Dr Joe Aldred is a retired Christian Ecumenist, writer, speaker and broadcaster. He was a member of the Windrush cross-government working group. He resigned from the group in protest at the government’s failure to repeal its hostile environment legislation.
This interview (produced in four parts) took place on 6 October 2022 at Dr Aldred’s home in the West Midlands.
Copyright & Permissions: Dr Joe Aldred granted the University of London exclusive licence to use this material for (i) academic and teaching activities, (ii) research facilitation and promotion and (iii) reporting or knowledge transfer. This was done with the understanding that names of third parties would be excluded except for those in the public domain. This material, including photograph, cannot be reproduced without permission.
Dr Joe Aldred - Excerpt from Part 4, 26:58-49:42
TRANSCRIPT by Juanita Cox
JC: Dr Juanita Cox (Interviewer)
JA: Dr Joe Aldred (Respondent)
[Excerpt taken from Part 4, 26:58 – 49:42]
So can I ask you when you were asked to join the working group, who… So I’m assuming it was Priti Patel, who was then [she was the Home Secretary, then] she was then the Home Secretary. And I’m guessing you knew everybody else who was on that group?
No, I didn’t.
You didn’t. So how did, how did the group actually function? I mean, what was the… did you meet weekly, monthly? What was the…
I think the idea was that we would meet every three months. Either three or four times a year. Coincided of course, with, did it coincide with COVID? I’m just trying to think cuz lockdown meant that we couldn’t meet. I think we were, I think it did coincide. I think we didn’t meet but online. And still have not met, me, because I left. And so I never met the group, on, apart from meeting online. It was either three or four times a year. I would, I would guess it was four times a year. And no, the people that were selected, were selected by, by the government, quote unquote, and Paulette [Simpson]. I knew Derek Webley beforehand. I’m not sure I knew anybody else actually. And so we weren’t friends. We weren’t a bunch of friends. And sometimes you’re wondering, you know, why, what, why, what, why this group? You know, if you’re looking for a group of stakeholders, how do you? Well, in my case, and Paulette’s, we were brought in because we had been previously on the panel, on the Windrush Day panel. How they went about choosing the others, and for what reasons and I really don’t know.
Did, was it established from the beginning what the working group was meant to be doing, what the objectives were?
Well, yes, yes. The objectives. Don’t ask me to read them off to you. But, but the objectives were clear, were clear, and I would sum them up as to assist the Government in all the departments in delivering on the recommendations made by Wendy Williams in her review. That was essentially the sum of it. She made, I think, 30-odd recommendations, and the government were tasked with, the home office was tasked with delivering them.
But so in, in practical terms, how did they envisage that would work?
Well, the way we went about it practically was to divvy up the number with, into subgroups. Looking at, you know, different facets of it. I thankfully, with Paulette mainly kept the portfolio we had which was not about the thirty, the 39 [actually 30] recommendations, it was about the Windrush Day, the Windrush Day grant. The more legally-minded people like [Cluff] Blondel for example, they got stuck into the more technical stuff around how some of those matters were going to be delivered by, by the Home Office. So, so the working groups, I mean, there was a huge amount of work involved in, in administrating over the half a million pounds. And then there was another half a million pounds for publicity, awareness raising. And so on. A huge amount of work. I mean, I have to say, I opted, I had, I got a TIA in the middle of all of that, not because of that. So I said to folks listen, I’m not willing to take on reading 50 applications for 20,000 pounds; seemed like a waste of time to me. So I opted out of much of it. And then people, obviously people like Blondel did quite a lot of work behind the scenes.
So this was people applying for funding for the following years.
For Windrush Day and for putting on events to raise awareness about…
About, about Windrush and the compensation scheme as well. Okay,
The application, the, the documentation scheme, and [but so did the home office] and the compensation scheme.
Did the home office ever ask about the best ways of say, for example, communicating with the black community or the wider Commonwealth community about the need to regularise, to make sure that people were coming forward to sort out their status as well as to then also apply for compensation where it was applicable?
