Effect of British Post-War Immigration Policy
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Published: Mon, 26 Feb 2018
This dissertation will examine in detail the extent to which British post-war immigration policy was used to pacify or appease racism in British society. As point of reference the following definition of racism is used: the overt and covert determination of actions, attitudes or policies by beliefs about racial characteristics accompanied by racist theories (Abercrombie, Hall & Turner, 2000,p. 286). Racism in Britain was partly due to wishing to keep foreigners out especially non-whites and also ignorance of the cultures of the Black and Asian people that had been part of the British Empire and often held British passports. In 1948 the Atlee government surveyed public opinion about views on race and found that many whites believed that coloured people were promiscuous head hunters gifted at witchcraft and black magic with several wives each, surely an indictment of the British education system. It is no wonder with preconceptions like that there was always a sizable minority of whites who favoured restricting immigration and others that all non white immigrants and their British born children or grandchildren should be repatriated(Eatwell, 2003, p. 331).
As shall be discussed in detail the British immigration policy during the post-war period has been changed from the open door policy towards all Commonwealth citizens to a tightening of immigration controls arguably if not always explicitly to restrict the number of non white immigrants into the country. Governments are the key decision-makers on immigration policy and providing they have complete control over legislation can encourage or restrict immigration whenever they want to. British governments are no exception to this, although they can be influenced by social, political and economic considerations. For much of the post-war era British governments were free to change immigration policy in any way they saw fit. However governments are susceptible to public opinion and prevailing social attitudes be they progressive or regressive in nature (Evans & Newnham, 1998, p. 242).
The immigration of Blacks and Asians into Britain was not a new phenomena experienced for the first time after 1945. In fact immigration had happened on a small scale for hundreds of years yet remained hardly noticed by the majority of the British society. Blacks and Asians had come to Britain for various reasons including the slave trade, being members of the merchant navy and the Royal Navy or the search for better lives and jobs. Britain had dominated the slave trade by transporting African slaves to the West Indies and the Americas before abolishing the trade itself in the early 1800s. The slave traders did not seem to have a racist motive in catchingAfricans; they just went for the people they could catch most easily.The legacy of the slave trade and the empire was that the white British tended to regard themselves as being better than the Black and Asian people they ruled. The slave trade had certainly helped to fund Britain’s economic and imperial expansion and meant Britain’s imperial subjects would the have right to British citizenship. With British citizenship came the right to immigrate to Britain whether on a permanent basis or just for a temporary stay. Before 1945 the people of the new Commonwealth did not lack the rights to immigrate to Britain just the desire or the incentive. Racism was not seen as a problem that British society suffered from (Ramdin, 1999, pp.10-11).
After the First World War the British government had not needed Black and Asian immigrants to help with reconstruction. As well as there being no official encouragement for immigration the poor shape of the British economy meant there was little chance of employment for immigrants or for all the white men demobilized from the armed forces. In fact unemployment was high for much of the 1920s and got even higher with the onset of the depression after 1929. During this period Britain did not tighten up its open door policy to immigration from the Empire. Yet when there was 2 million unemployed and immigrants would not have qualified for unemployment benefits Britain was not an attractive county to immigrate to (Pearce, 1992, p. 20). Those immigrants that did arrive in Britain found that the harsher economic conditions meant that more were opposed to their entry because of racism as well as the selfish desire to keep all jobs for themselves.Not all immigrants had bad experiences of living in Britain. Around400 Asians had settled in Glasgow and forged strong relationships with the local Scots especially with their contribution to the war effort during the Second World War (Ramdin, 1999, p. 139). Black and Asian people made vital contributions to the British war effort not only through their military and naval service but also by producing greater quantities of food plus other important supplies. In military terms the war had stretched Britain to its limit yet without African, WestIndian and Indian forces the situation would have been worse. Those former Black soldiers, sailors and aircrew believed their wartime service alone entitled them to immigrate to Britain if they wanted to(Hines, 1998, p.20).
