An update for anyone puzzled by the latest Issue of the Day. i.e. What on earth is "Windrush"?
What was the Windrush?
The Empire Windrush was originally a German cruise ship, captured by the British and renamed - each captured ship got the name "Empire" and the name of a British river. In this case, the Windrush, a minor tributary of the Thames. The Windrush was used as a transport ship, and in 1948 it was sent to Jamaica to pick up invalid soldiers and sailors recuperating there and bring them back home to the UK. However, there were far fewer such people than expected, and the operator of the ship thought he'd make a few quid by filling his empty berths with civilians - he could offer them cheap fares because he had to go to the UK anyway. Thus, on the 22 June (Windrush Day), the Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury (the old port outside London, where Elizabeth I addressed her troops before the Spanish Armada), with just under 500 passengers.
What does the Windrush represent?
In 1948, Britain was in a bad way. Economic capacity and labour force depleted by WWII, Britain was stabbed in the back and thrown into an economic crisis by the opportunism of the USA, and was struggling to recover. In particular, it was believed that the country desparately needed manpower to replace those lost in the war, and as a result laws were passed effectively opening up the country to immigration. From 1948 onward, all citzens of the Commonwealth had the right to settle indefinitely in the UK; this right was limited in 1962, and further in 1968 (the year of the Rivers of Blood speech), before effectively being abolished in 1971. The Windrush was the first major transport ship to dock after the implementation of the new rules, and has therefore come to symbolise the 'Windrush Generation': the era of mass migration between 1948 and 1962, or more broadly up until 1971.
The largest share of migrants came from the Subcontinent, and there were also many who came from Africa, particular those of Asian ethnicity who were being expelled from nations across Africa under Africanisation policies. However, the Windrush Generation is most closely associated with the origin of the Windrush passengers themselves: Jamaica, and more broadly the Caribbean. Mass migration from India had been occuring for decades if not centuries, but the 500-odd passengers of the Windrush were the first notable incident of mass migration of black people to the UK.
The Windrush and the Windrush Generation are thus strongly associated with multiculturalism and the history of the black british community, and further represent the UK's continuing close ties with its former colonies in the Caribbean. Regarding the people themselves, they are seen almost as pioneers, bravely crossing the ocean to forge a new life here.
So why are the Windrush in the news now?
Brexit. Or, more generally, nationalism. See, for years and years, the Tories, terrified of challenges from the BNP, UKIP, and other forces to their right, have been promising to dramatically reduce immigration. The headline has been to reduce immigration from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands. They've been promising it for a decade, and have never delivered.
Why? Because it's bloody difficult. Immigrants basically fall into three categories: people from the EU, who we could not prevent from coming; students, who we dare not prevent from coming because our higher education system relies on charging overseas students excessive fees; and highly-skilled businessmen with jobs, who the government dare not prevent from coming because the City would crucify them if they did. So the government cannot reduce immigration numbers (plus it would tank the economy if they did, but nobody cares about that). All they can do is increasingly robustly mop up the small number of people who don't fall into those three untouchable categories. That means more and more draconian, American-style enforcement: requiring people to have papers; abducting people from interviews that they've set up with the Home Office to ask how they can get papers, etc.
And Brexit has been worrying some people in this regard. See, there are millions of EU citizens in the UK, and theoretically we are going to safeguard their right to remain (so long as they've been here a certain length of time). But you don't need papers to get into the UK as an EU citizen at the moment. So how will we work out who has a right to be here?
A question journalists have answered by working out what the existing system is, so that we can see how it might have to be changed to deal with Brexit. And the result of looking at the existing system is: oh shit.
See, it turns out that the real targets of that draconian enforcement have not been shady Iraqis and malingering Turks. Instead, it's been the Noble and Iconic Windrush Generation - who are by now sympathetic old pensioners. They've lost their pensions. They been kicked out of their jobs. They've been refused medical treatment (and because everyone gets medical treatment free through the NHS, few but the rish have private healthcare to turn to). They've lost their homes. Because you can't get stuff if you don't have Papers. Thems the rules (because this will encourage self-deportation). Theresa May even wanted to prevent their kids from being educated. These measures have progressed step by step, but the big change was apparently in 2016 - and we've all been so consumed by the various hysterias of the moment that nobody's really noticed any of this until now.
