June 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Fifty years have passed since Enoch Powell made his notorious ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech and the current narrative is that the UK has since moved on and that we are now living in a more tolerant and inclusive, multicultural society. London, which is said to be the most culturally diverse city in the world, is governed by a mayor who is the son of a Pakistani bus driver. Even the Royal family has come of age with Prince Harry's recent marriage to a mix-race woman.
However, it seems that Enoch Powell's ghost is haunting the corridors of power. In pursuit of so-called illegal migrants, the government has unwittingly targeted members of the ‘Windrush Generation’, those who migrated to the UK mainly from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971. Many of whom were unable to produce documentary evidence, that is now required under legislation introduced in 2012, to prove that they are entitled to live in the UK. Thus, despite working and paying taxes for years, they have been denied access to social services and the NHS and have faced the threat of deportation and in some cases were actually deported.
Once these facts came to light, Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, came under heavy pressure and was forced to resign. Jeremy Corbyn and others pointed the finger at Theresa May who, as Home Secretary at the time, was the architect of the legislation. May retorted that the last Labour government ordered the destruction of landing cards relating to the Windrush generation. The left has predictably blamed ‘Tory racism’ and has called for the Tories to be kicked out. Much of the press has put the scandal down to bureaucratic bungling.
In examining the context in which the new immigration rules were introduced, we can see where the real blame lies. In the aftermath of the economic crash of 2008, the government enforced spending cuts in an effort to restore British capitalism's profitability. With falling real wages, high unemployment and reduced funding for the NHS and social services, scapegoats were needed to divert attention from the real causes of austerity. The government sent a van round warning ‘illegal immigrants’ that they would be caught and sent back. Much of the press ran scurrilous stories about ‘bogus asylum seekers’ and ‘economic migrants’ cheating the benefit system and stealing jobs from British workers. UKIP attempted to garner support with scare stories of the country being swamped by immigrants from the EU. The government, by tightening up immigration controls, were hoping to see off their UKIP rivals and show that they were best placed to control immigration.
Labour governments also play the anti-immigrant card when it suits them. In 1968, the then Labour government introduced legislation to restrict immigration from the Commonwealth countries. Gordon Brown coined the phrase ‘British Jobs for British Workers’, which was then taken up by the BNP.
Under capitalism, workers are inculcated with nationalism which encourages them to see workers from other countries as foreigners. This, coupled with the poverty and insecurity that workers endure, provides the breeding ground for the toxic virus of racism. Only with the establishment of socialism, can we rid ourselves of this virus and the ghost of Enoch Powell can be laid to rest.