The problems of integration go back a long way. During the 1964 general election this problem became the dominant issue in the Birmingham constituency of Smethwick. Although the Tories lost over 50 seats to Labour nationwide, the Smethwick Conservative candidate Peter Griffith captured the seat from Labour against the national trend. He did so by focusing on the issue of black immigration and its perceived negative impact on local community cohesion. For his pains he was branded a ‘parliamentary leper’ by the new Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
It has to be said that some of the generalised pejorative language used to describe black people in Griffith’s election leaflets was completely unacceptable and out of order. Nevertheless he had the courage and honesty to raise an issue which mainstream politicians of all parties were only to happy to sweep under the carpet. This was a time when politicians, if they had had the foresight and determination, could have addressed and taken remedial action against what would become an intractable problem, which by their neglect has been handed down to future generations.
Although in a small minority nationally, Griffiths was not completely alone. A Birmingham resident wrote to the Spectator magazine, pointing out, in the language of the time that ‘ten years ago Birmingham had only 4000 coloured immigrants and now has over 80,000. That is hardly an encouragement to welcome more. Why should Britain, a little island already overcrowded, be asked to take more when there is abundant room in Canada? The real villains who allowed this stupid and unwarranted invasion are the ministers and staff of the Home Office. Is there anything wrong in Birmingham and Smethwick seeking to prevent the situation in their area becoming even worse’?
Another letter on this subject came from a British citizen working at Cape Town University. He noted with concern that ‘the colour problem is being played down as much as possible’ in the general election, asking ‘does Britain fear that race problems will dull her image’. He accused politicians of ‘placing party interest before the good of the country as a whole’ He then issued a warning that ‘the matter is more urgent than most people appear to think. At the moment the non-white population is very small, but it will continue to grow through immigration. Furthermore, the non-white birth rate is higher than that of Europeans, and one can thus expect a substantial increase in the number of British born coloured people. The fact remains that Britain has a colour problem that the future will not be able to ignore. Britain will be left with a coloured population that will increase rapidly and uncontrollably’.
He then asked ‘Do the British people want a large coloured population in the future? Do we want to leave our children with a Britain that is Asian and African as well as British? Do we want the English people to be known as a coloured race by the year 2000’? He claimed to have been motivated to write his letter by witnessing ‘the sorrow and suffering that the colour problem has brought to South Africa’. He concluded by asking ‘whether it is right for political parties to ignore so vital a question’.
None of the political parties of the time included anything meaningful in their manifestos to address the issues raised by the above correspondents. The Tory party manifesto had nothing at all to say about immigration. The Labour manifesto stated that ‘special help would be given to local authorities in areas where immigrants have settled’ and that ‘the number of immigrants entering the United Kingdom must be limited. Until a satisfactory agreement covering this can be negotiated with the Commonwealth a Labour Government will retain immigration control’. The Liberal Party evaded any responsibility instead calling for the ‘setting up a system of Commonwealth consultation towards an agreed policy for immigration’. In short, all the political parties conspired to continue the then existing policy of allowing almost unlimited Commonwealth immigration, regardless of the long term consequences, or the impact on British society, a policy which has continued to this day. As a consequence whites now comprise only 44% of the Smethwick population today.