Where is the shame over Windrush?

PUBLISHED: 16:00 27 April 2018

Jamaican immigrants welcomed by RAF officials from the Colonial Office after the ex-troopship HMT 'Empire Windrush' landed them at Tilbury.
Photo: PA

Jamaican immigrants welcomed by RAF officials from the Colonial Office after the ex-troopship HMT 'Empire Windrush' landed them at Tilbury. Photo: PA

PA Archive/PA Images

In this week’s column, Mitch Benn explores who should be held accountable for the Windrush scandal.

One of my favourite things about this job is that it’s never really been specified to me precisely what this job is. I know that I attracted the attention of the good folk here at New European Towers soon after this paper’s inception by ranting about Brexit on Twitter in what was, apparently, a sufficiently articulate and engaging fashion to engender the hope that I might be able to wax similarly indignant on a range of topics on a weekly basis and with fewer swear words.

I guess there may also have been a degree of expectation that, given my background in stand-up and radio comedy, I might also inject a dash of humour into proceedings; to take, in that most nauseating of phrases, “a sideways look at the week’s events” (dry heave). Cognisant of this, I have attempted, where appropriate, to bung the odd zinger into this column, just to keep things interesting. I have also reserved the right not to try to be funny where trying to be funny would not be appropriate.

The ongoing Windrush scandal definitely belongs in this latter category. Nothing funny about this one, folks.

We’ve had nasty governments, we’ve had incompetent governments, but certainly within my living memory and very possibly within anyone’s living memory, we haven’t had such a nasty government that’s been this incompetent, nor such an incompetent government that’s been this nasty. We’re at the stage where their incompetence has become their sole justification for their nastiness; “It’s not our fault we’re such petty vindictive jerks, folks; we’re just not good enough at our jobs to be anything else.”

Seeing the Windrushers – of all people – become the latest sacrificial victims in the administration’s rush to the bottom of the race-baiting barrel would be depressing were it not so enraging. It’s the direct equivalent of inviting someone to move into your house, letting them stay as a guest for years and then suddenly calling the police and having them arrested for burglary. The belated climb-down was perhaps inevitable, but damage has been done, a lot of it irreversible.

Perhaps the single most appalling thing about the whole debacle is the idea someone in the administration might actually resign over it doesn’t even seem to have been proposed in the abstract. It’s not just that this government refuses to take responsibility for its endless failures and intrigues; it’s that the whole concept of taking responsibility genuinely doesn’t seem to occur to them. And yes, perhaps this is a case of me fixating on the wrong aspect of this scandal. Maybe I should devote this column to ruminating on the clumsily racist language being used at every level of the attendant bureaucracy (one reads of the British-born son of elderly Jamaican immigrants, stripped of citizenship after decades of peaceful residence, being told by immigration agents to “go back to Jamaica” – somewhere he’s never even been), or perhaps draw the direct line from Theresa May’s record on immigration as the Home Secretary to her present attitudes as Prime Minister (remember the IMMIGRANTS GO HOME vans?) or ponder whether it was decided the aforementioned climbdown could now be safely undertaken, given the ‘objective’ of the exercise had been achieved, namely lots of news footage and stories of weeping, brown-skinned people being dragged from their homes, the better to entertain the ‘They Come Over Here’ crowd, on whose votes the Conservative Party increasingly depends... Other, more articulate and better qualified voices than my own are illuminating those matters right now, in print and online. Do seek them out.

But I confess I’m hung up on this notion of accountability, and whether that still means anything in a political context. Politicians have never been that keen on accountability, but today it appears they only acknowledge the idea when it’s legally required, ie at election time. That’s the sole moment of accountability, right there: getting (re)elected. Once you’re over that hurdle you’re in the clear. You’ve got four or five years of impunity, because until the next election, what are they gonna do?

We see this on both sides of the pond: the reason Donald Trump is still, after 18 months, banging on at every opportunity about the “tremendous” (actually pretty average) margin of his Electoral College victory is not just because it’s pretty much the last thing that went right for him, but also because he thinks it explains and justifies everything else he’s done. He won, so he can do what he likes. That’s what winning means, isn’t it?

Winners get to do what they want and there’s nothing the losers can do about it.

The discovery that, in America at least, winning the top job does not mean that the entire mechanism of state becomes your plaything, that indeed a fair chunk of that mechanism of state is designed specifically to thwart and restrain would-be autocrats and robber barons, seems to have come as a nasty surprise to Trump, and it’s some small consolation in these turbulent times that watching his rage at belatedly realising this is proving to be hugely entertaining (so far).

In this country, it’s less clear what corrective resources we have at our disposal between elections.

Parliament is meant to be our champion in these matters, but it seems supine and broken.

But take heart; Jeremy Corbyn’s Big New Idea is four new Bank Holidays, so if he gets in and enacts Brexit, deliberately tanking the economy, we’ll all have four extra days off from the jobs we haven’t got any more. I did say this wasn’t going to be a funny one.

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