London was a beacon to those that immigrated to Britain or passing through during naval and military service, as it was the imperial and economic centre of the British empire (Okokon, 1998, p. 8). The emergence of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s showed that there was support for racist ideas in Britain although at that time British Jews were the main targets of the BUF’s rhetoric and hatred.None of its members would have been averse to attacking or discriminating against Black and Asian immigrants. In the post-war era racists have happily supported the National Front and the British National Party (Pearce, 1992, p. 114). Those Black communities in Britain were familiar with racism and violent attacks. For instance there had been race riots against the Black people that lived in theTiger Bay area of Cardiff in 1919 as the dock owners tried to bar Blacks from working (Ramdin, 1999, p. 141).
However after the Second World War the incoming Atlee government realized that Britain faced a serious shortage of labour. That shortage was solved by encouraging Black and Asian people in the new Commonwealth to immigrate to Britain to fill the vacant jobs and bring their families with them. The Atlee government had not seen racism, as a problem that should dictate changes in its immigration policy and for almost a decade neither did its Conservative successors. After allBlack and Asian immigrants legally had the same rights as white fellow citizens (although in practice discrimination restricted their rights)and there was by and large work for them. The government even got the former Prime Minister Winston Churchill to encourage West Indians to immigrate to Britain. Winston Churchill was well respected in the WestIndies, a respect that seemed to mutual as he regarded many WestIndians as been model citizens that could help the reconstruction of Britain and build themselves better careers and lives at the same time(Hines, 1998, p.14). Black and Asian immigrants were wanted to fill the vacancies that the white British either did not wish to fill or if there were not enough whites to fill the vacancies. Black immigrants were recruited in large numbers as bus drivers and industrial workers.They went all over Britain where ever there were jobs available. The creation of the National Health Service (NHS) meant that more Black workers were needed often men to be porters and women to beauxiliaries, cleaners or nurses. At the start of the post war period British immigration policy was open door towards Commonwealth citizens who were free to live and work in Britain as long as they could afford the air or more often the sea passage over. Many of the first generation of immigrants hoped to make enough in Britain to return home with their families (Gardiner and Wenborn, 1995, p. 188).
Asian immigrants were mainly recruited to work within the textile industry in places such as Bradford, Blackburn and Oldham. WhereasBlack immigrants were usually Christians and were not too culturally different from the white population, Asian immigrants usually had different religions and were culturally distinct. However none of these immigrants could hide their skin colour and found they were not always welcome frequently facing racism and discrimination. Britain had granted independence to India in 1947, that was partitioned into India,East and West Pakistan. The citizens of these new countries alongside all other Commonwealth citizens were at that point free to immigrate to Britain and entitled to claim British citizenship. These rights were legally enshrined in the Nationalities Act of 1948 when economic self interest was more apparent than racism or any perceived need to appease or reduce it (Schama, 2002, p. 550). Large numbers of Asian immigrants brought multiculturalism to Britain. They also brought the Islamic, Hindu and Sikh religions too (Abercrombie, Hill & Turner, 2000, p.232). Better-educated Asians would also join the NHS as doctors and dentists or become solicitors. Yet the majority of Black and Asian immigrants were only allowed to take semi or unskilled jobs (even if they were capable of more skilled work) that began to become scarcer towards the end of the 1950s. Thus reducing the economic urgency of continuing open door immigration policy (Schama, 2002, p. 550).
Once larger numbers of immigrants arrived in Britain they found that although employment was readily available their opportunities were restricted and they faced both overt and covert racism. Some areas were more receptive to the new arrivals whereas other areas were down right hostile. British governments had hoped that the Black and Asian immigrants would eventually assimilate and integrate into British society as previous white immigrants had done. However this became increasingly unlikely as a result both of racism and the desire of immigrants to retain their cultural and religious identities. Unlike earlier Irish and Eastern European immigrants whose children might escape prejudice as they were white, Black and Asian immigrants knew that they and future generations would face ongoing racism. Racism appeared to be strongest in the areas where immigration had been most concentrated. These areas were the inner cities of London, Birmingham ,Manchester and Glasgow amongst others. These areas were also the ones that tended to have the worst housing, health and education provision.Some whites were more than happy to mix with Black and Asian as witnessed by the success of the Notting Hill carnival. However there were also racists that caused tension and wanted immigration halted and perhaps even reversed. The presence of racism would mean that governments had to decide whether to counter, pacify or appease it by changing immigration policy, introducing race relations legislation or changing law and order considerations. Racists were and are voters and as both the Conservative and Labour parties believed that inner city and marginal seats could be vital to winning elections they were prepared to change immigration policy if they felt that was necessary.Changes to immigration policy since the 1960s amply demonstrate that the Conservative and Labour leadership were prepared to pacify and appease racism to win or retain power at general elections. The Conservatives were probably more prepared to do so as they believed that many Blacks and Asians either voted Labour or did not vote at all(Watson, 1997, p. 423). Winston Churchill mentioned in cabinet meetings during 1954 that continued high levels of immigration “would sooner or later come to be resented by large sections of the British people”. Clearly the need for new immigrants to do the lowest status jobs was lessening (Hines, 1998, p.18).