I think the easy answer to that would be yes. The, this group, the Windrush working, cross-government working was not the only group that the government or the Home Office was in dialogue with. So very quickly, a number of groups sprung up. The most notable I guess, is the Windrush National Organisation with Desmond Jaddoo. And Reverend somebody from, [so Clive Foster], Clive Fraser, is it Foster? Clive Foster. Yeah, I mean, but there are others. You know, Professor ‘what’s his name’. I mean, he got very busy as well. And so a number of things sprung up. And I think the government, it seemed as if there was some people that they didn’t want to engage with. Well, they certainly did engage with the likes of Desmond Jaddoo and Clive Foster. And my friend Joel Edwards, as I mentioned earlier, he became, he was drafted in as somebody who could help on one of the groups that they established. So in fact, one of the things that we didn’t much enjoy was a feeling that although they brought us as though we were the authoritative group, helping them to look at this, it was clear they were talking to several other people as well, which is probably you know, for the good. So I would say there was, there was every inclination, intimation that they wanted to know how best to reach the community. And we spent the half a million pound for awareness raising, for example, that was agonised over in many a meeting about how best to spend it. And they engaged advertising agency, they, they, they, you know, there was massive significant number of initiatives, press initiatives. We even, they even agreed to put adverts on pirate radio stations, for example. Because of the information that was being fed in about how best to you might reach people with, with the news. So whether it was done perfectly or not, I would certainly say that they gave every indication of wanting to ensure that this got out. Joel Edwards and I used to have conversation off-piste, with him because he was advising and talking about, you know, what are we going to do because the numbers are not great and the people don’t seem to be coming through? Could there be people who were just, are afraid to come through? Is there any… so we had levels of conversation both around the table officially in subgroups, as well as in sort of one to ones with people that we knew.
Was there any attempt by the working group to actually have meetings with the community to see what the community would want?
Not initially, not initially. That eventually, was kind, was brought about with mixed results and responses. The, initially no, initially, this was conversations in subgroups. And around the main table with the Home Secretary but though… I mean those meetings with the Home Secretary were, were, in my view, rather sterile, there were rather stage, stage managed and you know, lots of preparation before you go into that meeting. And it was, it wasn’t necessarily, I don’t think they were exploratory enough. It was as though you know, everything had to be sanitised before it got to those meetings with the Home Secretary. Maybe that’s just the way it has to be. But I didn’t see that as being helpful. And I didn’t enjoy those meetings much.
So could you give me an example of a day where you had a meeting? I mean, my understanding was that the Home Secretary wasn’t the chair. So I’m just curious. She was co-chair…
She was co-chair with Bishop Derek Webley. And so what would – in those meetings that will be prepared for endlessly – you know, who is going to speak? Basically what are you going to say? So, the, I mean, I remember the first meeting, for example, which I was livid. I don’t mind saying it. I really, I was livid. So it’s like, we are online. So the Home Secretary, breezes in, which you don’t do, because you’re online, right. And, you know, she obviously knew one or two of us. I wasn’t one of those that she knew. And so she spent the first few minutes, you know, saying, Hi, Tony, you know, how are you and I’m thinking, as the meeting went on, I’m thinking this, I expected, I expected the chairs to be co-chairs, that was her and Derek, the two of them to co-chair the meeting in whatever way they would do that. That was clearly not the case. She just took over and ran it basically, until she left and then when she left, she handed over to her, one of her civil servants, not to Derek, that was what really angered me. And it was, it was just too staged, it was just too staged. So I didn’t find those meetings that useful to what we were trying to do. And I, I came close to leaving after the first meeting. Because I personally felt disrespected. I expected – this is where I was going a while ago – I expected the meeting to open, introductions all around, not just a reaching out to the two or three people that you happen to know before and then just carry on as if the, the rest don’t matter. I thought, I thought, I thought Home Secretary really disrespected us and disrespected the co-chair in a way that I found rather not to my liking.
So you from what I can gather from the media, you left, I believe in April 2022. And just to quote the media and to ask you if this, if it’s exaggerated, or if this is really what, what they described as how it was. You are said to have said that reforming the home office was misguided, that the home office were merely acting as the handmaiden of the government, and the laws they made, that the government had no intention of changing those laws, so it is making the Home Office take the fall. It’s total hypocrisy. I think you also criticised the idea of the compliant environment legislation describing it as pernicious and unchristian. Does that sound an accurate representation of what you said?
Some of it, and still feel. Some, some, some of it. Some of it. What was the first one you read?
So reforming the home office was misguided.
Right, so what I’m saying about the Home Office, isn’t that reforming the Home Office is misguided. What I was saying, am saying is that reforming the Home Office is a wrongly premised response to the problem. That’s really my point; not saying the home office don’t need reform. But it is, as a response to the Windrush scandal, I am saying it’s a wrongly premised response, because, and then the rest follows. Because it’s not that the Home Office is being used as a handmaid, I’m saying that is what the Home Office is. The Home Office isn’t an island on its own. The Home Office carries out the laws passed in Parliament. And therefore, what happened with the Windrush scandal had its roots in the legislation made in Parliament: spelled out very clearly in a number of writing, particularly in in Amelia Gentleman’s book where Theresa May, and David Cameron were on a mission to show themselves tough on immigration. And so these laws, were part of that determination to create, deliberately create a hostile environment for anybody who didn’t have a right to be here. And I’m saying that is unchristian. And then, to apply that law, even though their risk assessment, told them prior, that if they did it, there will be people in the country who would not be able to prove their right to be here, even though they have every right to be here. It turned out to be quite a racist set of legislation. Because if you tell a landlord, that if you rent your room, to someone who turns out to be an illegal immigrant – so you make sure you check before you rent – that landlord is not likely to check on the passport or the, or the legibility, eligibility or not the… Wrong word. Are not likely to check on the right of somebody, let’s say with a Cockney, white person with a Cockney accent or the black country accent, but they’re likely to check if you have dark skin, or if you talk like you’re somebody from abroad. So those laws that were made, not by the Home Office, by the government, in Parliament, deliberately to create a hostile environment. I’m saying when you when you create those laws, and then you got to reform the Home Office, that’s the wrong premise, answer to the solution. That’s the point I’m making.
