Fifty years ago Enoch Powell gave the notorious ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in which he prophesied a racial war on British soil. He argued that immigration from the Caribbean, India and Pakistan should end, and that black people already in the country should be encouraged to ‘re-emigrate’. He believed that people from the West Indies and Asia, who were citizens of the United Kingdom and the Colonies, could not become truly British.
Twenty-five years ago this month Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a racist gang in South London. These anniversaries, along with others, such as the 1958 Notting Hill race riots, begun by white youths attacking West Indian immigrants, form the backbone of a deeply depressing story about post-war British immigration. The Windrush generation – immigrants from the New Commonwealth – were citizens of the United Kingdom and the Colonies, and they had the right to settle in Britain. Many of them were recruited on government schemes, and others were encouraged to come to fill jobs in the mines, the mills, the NHS and in transport, jobs which British workers were unwilling to take. Yet they faced a steeply uphill struggle for acceptance.