However events during the 1950s would lead the Conservative government to rethink immigration policy to pacify and appease racism within British society. There had been minor disturbances in Nottingham in August 1958 where Black people lived in some of the most deprived areas of the city. The Nottingham police commented on the high level of racist provocation abuse that the well behaved West Indian population had had to endure and were surprised that they had not reacted more violently (Ramdin, 1999, pp. 176-77). As most of the early immigrants intended to return home they were not as vocal as they could have been in speaking out against the discrimination and intimidation that they suffered far to frequently (Hines, 1998, p. 19).
Racists supported the Union Movement, the successor of the pre-warBUF that would shift its emphasis from anti-Semitism to racial discrimination and hatred of non white immigrants. In 1945 the Union Movement leader Sir Oswald Mosley seemed to be an eccentric irrelevance at best and a racist anti-Semitic pro-Nazi traitor at worst, or more accurately he was both. The Union Movement would have an influence out of proportion to its size in the changing of immigration policy to pacify or appease racism in society. In the 1950s Mosley decided that raising the race issue was the best way of increasing support for theFar Right in Britain or at the very least raising its profile. Whereas the Conservative government were at that time unwilling to change its immigration policy to pacify and appease racism within British society. Some of the government’s members and their advisors had considered including promises to restrict immigration as part of the Conservative party election manifesto for 1959 but instead concentrated on telling the electorate that they had never been so well of. That shows that the immigration issue was seen as being too important to be ignored. Mosley believed that the immigration would be the key to reviving his political fortunes. The Notting Hill riots of 1958 made Mosley think that the racist vote would be high enough for him to be elected for Notting Hill following the 1959 general election. Mosley’ shopes were dashed. The Union Movement remained small with only 5,000members. The revival of the Far Right in Britain was prevented by the rightward drift of the Conservative party over immigration policy that pacified and appeased racism (Eatwell, 2003, pp. 331-32).
Although the Black communities in Nottingham and Notting Hill had been the victims of discrimination and violence they were effectively punished instead of helped by the government with the subsequent changes to British immigration policy. Aside from the nine white Teddyboys jailed for their part in the rioting the resulting changes inimmigration policy were a reward for racism, intimidation and discrimination. The Conservative government were unwilling to introduce anti racist discrimination laws on the grounds that the law already provided adequate punishment for anybody convicted for racially motivated violence, even if the racist could only get convicted for assault but not incitement (Ramdin, 1999, pp. 177-78).
By 1962 the Conservative government had changed its mind about restricting immigration for Blacks and Asians bowing to fears amongst parts of middle class suburbia of allowing too many non whites into the country and rising levels of tension in the inner cities. Restrictions were supposed to reduce racial tensions in the areas were immigrants had already settled. The lack of protection for Black and Asian immigrants from racism and discrimination should have been obvious but only the Liberal party saw the need to introduce legislation to counter the problem. The Commonwealth Immigrants Act of 1962 reversed the open door immigration policy and allowed only those with guaranteed jobs with the work voucher to prove it, their families and students with confirmed university places to enter Britain (Gardiner & Wenborn,1995, p. 188). If the aim of the act of was to keep the Conservatives in power it failed. In the short term aware of the forthcoming restrictions as many immigrants as possible came to Britain, 100,000 in1962 alone. There were exceptions for relatives or perspective spouses to enter the country but they had to prove their ties to people already here (Schama, 2002, p. 551). Immigration would decline markedly after the 1962 Act but as a political issue it has not gone away and has frequently been used by the Conservative party and those parties further to the right to gain electoral support. The Labour party despite anything it may have promised during periods of opposition did not remove the restrictions on immigration imposed by the Conservatives to pacify and appease racism in British society (Goldbourne, 1998, pp.51-2).