So had there been discussions like that within the working group? I mean, what actually led to your resignation?
Well, the problem is the kind of sanitised approach to the meetings with the Home Secretary, that kind of thing, was never, was never gonna get there. Unless you just raise it out of, because you know, the agenda was always set before quite rightly, I’m not quarrelling with it. But those kinds of critical statements, which I made to colleagues, were never going to get on the table in the meeting with the Home Secretary. What made me, what made what was it that tipped? I mean, I was saying for some time, to colleagues, that I didn’t think I was going to stay, because I feel, I felt that this was – a not just a thankless – but a fruit less task, beyond some of the things that we, we had already done. So when the proposals came, for example, to uplift the level of the payments, I think those were things that were good. That, for example, was a good intervention, the way that we were able, in particularly in subgroup meetings, to let civil servants know that the length of time it’s taking to settle cases was just appalling. And you know, there were lots of people who were just flabbergasted by the whole process and discouraged and what have you . There were those things you could make… But that didn’t make much difference. I mean, I read the latest statement, just this, for the last report and I think it says that 50, 50 something percent of the applications have been processed. Well, if you bear in mind that the bulk of these came in in the first six months, and since then it’s been a trickle. And we still have only sorted 50% of them, that is foot dragging of the worst sought. So I I think that us, relaying those concerns had very much effect. The bureaucracy is just the bureaucracy, is the bureaucracy, and it’s, and it’s there. So why I should be spending my time attending meetings, that apart from as I said some of the things that we were able to, like uplift, you know, suggest the uplift of the payments. Like, inform them how ridiculous it was to be asking people to provide three pieces of evidence for every year that they’ve been here, even though they haven’t done anything wrong. And you couldn’t provide three pieces of evidence if you had to provide it, of your right to be here. And, you know, they, they ameliorated that process quite satisfactorily. I just did not believe, increasingly did not believe that, spending time critiquing the Home Office for delivering what the government told them they must deliver, when it is the instructions that need to change. It’s like asking somebody to, it’s like, it’s like pronouncing me, you know, guilty and sentencing me to be killed, and then talking to the Hang Man about how they should treat me. What, what are you doing? It’s a sentence for you know, when I didn’t do anything wrong, that’s what that’s what you need to change, not, not saying how humanitarian you can be and how you, you then prosecute your instructions. So that was, that’s my very point. And it still is my point, that it is those pernicious legislations, quite unnecessary. People were having a bad enough time before they came in. And they weren’t needed apart from to boost the egos of two politicians who wanted to prove how tough they can be on immigration. And then they have me, an immigrant, helping them to police that. No, increasingly, just in my mind, it became just too ridiculous to, to stay with.
So I don’t know, to what… I mean, the laws are very complex. But I wondered if you had in your mind ideas on which particular pieces of legislation needed to be undone?
Yes, I can tell you, I mean, you know, I not, I don’t spend my time reading legislation. But I do have to look some time. But the points around requiring a GP – before anybody can register – to check their passport. Requiring landlords to do the same, requiring employers to do the same. Requiring banks to do the same. Basically turning civil society into becoming border guards. That’s what I’m talking about. That is what materially changed the environment and led precipitously to the Windrush scandal. I mean, that’s, that’s it nurture. And I, you know, people who are working at a place before, once, once that, in that edict came down, they were calling in people that look like me to say, I know you’ve been working here a long time, you know, but I need to see your passport. They didn’t call white folks. So it’s those pieces of legislation, I mean, I, you know, I said, I don’t know what number they are in the legislation, legislative form, but I’m just saying it’s those things that were brought in between 2012 and 2016, by Mrs. May, and David Cameron, that precipitated that descend into asking people who had been here all their lives, to prove that they have a right to be here. And it is those I’m saying, in the same way that they put them there, they can take them away. And if they really are sorry for the pain they’ve caused to a relatively small amount of people. And from all I’ve heard, the benefits from them have been negligent, negligible, rather. I can’t think of any good reason why if you can rescind other stuff, why that, why those can’t be rescinded, when they are at the heart of what has happened to people.
Excerpt ends at 49:42