing the shock of austerity over the last eight years. The more assets you have, the better protected you are – yet the assets of the average white British household were up to ten times as vaaluable as those of black families.
And while the media were busy pretending Jeremy Corbyn was a communist spy, the Tories quietly slipped through legislation to cut free school meals. Again, this will disproportionately hurt working-class – and particularly black – communities.
The worst thing about the Tories’ massive middle finger to black Britain – worse than the slurs, the deportations, the demeaning of black British culture – is that its dogmatic commitment to austerity is implicitly racist – and gets more racist over time. For the poorer you are, the harder you’re hit. The more reliant on public services you are, the less you can rely on them. And the cycle continues, year after year.
So the next time Boris Johnson writes a newspaper column about “watermelon smiles” and “piccaninnies”, or the next time the N-word is casually used by a Tory MP to describe a no-deal Brexit – we must remember that these aren’t one-offs and that they are also indicative of Tory politics.
When the media spotlight has left the Windrush scandal, it’s worth remembering that Tory policy and political culture has been – and still is – completely at odds with the aspirations of black British communities.