In opposition the Labour party had been critical of the restrictions imposed through the 1962 act claiming that it was giving in to racist demands. However Labour had to balance keeping the votes of Labour supporters who were against immigration and gaining the vote of the nonwhite voters already in Britain. However once in power the Wilson government would further restrict Black and Asian immigration from theCommonwealth rather than restoring the open door immigration policy abandoned in 1962. The number of work vouchers for potential workers from the new Commonwealth that would allow them to work and live in Britain was further reduced to 8,500 per year in 1965. The Wilson government was reelected after a landslide victory in 1966 without race or immigration featuring heavily in the campaign and the Conservatives seemingly destined for a long stint in opposition. The next controversy over race that led to the Labour government changing immigration policy to pacify or appease racism in British society was as a result of events in Kenya. Kenya was a newly independent member of the Commonwealth that had a sizable minority of Asians that were descended from 19th century immigrants that Britain had recruited to staff the civil service and the railways. The Kenyan Asians were vital to the Kenyan economy yet the Kenyan government wished to deport its entire Asian population to keep the country for Africans only. This overt and outrageous piece of racism was thinly veiled under the termAfricanization. The British government had a responsibility to protect and give refuge to the Kenyan Asians as they held British passports.The Labour government’s Home Secretary Jim Callaghan was anxious to keep the entry of Kenyan Asians to the barest minimum by trying to get other Commonwealth countries to grant them asylum. The Immigration Act of 1968 was amended before its passing to allow only 1500 Kenyan Asian holding British passports and their families to gain entry to Britain every year. It just happened that 1968 was the year that racism and immigration policy were put firmly in the public spotlight by the soon to be infamous speech of a single Conservative MP from the WestMidlands (Watson, 1997,p. 424).
On 20 April 1968 in his home city of Birmingham the maverick yet intellectually capable Conservative front bench MP for Wolverhampton, Enoch Powell made a speech that caused race and immigration policy to go to the top of the political agenda. In his speech Powell called for the further restriction of immigration and to close the loopholes that allowed the relatives of those already settled in Britain to join their families. Powell believed that families should not be reunited and that those not already in Britain should not be allowed entry at all.The following section is the part of the speech that caused so much controversy:
Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first made mad. We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population… As I look ahead, I am filled with forboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see “the river Tiber foaming with much blood” (Comfort, 1993, p.524).
The liberal minded Leader of the Opposition, Edward Heath was caught in a quandary as to whether to sack Powell from the shadow front bench or use the race issue in order to win the next general election. In the end he actually did both. Powell defended his speech saying he was warning about the harmful social consequences of too much immigration in producing racial tensions not to make those tensions worse. Heath sacked Powell from the shadow cabinet but did not expel him from the Conservative party, although Powell would have probably responded by standing as an independent candidate. Powell received over 100,000letters supporting his views and there were protests and strikes in his favour to (Comfort, 1993, p. 524). Enoch Powell found that his speech had been supported by around 75% of the British population according to opinion polls afterwards. Powell had hoped to make the Conservative party harder on immigration policy than the Labour party and that perception certainly helped Heath become Prime Minister, with anti-immigration and racist Labour voters to switch their support(Eatwell, 2003, p.337).
