The 71st anniversary last Saturday of the arrival of the Empire Windrush saw the government desperately trying to escape the shadow of last year’s scandal.
In a video Theresa May claimed that Britain will always be a home to those who arrived on 22 June 1948. But Caribbean migrants have repeatedly been made to feel unwelcome by Tory and Labour governments.
Even before the Empire Windrush left port in 1948, Labour prime minister Clement Attlee tried to divert the ship to what is now Tanzania.
This was a result of government worries that an influx of migrants from the Caribbean would create a “colour problem”.
Many have seen the footage of people leaving the boat at Tilbury docks. But when Windrush is discussed, no mention is ever made of government dismay at the prospect of black workers entering Britain.
After the Second World War the British government was so racist it preferred workers who were prisoners of war to black people.
It was around this time that the government legislated to allow “free movement” within the Commonwealth group of former British colonies.
Attlee’s desire to prevent migrants onboard Windrush from arriving in Britain shows that this right was intended only for white subjects of the Commonwealth.
But, although the government worried about a threat to “white Britain,” businesses needed the arrival of more labour.
Major parts of public sector infrastructure, from the transport system to the NHS, went as far as paying for workers to move to Britain in order to work.
Winston Churchill’s 1952 government went further to try and curtail Caribbean rights of citizenship.
Repeated studies were commissioned, although none backed up the persistent government scaremongering that Britain now had a “colour problem”.
The public seemed largely unaffected by a bigger black workforce. Or at least this was the case until the 1960s, when public feeling towards Caribbean migrants was encouraged to be more hostile.
As David Olusoga’s documentary on Monday showed, successive waves of racist legislation prepared the ground for the Windrush scandal.
In 1962 the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was passed, giving the British government greater powers to restrict migration for black workers.
The Tories pushed through the legislation which saw the government issue vouchers based on the perceived employability of migrants.
These attacks paved the way for last year’s scandal.
May’s “hostile environment” has rightly become a large part of her legacy, but the history of resistance to Windrush is largely unknown by the general public.
With the introduction of Windrush Day last year, the government hopes to sugarcoat Britain’s relationship with migration.
But a huge outpouring of public anger over the scandal has made this near impossible.
Some 91 people have applied for financial compensation, but by the end of April this year only 13 had received any money.
The belated apologies of the Tory government are meaningless.
Failure to deliver justice for the Windrush Generation shows that the government doesn’t care about people who have lived in Britain for decades.
May’s hypocrisy goes even further with the promise to place a memorial statue in Waterloo station, central London. Caribbean community groups reacted with “disgust” to the news—they weren’t consulted about May’s plans.
Her desperation to distance herself from the events of last year leave no room for the migrants or their families. Instead, she is using her position to dictate how Windrush should be commemorated.
After decades of racist legislation and scaremongering, the attitudes of today’s government should not be a surprise.