We also don't know if anyone's actually been deported yet. At least one person, the government managed to get her as far as Heathow Airport before some lawyers rescued her. Whether anyone's gotten further than that, we don't know - this is, after all, generally not a well-connected and wealthy community.
What the hell? Why don't they have Papers!?
Well, there are a series of problems.
First, the onus is on the individual to actively prove their right to remain. Because the right to remain is negated by spending too much time abroad, you have to prove continuity of residence. Specifically, for every year since 1948 (or whenever they arrived), they have to provide four independent documents showing residence. Now, can YOU provide your dental checkup records from 1973, at short notice? Or your school attendance records from 1956?
(good news - this process will be streamlined for EU citizens, because they're white, and therefore they're important. Or, more cynically, because we don't want to piss of their governments. Whereas the Windrush generation, this IS their country, so there's no-one to piss off)
Now you might say - but wait! Surely if they've been here all this time, paying taxes, the government has a record of taxes paid? Well yes. And they have records of school enrollment, and of numerous other interactions with the state over the years. But those can't be released to the public. It's important that the government doesn't spend its valuable time and money helping Nefarious Fuzzywuzzies and Suspicious Arabs wriggle their unjust way into citizenship, so it's up to the individual to prove their right to remain. After all, surely they'd take the effort if they wanted to? If they're lazy enough not to have kept their school attendence records neatly filed for sixty years in case they might be needed one day, are they really the sort of people we want to let into the country?
But that's actually not the worst of the problems.
See, in 1948, people living in the commonwealth became citizens of the commonwealth, which meant they could be citizens here. Much like EU citizens decades later, that meant they didn't need visas or the like. It meant they just had to show their passport and they were allowed in, and the deal was that we wouldn't kick them out. So they never had to actually apply to stay here, so there are no records of them applying to stay here. So even if you can prove you've been here since 1948, how can you prove that you entered legally in 1948, and not before, and not from the wrong place?
Well at the very least you could use your passport to at least show you're from the right country. Except you can't. Because back then, wives and children were included in the passport of the head of the household, and didn't have passports of their own. So a generation of people never actually had passports and can't prove their identity, let alone their arrival.
But wait? Surely SOME record was made of who was arriving, you may be asking? Well yes, sure. The British Empire had many faults, but a lack of proper filing was rarely one of them. Every ship that docked, diligent bureaucrats were on hand interviewing every passenger, neatly writing down their names and origins in neat (though barely legible) handwriting on little cardboard cards, which were diligently stored by their thousands in little cabinets in a little office somewhere in the basement of the home office.
...from which basement they were removed in 2010 on the authority of Theresa May, and all destroyed. So there are now no records of who arrived, so people living here now can't prove when and whence they arrived, so they can't prove that they arrived legally and that they have a right to remain. So, no Papers.
Who's in trouble?
Nobody. What is this, the 1990s? Politicians are no longer held accountable for their departments.
In theory, the two main culprits here are Theresa May and Amber Rudd. May's culpability is threefold: she was the Home Secretary who destroyed the landing cards; she was the Home Secretary who cracked down on immigrants; and she's currently, at least in theory, the Prime Minister and, hypothetically, responsible for running the country. Rudd's culpability is the fact she's currently the Home Secretary.
- it was Labour who suggested destroying old paper documents, and although the decision to destroy these documents in particular was made under her watch, she didn't make it herself. What do you think she was, some sort of government officer? No, she's a politician, and all decisions are taken by officials, so it's not her fault.
- everyone hates immigrants, so what's wrong with cracking down on them? Obviously nobody ever intended that NICE immigrants would be caught up in that - that's the fault of officials failing to carry out her obvious wishes only to harrass Evil Immigrants.
- oh, so you want to be PM, do you? Please, please, you're welcome to it. Anyone? Anyone at all? Any takers?
Rudd likewise argues:
- fuck off
The scandal continues...
But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh
I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!