Saturday, 13th June, 2020

[Day 89]

There is a definite feeling of ‘letting go’ evident when we made our walk down to Bromsgrove this morning – in theory, some of the liberalisations of shops are to start on Monday next but, no doubt, some employees may be in shops installing the ‘social distance’ measures (if they have not already done so) in time for Monday morning. Also, today is the day when two single households can form a ‘bubble’ so it should be possible for a grandchild to see one grandparent – but not two grandparents, if I a have interpreted the rules correctly). Again, we did not encounter any of our typical friends this weekend but often people have a very different pattern of interaction on Saturdays so this is not a source of surprise. The numbers of children using scooters seem to be rising exponentially (I suppose it is so much easier in a park rather than on a pavement where I believe it is legal but the person riding the scooter has no rights of way. But try explaining that to a 6-year old!)

After lunch, I had set myself the task of checking my beet seeds for germination and ‘cleaning up’ the vegetable tubs in which they were sown. I should explain that in the area of Mog’s Den adjacent to the path, I imagined this to be an excellent place for some easily accessible vegetable sowings. In practice, though, the tubs had attracted a number of round holly seeds (whether dropped in or blown by the wind I cannot say). So I set myself the task of removing each of these holly seeds by hand and decided that I use a pair of what are called Long-Nosed Pliers ( sometimes, Snipe-Nosed Pliers) and these proved to be excellent at the task – but better than attempting to do it by hand with clumsy fingers and thumbs. I used the same pliers to thin out the germinated seeds to one every quarter of an inch or so but subsequent thinnings become so much easier. [Incidentally, I am never happy with the philosophical underpinnings of thinning out seedlings because you are, in effect, saying ‘You are a little weakling so you will have to be sacrificed to increase the chances of survival of your already much stronger sibling’) I call this the Fascist tendency in gardening and it does run counter to my general world view that it is not morally right to dispose of the weak to assist in the survival of the already strong! But I am pleased to report that my method of scarifying the seeds with sandpaper and then soaking overnight seems to have worked exceedingly well, so I must remember to utilise this technique in my regular fortnightly sowings.

After the Iceland delivery had been made and all the items put away, Meg and I watched an amazing and disturbing documentary broadcast in primetime on BBC2. It was presented by the historian David Olusoga and was entitled ‘The UnWanted: the Secret Windrush files‘ It showed good documentary evidence that successive British Governments had all contributed to the increasingly ‘hostile environment‘ experienced by members of the Windrush generation (the ‘Empire Windrush’ was the steamer that brought the first influx of Jamaican migrants to our shores in 1948). What follows is a review by Amelia Gentleman which is hard to summarise so I reproduce it in full below:

As the Empire Windrush made its way from the Caribbean to Britain in 1948, politicians in Westminster were frantically scheming about how they could prevent a ship carrying hundreds of black immigrants from docking in the UK. The Labour prime minister Clement Attlee described it as an “incursion”. A meeting of the government’s economic policy committee discussed whether it might be possible to divert the ship to East Africa, and make its passengers (a well-qualified group of electricians, mechanics, welders and carpenters) take work there, picking peanuts. Eleven Labour MPs delivered a letter to Attlee warning that “an influx of coloured people” would “impair the harmony, strength and cohesion of our public and social life and cause discord and unhappiness among all concerned”.

Anyone who thought that the introduction of the hostile environment was one of Theresa May’s few clear, tangible accomplishments will need to reconsider. It turns out that even this unpleasant creation is not something she can claim as her core legacy since it had already been 70 years in the making.

Although the postwar government estimated Britain needed 1.3 million extra workers to help rebuild a country shattered by five years of war, officials turned out to be more welcoming to ex-SS soldiers from Germany than British subjects from the Caribbean. In his powerful film, The Unwanted: the Secret Windrush Files (BBC Two), the historian David Olusoga manages to explain complex immigration law and decode dense documents from the government archives in an arresting way. He pulls out devastating passages from forgotten files to showcase the hostility of successive governments to non-white settlers.

Everything begins with the British Nationality Act of 1948, which confirmed the right of all British subjects to move freely and live anywhere they liked within the newly created Commonwealth. But the act, Olusoga argues, was intended to ensure frictionless travel for the large white populations of Canada and Australia. “No one imagined that black and brown people from Asia, Africa and the West Indies would use their rights under this act to come and settle in Britain.”

Incriminating archival material reveals the scale of official panic about immigration and the underhand measures taken to discourage residents of Britain’s colonies from settling. Crucially, politicians wanted to restrict access without actually appearing to be racist. The film exposes their shameful contortions as they scrabbled around to justify their prejudices.

We learn how ministers in the 1950s commissioned researchers to come up with reasons for concluding that non-white immigration was problematic, with senior civil servants instructing dole officers to conduct secret race surveys to see if there was any truth in the assumption that migrants were coming to live off the welfare state, and asking police chiefs around the country leading questions such as: “Is it true that they are generally idle?”, “Do they have low standards of living?”, and “Are they addicted to drug trafficking and other types of crime?” Winston Churchill was obsessed by the “considerable” number of “coloured workers” employed by the Post Office, and, by 1955, was suggesting to ministers that they should fight the next election on the slogan “Keep England White”.

This gradual tightening of immigration legislation exploded in the hands of Theresa May’s government last April, with the Windrush scandal – when thousands of Caribbean-born citizens, legally settled here since childhood, found that they had been silently transformed into illegal immigrants, and threatened with deportation, detained, sacked from their jobs or made homeless.

Olusoga shows how the roots of the scandal lie in a single line from the 1971 Immigration Act, which put the onus on individuals to prove that they are here legally – something so many people were unable to do, with devastating consequences. “Who keeps receipts from the 1970s?” Anthony Bryan asks, explaining how he was detained for five weeks and booked on a flight back to Jamaica. A letter from the Home Office to his lawyer demands more proof: “Your client has stated that he has been resident in the UK since 1965. As such, the evidence submitted must be continuous, and cover the entirety of the 51 years that your client has claimed to reside in the UK.”

The most moving parts of this film are the interviews with three Windrush victims (all of whom helped expose the scandal in the Guardian). “It was a country I was proud of, but now I don’t think I feel proud of it,” Sarah O’Connor says, after being wrongly classified as an illegal immigrant, despite her 51 years in the UK. “At times I got so low I wanted my life to end.” Sarah died before the film was finished. No one could feel proud of Britain after watching it.