The left wing cabinet minister Tony Benn was certainly not the only one dismayed at the Rivers of Blood speech as it gave fascists,neo-nazis and racists to protest against immigrants and it helped spread their racist propaganda. Powell had given them a great boast as immigration and race received more media coverage than usual. The uproar meant that if there were going to be further changes in British immigration policy those changes would be further restrictions to pacify and appease racism rather than liberalize policy. Benn had respected Powell’s abilities and would even work with him to stop British entry into the Common Market, however he resented Powell making the race and immigration issues “very dangerous and difficult.” Benn feared that the speech would be used to incite racial hatred and violence (Benn, 1988, p.60). For the Black and Asian communities the whole episode showed how ingrained racism and xenophobia was in British society. With public opinion on immigration so much in favour of restrictive or non existent immigration for non whites it was hardly surprising if British governments changed policy to pamper those view seven if it does show their lack of courage. It demonstrates that for most politicians it is more important to gain and hold power than it is to counter racism and discrimination (Evans, 2000, p.43).
The uproar over Enoch Powell gave the Wilson government an excuse to restrict the number of Kenyan Asians allowed entry into Britain (not that it needed any). Wilson had been confident of a third election victory in June 1970. During that campaign Powell continued to raise the race issue and Heath promised to tighten up immigration policy if he was elected. Heath condemned Powell’s racism at the same time he was promising to pacify and appease racism through immigration policy. The race issue was widely seen as contributing to Heath’s surprise election victory. Some commentators such as Jonathan Dimbleby even blamed TonyBenn for his denouncements of Powell (Benn, 1988, p. 294). The harsh reality of racism and the growing possibilities of restricted immigration led to the setting up of groups and organisations amongst immigrant communities to protect themselves as the government and political establishment did not. Such groups included the West IndianStanding Conference (WISC), the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination(CARD) and the Indian Workers Association of Great Britain (IWA). These groups made their views known through demonstrations, rallies and journals or their own publications like the Race Collective (Hines,1998, pp. 69-72). These groups would also receive support from white sympathizers in the Anti-Nazi League plus left wing members of the Labour party like Tony Benn or the Liberals (Ramdin, 1999, p. 246).
According to the 1971 census 6 % of the British population had been born outside of the United Kingdom. Around 1.1 million were Black and Asian immigrants from the new Commonwealth representing 2.3% of the British population. A further 900,000 Black and Asian people were born in Britain and had no memories of their parents homelands. The percentage of the Black and Asian population born in Britain would increase, even as the level of immigration was restricted. These figures do not justify the hysteria and the suggestions of been swamped by immigrants that Powell and others talked about (Watson, 1997,p.423). The immigration policy of the Heath government might as well have been decided by Enoch Powell himself. The Immigration Act of 1971 redefined British citizen in a much more restricted and marrow way compared to the Nationalities Act of 1948. Instead of either having British and passports or not, several sub categories of citizenship were defined in the Act. Each category allowed a different degree of citizenship that in turn granted different rights of entry into Britain. The new system was designed in such a way that right of entry into Britain was determined almost entirely on the basis of any potential immigrants skin colour, unless of course Black and Asian immigrants had a grandfather born in Britain. This act meant that countless numbers of whites in the old Commonwealth could immigrate to Britain if they wanted to. However those Black and Asian that had obtained British passports before their countries gained independence found those British passports to be completely worthless. Enoch Powellheartily endorsed the 1971 Immigration Act, as it seemed the ultimate example of changing immigration policy to pacify and appease racism(Goldbourne, 1998, p.53). Powell did not stay happy with the Conservative leadership after Heath took Britain into the EuropeanUnion. In both elections of 1974 he urged Conservative voters to vote Labour as he believed a Labour government would take Britain out of it.Perhaps much to the relief of Heath, Powell became an Ulster UnionistMP in 1974. Powell would have more in common with Heath’s successor, Margaret Thatcher in terms of immigration policy (Gardiner &Wenborn, 1995, p. 613).
This section of the dissertation will be shorter than the previous one.That is because there are fewer plausible arguments against the case that British immigration policy was changed to pacify or appease racism in British society. There were however justifications or compensations for the changes in immigration policy mainly relating to the alleged benefits and advantages of pacifying but not appeasing racism in British society. British governments could claim that its main responsibilities are for and to the people that live in Britain already whatever their race and ethnicity. Governments could argue that there were pragmatic, social and economic reasons for restricting non white immigration that was not adopted to pacify or appease racism in British society even if that was its unintended consequences. For instance British governments could argue that the deteriorating economic position of Britain meant that there were fewer jobs for Black and Asian to come to Britain to fill. Therefore it would not be fair to allow them entry to stay on social security benefits for most of their working lives. The Heath government was committed to making the British economy more effective yet its plans came unstuck due to widespread industrial unrest and the oil crisis of 1973. The Wilson and Callaghan governments faced ever
worsening economic conditions that forced Labour to abandon the post-war policy of working towards full employment. The harsher economic and social policies later known as Thatcherism made things even harder for Blacks and Asians that were already deprived and discriminated against (Black, 2000, pp. 212-15).
