The Unwanted: The Secret Windrush Files, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, directed by Tim Kirby and David Ross.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m00068sk/the-unwanted-the-secret-windrush-files

Historian David Olusoga investigates the story, behind the story, of the Windrush Scandal. He unearths government papers to show the duplicity and hypocrisy of the British Government in creating ‘a hostile environment’ for those considered undesirable because of skin colour.

Who can forget Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists? Enoch Powell and his ‘river of blood’ speech? Powell had conveniently forgotten he’d been to Jamaica to recruit nurses for the overstretched NHS in the early 1950s. Or the Smethwick election of 1964, which the Conservative candidate won using the message, ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour’?

A hostile environment wasn’t some ruse thought up by the then Home Secretary, Teresa May. It has a long lineage and includes both the creator of the NHS, Clem Atlee and Winston Churchill. The latter wanted to fight an election using the rubric of Smethwick and elected Prime Minister in early 1950s  worked to ensure public institutions like the Post Office didn’t employ non-nationals (i.e. ‘niggers’).

Ukip and Brexit are rooted in a picture of the British Empire in which everyone knew their place. And stayed where they were.  Empire Windrush, a decommissioned ship, taken from the German navy was returning to England from Kingston and didn’t want to return to London empty, so advertised for passengers. 350 Jamaican and British Commonwealth citizens paid their fare and arrived in Tilbury docks on the 22nd June 1948 to be met by the media. They thought they were coming home to a place where the streets were paved with gold. They didn’t know they weren’t wanted. If they’re black, send them back was unofficial policy.

The government favoured displaced European, such as former Waffen SS, and those that couldn’t speak English but where white, for absorption into the working population. Unofficial surveys, such as those taken in dole offices, a week after the Queen’s coronation in 1953, were snapshots that were meant to show that coloureds were sponging off the British state. Chief Constables in our major cities were asked to provide data showing the extent of the coloured problem and the relationship with criminal behaviour. Here we have the crude eugenics of the early twentieth-century resurfacing after Auschwitz and given a new emulsion coat of paint.

Ironically, the threat of no longer allowing those Jamaicans that held a British passport entry into Britain created a self-fulfilling prophecy. At the end of the 1950s immigration to Britain had slowed to around 15 000 to 20 000 a year. Let’s put that into context, official figures in post-war Britain claimed to need an extra two million additional workers. In 1960 and the threat of their British passports become invalid, around 500 000 people travelled to Britain from the Caribbean and Jamaica.

Many of those features in this programme were the children of those that had travelled in the first wave of immigrants to Britain from Jamaica. It was these people that had been reunited with their parents, went to school here and worked here for thirty, forty or fifty years that were caught in the ‘hostile environment’ which conflated two ideas in a toxic mix: austerity and immigration. A system that sought to blame the former on the latter. A propaganda war in which the poorest are always culpable. A Kafka like system of bureaucracy that sought to fulfil targets and treat people as things and not as individuals. None of those featured in the programme could provide the documentation that said, categorically, they were British Citizens. No government official appeared to explain how it all worked. After all, if it’s politically expedient and they were black, send them back.

Their stories of our shame feature here. Olusoga stands outside Lunar House a place where those deprived citizenship, no longer allowed to work, not allowed to access our NHS when ill, not allowed to claim government benefits. Incarcerated – indefinitely. Think about that for a minute. Lunar House with 500 000 on its closed books. Gulags of anxiety.

But there is another landmark that Olusoga should have visited. Grenfell Tower. The blackened remains in Kensington, one of the richest boroughs in London, tells us everything we need to know about the un-United Kingdom.

 

Josh Ireland (2018) The Traitors: A True Story of Blood, Betrayal and Deceit.

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Josh Ireland’s The Traitors was an Observer Book of the year and it’s terrific. A history book written like a novel and takes the reader from the hungry thirties to the post-war triumph of the new-world order. For those that backed the Axis powers and the Nazis, but were born in Britain, traitors to a man, there could be no redemption, but not all faced the hangman’s rope.

There are parallels now with the nineteen thirties with the growth in right-wing governments. The narcissistic demand to be worshipped and the simplistic ideology of them and us. In Trump’s world view, for example, it’s not the wicked Jews, but Muslims, non-whites, Mexicans and those that have the wrong kind of children, poor children that are suspect. They are to blame for all of society’s ills. Borders need to be reinforced. Sanctions taken. More barbed wire, walls and prisons built.  If they just had the right kind of children, rich children, we wouldn’t have these problems is the right kind of conservative belief. If governments, bureaucrats, and little men just got out of the way of the market, and gave free rein to the whip hand of employers. Stupid is, as stupid does. Britain First sounds very much like Make America Great Again and the hidden hand is an iron fist.

