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Windrush victims aren’t holding their breath for the next PM

Johnson’s legacy is racist and anti-democratic. But so were those of his predecessors

Samantha Asumadu
7 July 2022, 11.44am
Protesters in Boris Johnson masks. The prime minister has announced his resignation, but the broken system he presided over is intact
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amer ghazzal / Alamy Stock Photo

Few people know this, it seems, but during Theresa May’s time at the helm in the Home Office she wrongly deported 48,000 students. A year earlier, she had said: “We can deport first and hear appeals later.”

Like much of her tenure – as well as that of the home secretaries who followed her, Amber Rudd and Sajid Javid – the British public seem to have all but forgotten it.

Give us five years and perhaps we will have forgotten, too, that Boris Johnson was largely responsible for the continued imprisonment in Tehran of British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Rumours abound that she is going to run for his seat in the next election.

But that is far from all he did.

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In 2011, I and a Black feminist group organised a protest called Rage Against Racism that was partly aimed at Johnson, the then London mayor.

The list of charges against the prime minister was lengthy. He had dismissed the Macpherson report into institutional racism in the Met Police (released after Stephen Lawrence’s racially motivated murder) with calls to “axe large chunks of the anti-racism industry”. He had had no African or Muslim political advisers representing a city that was 40% non-white, had not had a single public meeting on the issue of race equality policy in the Greater London Authority in four years, and had turned the Operation Trident gun crime squad into an anti-gangs unit designating London’s gang problem as exclusively Black issue. He had cut funding to anti-racist initiatives including the Rise festival; had abolished the Met’s race equality policy and consultative forums; had overseen an increase of 100% in the number of Black young people going to jail in London; and so on.

By 2016, as he and Gove both grimaced on the Vote Leave podium having succeeded in their Brexit campaign, I was sure it was enough to finally take him out of public life: ding dong, the witch is dead. A few years later, he was prime minister.

Today, his time has finally come. But what does it matter? His legacy, and the legacy of the Tory Party and Thatcher’s real son Tony Blair, will live on.

It was Blair, after all, who brought in powers allowing people to be stripped of their citizenship after the London bombings.

His impact lives on in the blighted lives of the Windrush generation and their descendants – those that are still living. Many of them have died waiting for the promised compensation that always seems just out of reach. Recently the African, Caribbean and Asian Lawyers For Justice vowed to take their fight to the streets, saying: “Tried talking to @ukhomeoffice. That didn’t work. We’ve tried filling in the forms, and running media campaigns to get justice and still no joy. We’re still waiting. The only option left is non-violent civil disobedience and that’s our next move. Watch this space #WindrushDay2022.”

Of course, non-civil disobedience could get you arrested as of 28 June, because that was the day the pernicious Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill came into effect. That was the same day that noisy protester Steve Bray had his loudspeaker equipment taken away and was arrested, raising £200,000 in donations to fight it in the courts in record time.

Equalities minister Mike Freer was among those who resigned yesterday, saying in his letter: “I feel that we are… creating an atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people and I regret that I can no longer defend policies I fundamentally disagree with… I have to ask myself what Mrs Thatcher would have done.”

He didn’t seem so bothered when the government exempted trans people from protections against conversion therapy – nor when, just days before Freer’s resignation, the attorney general Suella Braverman effectively said she wouldn’t stand for the Scottish government’s announcement that it intended to reform the Gender Recognition Act to make it easier for trans people to get a Gender Recognition Certificate.

Braverman announced yesterday that she would also be campaigning to be prime minister, as will another early contender, Steve Baker – known for his Covid lockdown protests.

This is a party full of ideology. And the ideology is to smash and burn the welfare state, sell the NHS to private interests, enrich themselves and their peers, and remove civil liberties from the citizens so we can’t complain about it for fear of arrest.

A running joke in Armando Iannucci’s widely praised early-2000s The Thick of It series was that Labour were running a nanny state. But what could be more authoritarian than the numerous bills that the Tories have been pushing through Parliament to criminalise dissent, crack down on free speech, further erode democracy and empower political violence against opposition.

On 13 June, I attended a protest outside Priti Patel’s Home Office. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people turned up to listen to representatives from groups such as Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, Migrants Organise, Care for Calais, Lewisham Anti-Raids, and the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB). Rabbi Herschel Gluck told the crowd: “When the government wants to show that it cares about the Holocaust, the answer is not to make monuments, the answer is to let refugees in.” The protest was about the impending flights to Rwanda. But the hostile environment was brought up numerous times by all speakers.

“We will not accept this discrimination on BME [Black and minority ethnic], migrant and refugee workers who are just trying to make an honest wage,” said a representative from the IWGB, talking about May’s immigration raids in Dalston. And just days before the protest, 200 protesters (including me) had been in Peckham to occupy Evan Cook Close while border police attempted to arrest, detain and presumably deport one of its residents.

Groups like the above, including Netpol, have been fighting the state and its police force with growing support. But the rot didn’t begin with Boris Johnson, and it won’t end with him. The ground for the Nationality and Borders Bill was set by Thatcher in 1983 when she revoked birthright citizenship. It’s just that Priti Patel, having the conditions set by a hostile media, is also now able to criminalise refugees and the aid workers who try and help them. Clause 9 of the bill became a rallying cry for more than 320,000 thousand people who signed a petition in December and January because it targeted us specifically. (When you next apply for a passport, you’ll see how that’s turning out.)

Yet the worst cruelty has been reserved for those fleeing war and torture.

Last week, a gay man who had faced death threats in Nigeria was deported. Who knows what’s happened to him by now. This week, Freedom from Torture announced that a female trafficking survivor had been targeted for removal to Rwanda. I’m just thankful that groups such as Bail for Immigration Detainees have a 100% record (so far) of successfully representing people facing removal to Rwanda.

Meanwhile, the RMT is still in the midst of an industrial dispute. Teachers are voting to strike, as are postal workers, call centre workers and more. Cheese in supermarkets is being security tagged. This doesn’t stop after today.

The likes of Priti Patel could do damage whatever department they are moved to. Her enabler Boris Johnson may be finally deposed today, but it won’t make a difference to all the lives blighted in his, Theresa May, or Tony Blair’s tenures. Those who remain in this country will fight on. We will fight for those who can’t.

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