We tend to move on fast in this age where we are bombarded with news, scandals and pictures of baby pandas nonstop. But I can’t with some things.
Recently I pulled out of a work engagement because I discovered that I was to appear alongside Alastair Campbell.
“I’m just not ‘there’ yet,” I explained to the producer. “Perhaps one day I will be able to put my silly emotions aside and have a giggle on a TV sofa with a man responsible for a dossier that led to scores of needless deaths, but for now, it still gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
I am not usually picky about the work I take on. I did I’m A Celebrity, for goodness’ sake. But no amount of riches can sit me next to a Campbell or a Blair.
We are again in a sorry chapter of our modern history that I insist on dwelling upon. The Windrush scandal is one none of us should shut up about.
It has seen people as British as Theresa May – though admittedly not as posh – locked up in their own land and threatened with being “sent home” to a place they haven’t lived for 50 years.
PMs aren’t known for apologising. But this week, May was forced to say: “We are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that has been caused.”
Anxiety?! People in their sixties who have worked their fingers to the bone and paid taxes in this country, raised their children here and are British to their bone marrow have been locked up in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre.
Have you visited Yarl’s Wood? I have. It’s a prison for people who have done nothing wrong. Its existence is a disgrace. Yet even people as British as a pickled egg when you’re very drunk have been jailed there. Windrush children have been denied healthcare. It is claimed one person has died because of stress caused by fear of deportation.
May’s apology was the kind the meathead school bully has to give his victims to avoid getting expelled.
Theresa May should do more than apologise. She should beg us to forgive her. She should hang her head in shame, give up her prime minister badge and go on a “how to give a stuff about people who are not exactly like yourself” course.
This is the same Theresa May who addressed parliament in 2013 and said: “We can deport first and hear appeals later.” She said this! Out loud! Not under an anonymous Twitter trolling account where one usually finds this kind of filth.
David Lammy’s speech in parliament this week holding Amber Rudd and Theresa May to account will, for me, go down as one of the institution’s great moments of oratory. “It is inhumane and cruel for so many of that Windrush generation to have suffered so long ... This is a day of national shame ... If you lie down with dogs, you get fleas and that is what has happened with this far-right rhetoric in this country.”
His voice brimmed with righteous indignation and unapologetic emotion. Amber Rudd looked as though she’d wet herself after being caught shoplifting.
Brits of foreign extraction – like me – owe a debt of gratitude to the Windrush generation, for they were on the frontline in a country that gloried in its empire but was none too keen to have imperial subjects up sticks and come to the mother country.
But Britain needed workers, so the workers came. I’ve always regarded West Indians and people from South Asia as more British than I am – their parents were here as the direct result of a relationship that Britain had with its former territories. My middle class accent (which was entirely affected, by the by, when I was a child – I worked out early on that it helped me to get away with more) has shielded me from much of the racism my black and Asian schoolfriends suffered.
My parents came here in 1976 with every intention of going back to Iran. My father had a job with the Iranian tourist office and took a posting in London so the children could learn English. His parallel career as a newspaper columnist got him into trouble such that we couldn’t go back after the 1979 revolution and haven’t been back since.
My grandparents did not fight for Britain in the Second World War; they didn’t suffer the “colour bar”, where employers would turn people away because of the colour of their skin. Nor did they encounter one of the most tragic forms of racism, that of forbidden love: risking being called a “n***** lover”, as the MP Barbara Castle was when she was pictured with the leader of an African country.
Lammy was right to point out that the Windrush fiasco was no error of adult decision-making, but was rather a consequence of the creation of a “hostile environment” for immigrants.
Immigration control needn’t be kneejerk and reactionary.
Ten years ago I watched as a young friend – an outstanding IT graduate with impeccable English – was taken to Yarl’s Wood and deported. She now manages a Primark in Austria. Nothing wrong with that, but she was deprived of exercising her genius in and passion for IT in a top tech firm in Britain.
Still, it was the law and it was enacted. We had to live with it – but the “technicalities” that the Windrush generation are being subjected to should send a shiver down the spine of every person of foreign extraction, including the impressive number of oddly silent Tory MPs. (Just so you know, in case of emergency, my own certificate of naturalisation is in a file in my cupboard marked “Jerusalem”.)
As the ejection of two black men for sitting in a Starbucks in America shows, we’ve seen very little progress on racism in the past few years in the West.
This month’s National Geographic is running a “race” issue. Its front cover features an image of twins, two girls, one of a lighter hue than the other. It’s the sort of marvelling at the differing of skin hue that pioneering immigrants of the early 1950s would have faced in Britain – yet it’s 2018.