The British murdered their way around the globe for centuries, enslaving whole nations and continents while keeping them suppressed with torture and death, and when Britain itself had to stand up and fight against a similar murdering foe in the shape of Hitler it called on its colonies for help, writes Michael Holland.
Many thousands came from Africa, India, Australia, and elsewhere to stop Europe from being enslaved. Standing together in trenches, flying together in squadrons, and patrolling the oceans to keep the whole of Europe from becoming another part of the Führer’s Fatherland. Many came and many lost their lives.
In victory, post-war Britain was a ghost of its former self. It was broken and to fix it they once again called on the Commonwealth with invitations and promises of British passports to come and help the Mother Country. They came, with their children, and rebuilt Britain. They were at the forefront of the NHS, they manned the buses, the trains, the factories, and in return the black migrants amongst those that came to our aid in our time of need were repaid with lower wages, higher rents, and grief through racism.
But still they soldiered on to make decent lives for themselves; their children went to school, grew up, got jobs, and also became decent, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens.
It was when the Windrush second generation tried to get passports that they found that they had not been nationalised along with their parents when they arrived here as babies. Some contested their case and won. Others stayed quiet, worried that this ‘illegal immigrant’ status would ruin their lives, so never left Britain for a holiday.
Move forward to Nigel Farage and the UKIP party with an agenda to leave the EU and cut immigration. A massive campaign of lies conned the nation and ripped votes away from the Tories, forcing Cameron and his Home Secretary Theresa May to make Britain a ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants in order to get back those votes. Alas, some of those Windrush children got caught up in the horrendous terror tactics used by the government and found themselves deported to a country they didn’t know and knew no one.
This is the story told in The Betrayal, a play by Mark Grey using the Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman’s book, The Windrush Betrayal as his starting point.
The play shows us the early migrants feeling proud to be called to their Mother Country, but that pride soon spirals into a feeling of despair as they realise that there are people here not happy with their arrival. We see good people roughed up, handcuffed and taken away to detention centres to await deportation; innocent victims sent threatening letters; every attempt of proving that they had lived here all their lives ignored because those were the orders from above – Make it a ‘hostile environment’. And they did. People lost their jobs, their homes, their access to healthcare and benefits. Some lost their reason to live.
They felt picked on because there were no white children of immigrants caught in this ‘administrative’ error. Black people were an easy target and a vote-grabber.
Fortunately, Amelia Gentleman brought this racist policy to the attention of the public, plus, there was a whistleblower unable to live with her conscience who spoke to the papers, but it was only when the right-wing, Tory bible, Daily Mail took up the cause that the government knew they had to do something. And what they did was try to cover the scandal up.
There was never going to be a good ending. Some of the innocent died homeless and bankrupt before they could see any kind of justice.
The Betrayal lists many of these sad tales, but there are too many to mention them all because it is still going on, but now in the hands of Priti Patel, still plotting to gain votes at the expense of human lives.
The cast was performing with their hearts as well as their minds. Some will have known people whose lives were devastated by this stain on Britain’s collective character, and we must thank them all, along with Mark Grey, for putting this evil episode in a form that is accessible to all.
David Lammy’s speech in the House of Commons when he lambasted the Government policy was epic. Seeing it recreated here was just as epic.
The world will see this as a national shame, but it isn’t. It is not my shame or any of those impacted by these sordid events. It is purely the shame of the Tories.
See it and weep.
Union Theatre, Old Union Arches, 229 Union Street, SE1 0LR until 4th November. Time: 7.30pm. Admission: £15, £13
Booking: uniontheatre.biz – 0207 261 9876