We need to think very carefully about how we co-exist, particularly in these post-Windrush days. Windrush reminded us that simple posturing is not acceptable, and the new Home Secretary will hopefully continue with his much-needed ‘can-do’ attitude.
The sorry saga has mired us in a battle for minds about what exactly constitutes our national identity. Issues that affect our national identity loom large – immigration, Brexit, Royal weddings, our constitution. At the core is how we relate to one another. In the North East, we are recognised as being friendly and approachable; and I agree that compared to the standoffishness we experience among London commuters, for instance, we are a lot more welcoming. As a proud Northerner with more than an insight into the inner workings of the mind, I feel doubly qualified to comment on our collective sense of national unity. Our communal approachability, if you will.
Evolutionary psychology suggests that people prefer people that are like them. It lays down the basis for collaboration, as shared characteristics somehow give a sense of security. People with things in common are more likely to work together and therefore enhance the survival prospects of the community. But we don’t live in caves any more, and we are not pursued by predators.
Our arguably innate xenophobia has to give way to some transcendent qualities where we identify other people as part of a whole community with all the rights, responsibilities and respect due to them.
As a citizen in a country that has seen a massive growth in population over the last 20 or 30 years, I have concerns about overall population size and sustainability for the planet. Equally, it seems utterly implausible that we fail to train our young people sufficiently so that their expertise is lost to the health service and other organisations whilst asset stripping the rest of the world of skilled people. That not only doesn’t make sense, it’s on the edge of social protectionism at the cost of poorer countries. Most concerning however is the Windrush debacle.
As a white, male, middle-class citizen whose genetic inheritance is mainly Scot with some English, Irish and Scandinavian thrown in, I am acutely embarrassed that our fellow country folk have had to endure this. Indeed that embarrassment extends to shame when I hear stories of people denied healthcare, losing jobs, being taken to detention centres. I can only imagine the despair of trying to produce an audit trail of documentation to validate one’s right to be where one was once invited with open arms.
But then I’m equally ashamed that we have an innately racist society anyway. Whether we like it or not, it is more than the stereotypical white van man that has reservations about race. The nature of that racism has complicated itself as successive policies under, for example Labour, looked to accommodate different communities rather than integrate them. As a result, we have racial groups in this country who can view many other groups as not included in their concept of citizenry. We only have to look at the internal wranglings of the Labour Party with anti-Semitism to see that.
We need to have an open, courageous debate about what citizenship truly is. Equally though, we need to discuss the nature of compassion in government, including the civil service.
I truly do not think I have ever been as uncomfortable as a citizen as I am now. I believe Mr Javid has a substantial task ahead to restore faith for not only the Windrush generation, but everyone who has viewed this fiasco. It will be interesting to see his ministerial stances in the months ahead.