Despite the tight restrictions on non-white immigration introduced by the Immigration Act of 1971 Heath would prove capable of revising the policy because of the crisis in Uganda. Idi Amin the Ugandan dictator following the example of the Kenyans had expelled all of the Ugandan Asians. Heath let some of the Ugandan Asians in to Britain(Eatwell, 2003,p.337). Heath tried to persuade as many countries as possible to give the Ugandan Asians refuge so his government did not have to (Watson 1997, p. 424).
Pacifying racism in British society might not have been such a bad thing if it meant that the majority of Black and Asian people could lead their lives free from violence if not from discrimination. Arguably restricting non white immigration meant that Britain did not experience any race riots from Notting Hill in 1958 to the riots of1981. The Labour governments of 1964-70 and 1974-79 could justify continued immigration policy restrictions by claiming that Labour governments were the most beneficial governments for Black and Asian people and communities in Britain in terms of social and economic policies. Their case would be based on the fact that Labour was the party most determined to counter discrimination and tackle racism for those non whites already here for the cost of restricting further nonwhite immigration. Labour was committed to improving public services and reducing poverty that would certainly help the majority of Black and Asian people that lived in more deprived areas. It was the Labour party that passed the three Race Relations Acts of 1965, 1968 and1976. These acts showed that the Labour governments would not appease or condone racism in domestic policy and showed their intent to lessen discrimination within British society (Black, 2000, p. 123). SometimesBritish public opinion has encouraged governments to allow immigrants when there has been a crisis or disaster. In the mid 1970s for instance Britain took some of the Vietnamese refugees often referred to as boat people (Evans, 2000, p.43).
The immigration of Black and Asian people into Britain had a noticeable impact on British society leading to the phenomena of multiculturalism. These people brought in their own cultures, religions and perhaps to a lesser extent literature. Asians in particular could point out past academic and literal achievements(Ramdin, 1999, p.70). The issues of racism and immigration would lead to the production of large volumes of literature and writings both in justification, explanation or refutation of racism and immigration restrictions. Nobody could argue that Enoch Powell was academically backward and on the verge of illiteracy. In fact that is why he had such an impact on the immigration and race issues. He was not an ill-educated skinhead or violent Teddy boy but a former professor of classics and cabinet minister capable of rational arguments. In just one speech he had a much greater impact on immigration policy than any number of race riots or odious racial assaults (Comfort, 1993, 524).Even the fascist and neo-fascist organisations have produced literature to promote their views, it might not be up to Noble prize winning standards but it certainly has convinced enough people to support them. Oswald Mosley himself had been a prolific if not always coherent writer. The eventual leader of the National Front, JohnTyndall although more accustomed to inciting skinheads put forward his views in Six Principles of Nationalism published in 1966 (Eatwell,2003, p. 335). The effect that the tabloid newspapers and the more respectable right wing broad sheets can have on the issues of race and immigration cannot be ignored. When the newspapers are spreading fear and rumours of further immigration it is hardly conducive for British governments to reverse immigration controls on non-whites. For instance the reluctance of the Wilson and Heath governments to allow the Kenyan and Ugandan Asians into Britain (Watson, 1997, pp. 424-25).
For the West Indians, Africans and the better educated Asians their education had largely been based on the English education system, hence the respect that many of them held Britain prior to immigration. In theWest Indies, English was the spoken language, whilst in the former colonies of Asia and Africa, English was the common language of the administrators and the social, economic and political elites.Therefore many Black people were literate if not better educated than their white counterparts. Discrimination and the desire to restrict immigration resulted from the abilities of immigrants
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