Oswald Mosley is surrounded by traitors. It is 28th May 1930 and in the stuffy airless chamber of the House of Commons he has been speaking, without notes, for over an hour. All around him sit men of power and influence…Britain is in the grip of a ruinous depression, and while they should be exerting every sinew to resolve what Mosley believes threatens to equal any in the country’s long and studied history, but instead ‘These old men with their long dead minds embalmed in the tombs of the past’ continue to betray the promises made to the generation who came of age in the blood and squalor of the Great War. When the veterans returned they were promised a land fit for heroes, but found themselves ignored…imprisoned in the damp and disease ridden walls of slum housing and have to bring up their children to share their misery.

Mosley, despite his star-billing, only plays a bit part in Ireland’s litany of Traitors. And such is the brilliance of Ireland’s prose I felt sympathetic toward Mosley in a way I never could towards the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse. Mosley, like Mussolini, flittered with socialism, before settling on fascism as an answer to society’s ills. The moron’s moron never had a thought but for himself and even a gifted author such as Ireland would be hard pushed to make him human.

Perhaps the closest match in this book is John Amery, son of Leo, a MP and minister in Churchill’s wartime coalition cabinet.  John Amery turns from a spoiled and rotten child into a spoiled and rotten drunken, whoring, manchild. He falls quite readily into Hitler’s plans to make the Duke of Westminster King and for Mosley to be Prime Minster in a puppet government run along the lines of the one in Paris. Amery would be high up in the new Nazi-backed British government, and imagines himself in the top job he deserves. The lies we tell ourselves are often the most honest thing about us.

William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, as he was known to tens of millions of British subjects listening to his broadcasts on the wireless, was an honest man. He had been the darling of Mosley’s fascist party in England and hated Jews with a religious intensity. There hadn’t been room in the fascist party for two such giant-sized egos so Joyce started his own fascist party, but like a pint-sized Nigel Farage, outside the glare of publicity it withered and died. When war started Joyce did the honourable thing and travelled to Berlin with his wife to offer his services to the Nazi Party. One could never imagine Farage, like the moron in the Whitehouse, ever doing anything honourable.

Harold Cole was a dishonourable thief with ideas above his station. He joined the army in the nineteen thirties and seemed to make a decent job of it, being promoted to corporal and acting as chauffer to an officer in Hong Kong, before stealing the car and fleeing. He washed up and found his feet posing as an officer in Petain’s France and claiming to help allied soldiers and winged airman get back to good old blighty. With a nod and a wink he assured those that helped him that British intelligence would reimburse him. He established a reputation and a working network, remarkably, British intelligence did start to help him. The Abwehr were also willing to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Not that Cole ever had any intention of doing such a thing. Looking after number one was his only religion and his only ideology. He was quite willing to give names, including his wife and lovers, while watching them tortured and beaten to death.

Eric Pleasants has a good Cornish ring to it, connotations of our green and pleasant land.  His father was a gamekeeper with a limp and a lungful of poisoned gas, the legacy of the war to end all wars. Eric would have prospered nowadays, careful of what he ate, he never drank or smoked, a circus strongman and wrestler, he worshipped his body. War was a mug’s game and he wasn’t playing. He had no intention of joining up. Traffic lights were invented because nobody would give way. Bring me a man and I’ll fight him to the death was his motto. Otherwise leave me alone. Interred in Jersey, sent to a French labour squad, he joined  a squad of the British legion to fight for the Germans against their putative common enemy Russia and Communism, not because he believed in it, but because of boredom, better rations and sex. He was not punished by the British government. The seven years he spent interred in the gulags of the Soviet system seemed punishment enough. His is perhaps the most interesting story.

Traitors, a vision of them and us, based on an ideology of common hatred is an old religion. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter doesn’t cover it. When the tectonic plates of world events shift, as they are doing now, in particular, with global warming and the imminent starvation of tens and perhaps hundreds of millions, simple ideology is a potent weapon for radical changes that have at their base, ironically, visions of the status quo, where the rich remain the same old tired faces, mouthing the same thing as our thirties friends. We can’t all be Judas. The world is no longer big enough.