To be on one side or another of a debate is fine – it’s what this free speech stuff actually means, that we all get to add to the babble whatever our views. But as the newspaper, The Guardian, likes to tell us, comment is free while facts are sacred.
This means that a certain amount of historical knowledge would be useful when making those proposals in debate. This being something not greatly in evidence with this latest from Afua Hirsch
The last time we were in a period of national crisis, a settlement – a social contract – was reached between the state and the British people. In 1945, in exchange for subjecting the civilian population to total war, the government offered the welfare state.
We eulogise this as the offer of housing, welfare and unemployment benefits, healthcare and legal aid. The British people had earned their entitlement to these benefits, which formed a foundational part of what it meant to be a citizen of this country.
But there was one fundamental problem. The millions of Africans, Asians and other people who came to be regarded as “ethnic minorities” (though they weren’t a minority in the empire) – and who made both this wartime victory, and the new welfare state institutions possible – were not part of the story.
And what followed shows that when you exclude people from the narrative, they become excluded in real life. The idea of being entitled to a share in Britishness, and its national wealth, erased the contribution of black, Asian and ethnic minority people.
The problem with this? She’s referring back to that post-war period when the welfare state was being built, bright new dawn etc. And telling us that those black and brown peeps from the Empire weren’t included. Which is exactly the opposite of the truth:
Following the end of the Second World War, the British Nationality Act 1948 allowed the 800,000,000 subjects in the British Empire to live and work in the United Kingdom without needing a visa, although this was not an anticipated consequence of the Act, which “was never intended to facilitate mass migration”. This migration was initially encouraged to help fill gaps in the UK labour market for both skilled and unskilled jobs, including in public services such as the newly-created National Health Service and London Transport. Many people were specifically brought to the UK on ships; notably the Empire Windrush in 1948.
Commonwealth immigration, made up largely of economic migrants, rose from 3,000 per year in 1953 to 46,800 in 1956 and 136,400 in 1961. The heavy numbers of migrants resulted in the establishment of a Cabinet committee in June 1950 to find “ways which might be adopted to check the immigration into this country of coloured people from British colonial territories”.
Although the Committee recommended not to introduce restrictions, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act was passed in 1962 as a response to public sentiment that the new arrivals “should return to their own countries” and that “no more of them come to this country”.
That brief period, 1948 to 1962, was exactly and precisely when those black and brown from across the Empire were on exactly the same legal terms as the white indigenes. All 800 million had the right to reside and work in the UK on the same terms as anyone else – including those born here.
No, don’t start talking about whether this should have been so, should not have been. Don’t start talking of how open borders is the right way to go or isn’t. And don’t start muttering about Enoch, ‘ee were right either.
Look instead at Ms. Hirsch’s claim. Post- WWII, when we should have been inclusive of those black and brown from the Empire was when we weren’t. The actual fact being that post-WWII we were inclusive as all get out to those black and brown from across the Empire. That’s actually the one period in history when we were the sort of inclusive that the claim is we should have been.
Again, leave aside anything at all about the merits or not of the actual policy. This isn’t about that at all. It’s purely an observation about Ms. Hirsch and her knowledge of reality. She claims one thing about history. History was, in fact, entirely t’other from her claim.
And these are the people we’re supposed to use to design our future?