Joseph Harker, The Guardian (London), Jan. 26
So is this the “real immigration debate” we’ve been waiting for? Michael Howard’s plea to Sunday Telegraph readers has led to reams of newsprint and hours of broadcasting.
But first let’s have some clarity. When we say “immigrant”, do we mean the Australian bar-worker, the American academic, the French physiotherapist? I think not: people seem comfortable with them in our midst. As we all know, an “immigrant” is dark-skinned — that layabout who’s over here to milk our welfare system. Funny, though, that while for the last eight years immigration has been rising, unemployment has been falling.
The fact is, migrants who arrive from the developing world — including “bogus asylum seekers” — come here not to scrounge but to work, so that they can save money to send back to their families and alleviate the situation back home. World Bank figures show that, globally, money distributed this way dwarfs the entire international overseas-aid budget.
And without these many thousands of people, vital parts of Britain’s own economy simply couldn’t survive. What about the nurses (go into any hospital and see the real proportion of white British “angels”); or those in the catering and cleaning trade, who service all types of businesses? In many parts of the country, unemployment is so low that people can often pick and choose the types of jobs they want; and migrants do the jobs that most Brits won’t.
Of course, many newspapers have been fanning the flames, running daily asylum and immigration scare stories. But they only do this because they know it strikes a chord with their readers, who have bizarrely made it a key voting issue, up there with health and education.
Editors and politicians like to point out that many of the current concerns have been about eastern Europeans, so how can it all be about race? This goes to the heart of how humans cope with difference. People accept newcomers when they are perceived as relatively wealthy, relatively powerful, or “like us”. With the common language, Americans and Australians tick all three boxes; western Europeans the first two. These are the migrants whom people appear unquestioningly prepared to live with.
Eastern Europeans currently meet none of the criteria. However, for them, differences begin to dissipate over time: they learn the indigenous language and accents slowly disappear. One generation on, they will no doubt assimilate seamlessly into the mainstream population — the only lasting symbol being a strange surname or a different faith. For all the talk of Muslims being vilified, this is nearly always a euphemism for “those brown-skinned people with a culture I don’t understand”. Let’s not forget: in Bosnia and Kosovo, where the Muslims were white, they were the good guys.
Another problem is the wildly inaccurate estimates that people give for the number of ethnic-minority people in Britain. The real figure is 5 million, but many believe it to be almost 20 million. No wonder they feel “swamped”. As far as perception is concerned, visible minorities are like cars. You buy a new one and suddenly you notice the same model everywhere. People see visible minorities “everywhere”. They just don’t notice the white faces in between.
A year ago the allegedly liberal David Goodhart spent 6,000 words trying to answer the question: is Britain too diverse? His argument fell apart, though, because he failed to recognise the difference between ethnicity (those who may have lived here for generations but are of a visibly different race) and migration (those who have recently arrived and may be of any racial group, including white). His Prospect magazine article was instructive, however, because he unwittingly let slip that no matter how English the accent, no matter how many generations down the line, Britain’s ethnic minorities will always be perceived as outsiders.
Perhaps the real debate he — and Michael Howard — should be calling for is: can the white British cope with people of a different colour?
Forget Europe; maybe we need a referendum on this so that we can do the proverbial moving on, and not keep having these bogus arguments. It should be made a whites-only thing, so that the nation can make a decision without being tainted by those who are not “like us”, and both sides should agree to abide by the majority verdict.
White Britain can then decide whether it wants to live up to its own perceived sense of fairness, to judge people by what they do rather than what they are, and accept the benefits minority workers bring to this country, warts and all; or it can bring down the shutters, declare itself a whites-only nation, tear up international treaties — and become a pariah state. Michael Howard, which side are you on?