By Morak Babajide-Alabi
Watching Theresa May, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and leader of the ruling Conservative Party on television last Friday, you could see relief all over her. This was after the results of the local councils’ elections in England were announced. The broad smiles, hugs and back slap with party members showed how grateful she was that the Windrush scandal had not done much damage to the electoral value of her party.
At the climax of the scandal and prior to the Election Day, there were apprehensions in the camp of the Tories that this would damage their chances at the polls. Although the opposition Labour Party was also entangled in the Anti-Semitism row, the expectation was that it would still be able to make a few gains over the Tories. Unfortunately for Jeremy Corbyn and his comrades, the internal rife had somehow impeded the electoral progress that was witnessed during the 2017 snap General Elections.
For the two parties, there were not many gains. The Labour Party took back a few of its hitherto lost seats and the Tories gained marginally on the losses of the tactically dead United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) while losing some to the comeback “kid”, the Liberal Democrats.
For May, it could have been worse, so it is a big relief, as she was saved the repeat agony she suffered during the last snap elections. For Corbyn, it was a lesson in humility, as the party definitely has lost the momentum and gradually relapsing to the early days of his reign. While Vince Cable’s efforts as the leader of the Liberal Democrats paid off in his local area, the party is still far off being the alternative to the two big parties.
May is no doubt a busy woman. She is in charge of a developed, industrial and politically conscious country, where citizens scrutinise activities of their leaders, so has to be on top of all activities around her. Her job is particularly made difficult at this time in Britain’s history when she has to preside over the process of exiting the continental European Union. This has not been an easy ride for her, especially the task of convincing her EU counterparts and bureaucrats that Britain wishes to eat “her cake and still have it”.
Despite many sleepless nights shuttling between London and Brussels she has not found much love with her parliament, as every step of the negotiations is being scrutinised. In the process, some of the bills she had thought would ease the “divorce” from the union have been defeated in the Commons. It’s been tough luck for the woman at the top.
If you think this is a job for the light-hearted, consider the stress of constantly wading off the political pressure on her office by the opposition party. Whoever coined the adage “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” must have got the image of May in his or her head. There is little or no sympathy for her as people argue that she was quite aware of what the office entailed before stepping forward in 2015 as the replacement for David Cameron.
These past three weeks seem uncharacteristically busy for the Prime Minister. During this period, she had had to contend with some state issues that could have derailed her government and consign her to the pit of history. She has had to defend some of the actions of her party, government and also, in her former capacity.
When the Anti-Semitism row broke out in the Labour Party, there was a celebration among the Tories. They saw this as an opportunity to roast Corbyn and his “gang” as they made a big deal in the parliament and at every podium talks. Unknown to them the scandal that will threaten their party and the government of May was brewing.
While they were clicking wine glasses and rejoicing at the tight spot that Corbyn and his team had found themselves, they had no clue their own “playlist” of shame was loading. When it blew open it was to cause the Prime Minister a bigger headache than she had ever had in the past three years of her reign.
The Windrush immigration scandal was a big shock to many in and outside the country. Although it’s been an ongoing issue for ages, there was never as much focus on it as in these past three weeks. This has left the Prime Minister uncomfortable and leaving an impression that she is not proud of her past actions.
The Windrush immigrants who were from Commonwealth Caribbean countries had arrived in the U.K. between 1948 and 1971. Unfortunately for some of them, they had been left out of status as a result of changes in immigration policy of their host country. The most drastic of these changes were made under the Conservative Party. The resultant effect is many of these immigrants lost their jobs, houses, and were denied state benefits they had hitherto enjoyed.
The tag Windrush was in reference to the first generation that arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex on 22 June 1948 on the ship MV Empire Windrush. Under the watch of May, the landing papers of these immigrants were destroyed by the Home Office. This action means there is no record of the arrival of this generation in the UK. Cruelly, the Home Office had exploited this development and denied some of them citizenship, threats to some, and deportation of others to countries they have no ties with.
It was a shameful revelation. May had disclosed on the floor of the Commons that the embarrassing decision to destroy the landing documents of the immigrants was taken by the Labour party. This excuse did not hold any water with the opposition party, or with the Windrush immigrants.
Whichever government took the decision does not matter anymore as the mess meant many lives were destroyed, and many homes are broken. There was nowhere for May to hide as she publicly apologised for this development that has become embarrassing. The timing of this scandal incidentally coincided with the Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting in London, which means the Prime Minister got an earful from her Caribbean counterparts.
May, therefore, seized the opportunity of a Downing Street meeting to say she was “genuinely sorry” for the treatment of the Windrush immigrants and also dispelled “any impression that my government is in some sense clamping down on Commonwealth citizens, particularly those from the Caribbean,”
No matter the promises of the Prime Minister or the Tories on the Windrush immigrants, the Home Office has been exposed as an institution that systematically alienates a particular section of the British population. Some people have accused the officials, including May, of racism, because laws are made to deliberately keep people of colour out of the system they rightly belong in.
While Amber Rudd resigned her position as the Home Secretary, there have been clamours on the embattled Prime Minister to ensure the promises to the Windrush immigrants are made into law. This will be the first step towards ensuring justice is delivered to all involved. Will Sajid Javid, the new Home Secretary, be able to make amends and ensure the “inhuman” immigration policies of the United Kingdom are amended as appropriate? All eyes are on Javid, while calls intensify for May to come clean of her role in the shameful Windrush immigration scandal.
As written for the column, Diaspora Matters, in the Sunday Vanguard of May 6, 2018.