It was tragic to hear of the death of Paulette Wilson, who was one of those caught up in the Windrush scandal. She died aged 64; and you must wonder whether the stress of her situation didn’t lead to a premature death.
Paulette came to the UK from Jamaica aged 10. She never returned there, grew up in Britain, and worked as a chef for most of her life – including a spell at the House of Commons – had 34 years of National Insurance payments, and had a British child and a British grandchild. But in 2015, the hostile environment policy meant her benefits were stopped, she was sent to Yarl’s Wood detention centre and was very nearly deported.
The most important thing to say about Paulette was how incredibly dignified she was throughout. She had that in common with most of the victims of the Windrush scandal. Hers was a generation who came to Britain from Commonwealth countries in the sincere belief that they were coming to the “mother country”. They loved their countries of origin but were proud of being British.
And it did not occur to them that they were not British. They had been taught solely British history at school in, had learned to recite British poetry by heart and had been encouraged to revere the British royal family. Paulette described how, when she received the letter from the Home Office about her deportation, she walked around in a dazed state for many days. Completely perplexed, all she could say to herself was: “Why am I illegal?”But this letter and the deportation threat were not random. They were the direct consequence of legislation passed two years earlier.
And the Immigration Act of 2014 was not just a Tory bill. The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition was then in government. Sad to say, the Labour party’s official position at that time was not to oppose this legislation. Unfortunately there is a long Labour parliamentary history of “constructive opposition”, as its proponents like to call it. But in truth, this is often neither constructive nor real opposition. Very frequently it is destructive of the rights, liberties or wellbeing of British citizens or those in other countries.