In view of the recent Windrush scandal, Andy Cowper notes that politicians’ attitudes to and discussions of immigration set a tone and also shape policymaking
Politics matters, which is why this column writes about the subject a lot. And when the editorial of a political party’s de facto in-house magazine eviscerates your policy as fully as The Spectator has done over the Conservative government’s treatment of the Windrush generation, Tories outwith the hard-of-thought community will start to notice that they are up a certain creek without a certain implement.
Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, does not mince his words: “To those in the Windrush generation fearing a knock on the door from immigration police or to Czech nurses still waiting to be told if they can stay after Brexit, it will seem that a theme is emerging. That the Prime Minister’s real agenda is not to go global, but to raise the drawbridge as her country turns in on itself…
“The 3.7 million EU nationals in Britain have found themselves victims of the same Home Office intransigence — a mindset that is an indictment of the culture Mrs May once presided over. Even now, their status (whether they can stay, retire, be treated on the NHS and receive a state pension) has not been assured because the Prime Minister seeks to use them as bargaining chips, waiting for reciprocal assurance from the EU about British nationals”.
What we have seen with the Windrush scandal, exposed by The Guardian’s Amelia Gentleman, is the consequence of politicians having felt obliged by their readings of public opinion and the media to be “tough on immigration”.
The fault does not lie only with the Conservative party. An ambiguous attitude towards immigration now cleaves the Labour Party. While the New Labour years started out accepting the importance of immigration to an open economy, a combination of pressure from right wing media and public opinion surveys pushed the party to try to be tough on immigration, with the Miliband leadership’s unedifying 2015 pottery pledge of “controlled immigration”.
The NHS runs on immigrant labour
It shouldn’t need saying that to no small extent, the NHS runs on immigrant labour. We invited them here. Our ingratitude seems to know no bounds, kneeling to a demotic and half-witted concept of Schrodinger’s Immigrant, who comes over here to simultaneously laze around on benefits and steal our jobs.
The NHS still has worryingly low levels of black and minority ethnic people in the most senior and national positions. Moreover, disciplinary action still seems to be higher against BME clinicians than non-clinicians.
The NHS may be trying hard to improve with the ongoing Workforce Race Equality Standard, but there remains a long way to go.
Hostile environment: a policy choice
To follow the government’s desultory efforts at making excuses this week, one would think that this had all happened quite accidentally.
The opposite is true: hostile environment was a deliberate policy choice.
You can look at some data.
You can remind yourself that prime minister Theresa May, while running the Home Office, told The Telegraph that “the aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”.
Her former special advisor Nick Timothy used his Telegraph column to try to assert that she had in fact been against various manifestations of “hostile environment and wanted aspects toned down”, only to find that leaked emails and the former Home Office sources contradicted Mr Timothy’s version of events.
This unnamed source claimed that not only did Mrs May approve the proposals for the “go home” vans, she asked for the language of the slogans to be “toughened up… a submission had gone to the home secretary outlining what was happening with the vans. An email came back that said the home secretary had been spoken to on holiday in Switzerland and the wording was slightly changed. It had been toughened up slightly.”
The policy advisor to deputy prime minister Nick Clegg wrote that the Home Office assumes that immigrants and criminals are basically the same. She “warned endlessly that these policy changes would adversely affect anyone with dark skin or a foreign-sounding name”.
So, it has proved.
The point here is that politicians’ attitudes to and discussions of immigration set a tone. They also shape policymaking.
We have become a more fractious and fractured society over this past decade, split almost down the middle on the Brexit vote. As the NHS £350m bus pledge from the Leave campaign showed, political lying has gone mainstream, and is no longer shameful.
Our conduct as a nation over the Windrush scandal should make us feel genuine shame. Does it?