‘Our entire way of understanding and talking about migration has gone awry,’ William Davies writes (LRB, 10 May). It is sometimes hard to remember that immigrants were not always unwanted. There was a time when this country went to the ends of the earth to attract them. After the Second World War, Britain’s economic base was in a parlous state, antiquated, run-down and ill-prepared for economic change. Returning soldiers were quickly sucked into the reconstruction programme, but Britain needed still more workers. George VI, in the King’s Speech of 1951, the first under a Tory government since the war, declared: ‘My government views with concern the serious shortage of labour ... which has handicapped production.’
When the first batch of 492 Jamaican immigrants landed on 22 June 1948 on the Empire Windrush, the Evening Standard greeted them with the headline: ‘Welcome Home’. Officials moved fast to find them work and accommodation. Shipping lines offered the inducement of a representative waiting at Waterloo to meet them and make the necessary arrangements. Then it was the turn of Indian immigrants. They were used to shore up an outmoded, almost bankrupt textile industry, particularly in West Yorkshire and south-east Lancashire. The immigrants themselves took their British citizenship seriously. Many regarded themselves as belonging in Britain, and everything they had been taught at school encouraged them in this. So what changed?
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December 7, 2021