...it untangles the wretched story of how Home Office intransigence and inertia ruined the lives of so many people who were the descendants of that first Windrush generation. Panicked by the rise of Ukip, Theresa May and other politicians oversaw a drastic tightening of immigration guidelines without giving much thought to how it would affect those who had lived here for decades...Gentleman, a Guardian journalist who broke the story of the Windrush affair and who is married to Boris Johnson’s brother Jo, passes from initial bemusement at the number of cases of injustice she uncovers to downright shock at the examples of official indifference and incompetence. It’s a depressing story, told in discreet, unsensational prose.
If much of this story is familiar that’s largely due to Gentleman, whose reporting for the Guardian on this shameful episode saw her named journalist of the year at the 2018 British journalism awards. It’s still shocking to read about people who had given so much care to this country – nurses, NHS drivers, special needs teaching assistants – being treated so coldly. Jocelyn John, who was four when she arrived from Grenada in 1963, was expelled by the Home Office and told she had a baggage allowance of 20 kilos – “You will be expected to pay for any excess.”
In her final chapter, she quotes the historian David Olusoga on the mythology of Windrush. “The revelations of Home Office behaviour exposed the ‘falsehood of British harmony’. He told me he found it ‘difficult to imagine that this would have been tolerated had these people been white.’ ”
Olusoga is undoubtedly correct, but the truth is that there are different kinds of harmony, and a variety of falsehoods, depending on the kind of narrative you want to choose. This story of racist misbehaviour on the part of civil-service departments is merely a blip in the long process of racial struggle that continues to redefine Britain and Britishness.