Author: Dolin Bhagawati
As of the 2011 census, 20 per cent of the UK population identify something other than “white British” i.e. either an immigrant or descendant of one. At the time this would have translated to 12.6m people – a significant portion of the electorate – especially given the total number of those who voted conservative in the 2017 election was 13.2million.
However, research by the race inequality think tank The Runnymede Trust has shown that in the 2017 election, approximately 77 per cent of BAME voters plumped for Labour. Since then, the Tory party has clearly failed to understand why this has happened and continues to do so while making no efforts to rectify a racist policy.
The hostile environment introduced by the coalition government in May 2012 has disenfranchised generations of migrants and their descendants in an illegal fashion – exemplified by the Windrush scandal that continues to rumble on with unsatisfactory conclusions.
Leadership contender Sajid Javid’s attempt to rename it “the compliant environment” has not changed anything. Indeed, in March of this year when the High Court had its say on the “Right to Rent” – a key plank of the hostile environment – it found that it was a discriminatory, racist and illegal policy. The Tory government, instead of addressing such a stinging rebuke, appealed, wasting more than £78,000 to defend their racism at a time when finances are supposedly tight.
As the Tory leadership race rumbles on, several candidates have emerged claiming a degree of moral superiority due to “principled resignations” over Brexit policy. Yet what was the number that resigned over a policy deemed racist in court? Zero.
It seems a government propagating a racist policy is not a matter for a principled resignation – a position exemplified by every one of the leadership candidates’ continued deafening silence on this matter.
This palpable neglect to banish the racism perpetrated via the hostile environment is rooted in the fact that Tory policy makers rarely have to face the human cost of their own decisions, many of which harm minorities. They do not have to cross their boundaries of class privilege and look into the eyes of the immigrants and families who are victimised by these policies and have long awaited justice.
The Conservative Party claims to be the party of aspiration. As such, I should be the type of voter they are attempting to appeal to – a second generation immigrant, the son of an aspirational immigrant from an Indian village who worked in the NHS for over 30 years as a doctor and have myself been born and brought up here, attended Oxford University and worked in the NHS for over a decade.
However, in spite of my British citizenship, my family ties, the awards I have won at school, university and hospitals I’ve worked in, the UK government has sought to disenfranchise my family at several opportunities – with the primary driver being the divisive politics that lie at the heart of the Conservative Party.
These policies have offered a veil of invisibility to all those behind-the-scene happenings at the Home Office – the combined result being that the architects and enforcers of the very same policies are given complete power and immunity, making justice an impossible dream for many.
David Cameron’s 2010 pledge to reduce immigration to the 10s of thousands, for example, stripped people of their humanity, relegating their issues to the outskirts of the collective experience of the British public.
The only dissent to this type of systemic racism is to tell our stories – stories that highlight the human cost of these arbitrary policies written, implemented and dispersed via pieces of paper.
For instance, when my wife was rejected an extension for her spouse visa in 2017 despite us meeting all the requirements, the rejection letter stated that we should leave the UK and continue our marriage in India.
This decision was passed despite the fact that I was born and brought up in this country and have had a British citizenship throughout. I had worked over 10 years in the NHS. However, in the eyes of a Home Office driven by a Tory-generated hostile environment, none of this was of consequence due to the ethnicity of my wife and I.
The Home Office was happy to banish another doctor from the short-staffed NHS, and indeed the refusal letter stated that I should leave this country with my wife. My wife, meanwhile, is highly educated, with four degrees and a history of working as a language consultant at SOAS University.
Perhaps the Tory Party is only interested in the “aspirational hard-working voter” when it fits a certain palette. At our appeal tribunal hearing, after a year of waiting in limbo, the Home Office lawyer did not even attempt to defend the decision, with the tribunal overturning it having considered our documentation.
The rabbit hole digs much further. The hostile environment affects the lives of people of colour beyond UK borders with its zealot-like insanity, including the many academics denied visit visas to attend conferences and seminars that would have only contributed to the UK’S intellectual scene.
Further, Tory policy – enacted through the Home Office – demands unimagined intrusion into the privacy of those simply wishing to visit a country to see their family while bizarrely not actually looking at the evidence provided.
Making unreasonable demands with no hope of fulfilment is a classic case in using disenfranchisement as a subjugation tool. An example of this is my mother-in-law, Geeta Devi, a well-respected school principal in India, being denied a visit visa for the third time this year to see us, in a manner that our lawyer has termed as a clear case of not reading through the evidence submitted.
Previous refusals occurred when we went through a miscarriage and further familial support would have been of great benefit. Addressing each point in previous refusals, approximately 150 pages of documents were provided in the latest application (enough to provide evidence for a residency visa let alone a visitor one). Once again, the application was refused. the documentation clearly not read, with no right of appeal.
The points they raised included supporting documents failing to demonstrate my mother-in-law’s employment circumstances, despite the presence of documents explicitly doing this. This is a clear instance in which the entry clearance officer did not pay attention to any of these documents.
In other circumstances, such actions would justifiably result in being struck off, or at least reprimanded – but the entry clearance officers at Home Office face no such judgements or accountability over their illegal treatment of immigration cases.
Ours is simply one case amongst the thousands. Other notable ones include the Scottish Refugee Council chief being refused a visa to see his son’s graduation, siblings unable to attend the weddings of their brothers and sisters, parents denied the right to see their children.
However, Tory biases have meant that the Home Office seems unable to accept that people with family in other countries may wish to have them present at major life events. So much for “compassionate conservatism”, in its place we have swivel-eyed nativism.
Through their policies and lack of outspokenness against such racist intent, the Tory party have shown they don’t view migrants of any generation as British and would rather pander to xenophobia and prejudice.
This will not change no matter who the new leader is, given all of them have extended their tacit approval to this appeasement of discrimination through their silence. The problem for any new Tory leader is that migrants of many generations will remember this as they cast their next vote in a general election.