In 1963 the Conservative Health Minister, Enoch Powell, who later led the call for stricter controls on immigration, launched a campaign to recruit trained doctors from overseas to fill the manpower shortages caused by NHS expansion. Some 18,000 of them were recruited from India and Pakistan. Powell praised these doctors, who he said, 'provide a useful and substantial reinforcement of the staffing of our hospitals and who are an advertisement to the world of British medicine and British hospitals.' Many of those recruited had several years of experience in their home countries and arrived to gain further medical experience, training, or qualification.
Powell was not alone. A considerable body of fellow-Conservatives, the Monday Club, had a policy on immigration which called for:
- Scrapping of the Commission for Racial Equality and Community Relations Councils.
- Repeal of the race relations laws.
- An end to the use of race or colour as criteria for the distribution of state benefits and loans.
- An end to positive discrimination and all special treatment based upon race or colour.
- An end to all further large-scale permanent immigration from the New Commonwealth.
- An improved repatriation scheme with generous resettlement grants for all those from New Commonwealth countries who wish to take advantage of them.
- The redesignation of the Ministry of Overseas Aid as a Ministry for Overseas Resettlement.
Though the Monday Club was eventually disowned by the Conservative party, it included at its peak at least thirty Conservative MPs and more than a dozen peers. several of whom are still active. Few have publicly renounced their Monday Club views as one-time secretary to the group John Bercow has done.
It seems that Mr Rees-Evans's ideas are too extreme even for UKIP. One hopes so. If Mr Rees-Evans or Anne-Marie Waters should win the prize of UKIP leadership, and thus a guaranteed platform on BBC as well as other media, then the immediate prospects of race and foreign relations in the UK are dire.
We will probably not return to being the welcoming, state of the 19th century as described by veteran socialist Ruth Brown in an often-cited paper of 1995. However, we have survived "swamped by immigrants" scares before and will do so again.
In keeping with its role as the 'workshop of the world', Britain long enjoyed a reputation as a liberal provider of refuge and political asylum. The British ruling class had little use for immigration controls for most of the 19th century. The 'free' approach to immigration flourished in the heyday of free trade, as British capitalism expanded to the four corners of the globe. During the boom years of the industrial revolution British capitalism lapped up labour with an insatiable thirst, if only to throw workers back into unemployment in times of slump. Britain's bosses showed little interest in the national or ethnic 'character' of the labour power which they sucked into the expanding British economy.
However, by the turn of the century Britain clearly no longer 'ruled the waves', its industry increasingly undermined by cheaper imports from abroad. The end of the 19th century was marked by deep economic depression and political crises, as huge price rises led to massive cuts in virtually all workers' standards of living, and rising unemployment forced millions into abject poverty. The working class responded with the explosion of 'new unionism', embodied in the strike wave which swept Britain in 1889, involving thousands of women and immigrant workers.
Sadly, the heroic struggles which characterised this period of 'new unionism' proved to be shortlived. The ruling class fought back, and against the background of working class defeat the first law aimed at controlling immigration into Britain was introduced. The 1905 Aliens Act introduced by Balfour's Tory government had an overriding advantage for the government and the ruling class as a whole. It institutionalised the idea that immigrants alone were responsible for the rapidly deteriorating conditions which most workers were suffering.
The introduction of the act was accompanied by a rise of anti-Semitism, led by the gutter press, against the growing numbers of impoverished Jewish refugees arriving in London's East End. In parliament Tory MPs whipped up an anti-Semitic frenzy. One even likened Jewish immigration to the entry of diseased cattle from Canada. Jewish refugees were simultaneously accused of taking British workers' jobs and of living on welfare, in the same racist--and self contradictory--mythology which opponents of immigration continue to employ against migrant workers today.