75 years ago today, the Empire Windrush arrived in the UK. But did you know that it was an accident? Back in 1948, Empire Windrush was on its way from Australia to the UK, but docked in Jamaica.
The 1948 Nationality Act, which granted free movement to Commonwealth citizens, provoked ‘England Fever’ in the British West Indies. They saw an opportunity to leave the poverty of their nations in hopes for a future in the UK.
Years later, more than 300,000 people would leave their homes to find new futures in the ‘mother country’. Helping to rebuild the UK after WW2 (which many of them had fought in), this story shows what makes the UK great.
But we also have a lot to learn.
Both Tory and Labour governments hoped that the acute labour shortages after the Second World War would be filled by Europeans and immigrants from the colonies of white settlement.
They did not expect large-scale West Indian migration…
But, as the Labour Minister for the Colonies put it, ‘these people have British passports and must be allowed to land.’ He didn’t believe they would stay: British winters would deter them.
Neither the winters nor the hostile reception deterred them. They were here to stay.
Once that became clear, successive governments spent decades implementing some of the strictest border controls in western Europe.
In this context, the ‘Windrush scandal’ wasn’t a deviation from the norm, but the outcome of our approach to race and immigration over the decades.
The lessons of Windrush are legion. But one that stands out in the here and now is that no matter how much the political establishment stokes the fires of intolerance and hatred from the top-down, it is from the bottom-up that tolerance, compassion and understanding springs.