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Why Theresa May can’t blame anyone else for the Windrush scandal

The narrowmindedness and bureaucratic heartlessness of deporting British-Caribbeans is consistent with everything May has said or done over the last eight years.

This weekend, Downing Street refused to schedule a meeting between the Prime Minister and representatives of 12 Caribbean countries to discuss the immigration status of Windrush-generation Britons. The first Theresa May learned of this was this morning, when she was alerted to the problem by a letter signed by 140 MPs from multiple parties – at which point, her office hastily announced that it would be scheduling such a meeting after all.

That, at least, is the official line, but I’m not buying it. Missing the brewing scandal would have required the Prime Minister to have spent the weekend offline, without phone signal and probably in a cave. But mostly it’s because this whole mess is so completely consistent with everything else Theresa May has done since she first joined the Cabinet. When people show you who they are, Maya Angelou once wrote, believe them: Theresa May has been showing us who she is for a very long time.

Let’s remind ourselves of the immigration policies pursued by May’s Home Office. There was the “hostile environment” policy in which landlords, banks and doctors would all be deputised as unwilling immigration officers, and the authorities were ordered to adopt a strategy of “deport first, ask questions later”.

Around the same time, there were the “go home vans”: lorry-mounted billboards which spent the summer of 2013 driving about London encouraging illegal immigrants to bugger off, which managed to combine being utterly useless (total departures: 11) with being so unpleasant that even Nigel Farage said it was going a bit far. Then there was that conference speech in which May referred to “the illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because, and I am not making this up, he had a pet cat” – a story which was swiftly debunked by the entirely shocking and unexpected revelation that she had, in fact, been making it up.

These policies, and the statements that accompanied them, are all terrible – offensive, obviously, but also ineffective in terms of achieving what they were apparently intended to do. If you assumed the purpose was to attract the votes of angry racists, though, then at least then they made some kind of sense. The thing that makes me think there’s more to this than that – that this isn’t just about a sort of inverted vice-signalling, intended to appeal to the Daily Mail (“vermin-signalling”); that Theresa May actually means this shit – is her position on international students.

Universities love foreign students, who pay them a fortune and allow them to run courses and employ academics they otherwise can’t afford. Businesses and the Treasury love them, too, for giving a £20bn boost to the British economy every year. Even the public is relatively warm and fuzzy towards them: a 2011 Migration Observatory poll found that, although 69 per cent of people wanted immigration to come down, just 29 per cent thought students counted as immigrants.

As far as we know, in fact, there may be as few as one person in the entire country who thinks that international students are a problem to be solved, rather than a major boost to our exports and soft power. It’s just unfortunate that that one person followed a six-year stint as home secretary by becoming Prime Minister. In 2012, her policies resulted in overseas students in London queuing through the night to register their presence with the authorities. Who was meant to benefit from this was never exactly clear – yet Theresa May has consistently refused to back down.

Why does May have such a problem with the idea of foreigners coming to Britain and spending their lives – even a part of their lives – here? The obvious answer is that she simply doesn’t like foreigners very much, but there are other possibilities. Perhaps she worries about social cohesion, or the impact that population growth will have on public services. Or perhaps she worries about the electoral prospects for conservatism in an increasingly diverse world. Perhaps she’s not a racist: she just thinks that the electorate is.

Whether the prime minister personally holds racist views, though, doesn’t really seem to matter. Whatever the contents of her heart, the fact is she has pursued xenophobic policies, which have emboldened racists, aggravated racial tensions, and risked wrecking the lives of legal migrants and ethnic minority Britons alike.

As the government scrambles to clean up this latest mess, it’s possible that spokespeople will try to push the blame on to misunderstandings or junior staff. Don’t believe them: the narrowmindedness, bureaucratic heartlessness and complete lack of interest in the human cost are all entirely consistent with everything May has said or done over the last eight years. The problem is not that the prime minster actively wants the children of the Windrush deported. The problem is that she didn’t care enough to make sure that they weren’t.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
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My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.