She highlighted race and immigration in the run up to the 1979 general election, claiming in a 1978 television interview that British people feared being swamped by people with a different culture. The upshot was that: the Conservatives overturned Labour’s lead in the opinion polls; she led the Conservatives to victory in the general election; and the National Front vote was wiped out. Her anti-immigration remarks created a climate of support for the government’s hardline approach to immigration; setting a precedent that made immigration a feature of future election campaigns.
The impact of the ‘swamp’ remarks on the British public was not restricted to the issue of immigration; it also had repercussions for the criminal justice system, being implicated in the miscarriage of justice for black Bradford man – George Lindo. In a trial where the evidence pointed to his acquittal, the all-white jury returned a guilty verdict; a verdict that was delivered on the day following the broadcast of Thatcher’s interview. Lindo’s supporters remain convinced that Thatcher’s remarks had influenced the jury. His conviction was subsequently overturned on appeal.
Testimony of her antipathy to non-white foreigners was revealed in her reluctance to accept Vietnamese boat people as refugees but showed a willingness to accept Rhodesians, Poles and Hungarians as refugees on the basis that they could more easily be assimilated into British society. She objected on the basis that it would be wrong to accommodate Vietnamese immigrants in council housing whereas white citizens were not.
‘Operation Swamp’, known as the ‘sus laws’, had Thatcher’s approval. This initiative permitted police officers to conduct random stop and search on crime suspects; providing cover for white police officers to roam inner city streets, spreading fear and terror amongst local people and, in the process, generating complaints of police brutality. These complaints, by and large, went unresolved even when deaths in police custody were featured.
This repressive regime impacted heavily on the black youth of Brixton and it was here, in April 1981, that police misconduct provoked a violent outbreak of rioting; an outbreak that engulfed many inner city areas throughout the summer of 1981. Bradford was touched in a unique way when 12 youths, known as the Bradford-12, were cleared of all aspects of rioting and established the right of communities to defend themselves from attack. The rioting spawned the Scarman report which called for the recruitment of ethnic minorities to the police force and the ending of racial disadvantage. Local authorities had barely started tackling racial disadvantage before the popular media began to pin the ‘loony left’ label on them; thus undermining Scarman.
Her infamy rocked the people of South Africa and the republicans of Northern Ireland. In South Africa she will be remembered for backing the vicious apartheid regime by opposing sanctions and labelling Nelson Mandela’s ANC a terrorist organisation. In Northern Ireland she will be particularly remembered for: the hunger strikes; censoring Sinn Féin’s leaders; banning Sinn Féin’s Assembly members from Britain; the collusion between British forces and unionist death squads; and the political and religious discriminatory practices.
Thatcher loved wealth creation but only managed to enrich the wealthy. Her policies beggared the poor and feather-bedded the rich with the income gap between the top 10% and the bottom 10% doubling; the proportion of pensioners living below the poverty line more than tripling; and taxation for the rich falling by more than a half. These policies had a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities who are over-represented among the poor.
Thatcher had no love for people from ethnic minorities. On the contrary, she placed them at the sharp end of her most oppressive instincts; controlled by the police internally and kept out by hostile immigration rules. She spurned Scarman and wasted the opportunity to challenge racial disadvantage. Her love is reciprocated and there will be no tears.