So now we know what Labour’s immigration policy was really about. The “open door” was not simply held ajar in order to admit a fresh workforce that would help to fill gaps in the growing economy. Nor was it just a gesture of hospitality and goodwill to those who were fleeing from repressive or inhospitable regimes in order to seek a better life. Both of those aims would have been credible–if controversial and not thought-through in all their consequences. And so would the longer-term view that dynamic, cosmopolitan societies are generally healthier and more productive than in-bred, isolated ones, or that immigrants who tend to be ambitious for themselves and their families could help to counter the passivity and defeatism that tend to be endemic in the British class system.
But as it turns out, the policy was motivated by something far more radical and fundamental than any of this. The full text of the draft policy paper composed in 2000 by a Home Office research unit–the gist of which had already been made public by a former Labour adviser–was released last week under Freedom of Information rules. Properly understood, it is political dynamite. What it states quite unequivocally was that mass immigration was being encouraged at least as much for “social objectives” as for economic ones. Migration was intended specifically to alter the demographic and cultural pattern of the country: to produce by force majeure the changes in attitude that the Labour government saw itself as representing.
Tony Blair’s “forces of conservatism” speech; his improbable presentation of Britain as a “young country”; the advocacy of a multicultural society which would have to reassess its own history, replacing traditional pride with inherited guilt: all of this could be facilitated by a large influx of migrants whose presence in the population would require the wholesale deconstruction of the country’s sense of its own identity.
This may all sound rather far-fetched now, but try to recall just how much hubris the New Labour tide brought with it in the beginning: the contempt for history and the Year Zero arrogance with which they set about “modernising” the nation’s institutions. It was, in this respect, a prime example of the new direction which Left-wing parties were forced to take in the wake of Marxism’s collapse. Having lost the great economic argument of the 20th century, the Left had to switch its focus to society itself: if humanity could not be transformed through the redistribution of wealth and the socialist command economy, then it would have to be transfigured by altering social relations.
The object of the exercise was still to produce, in the words of an old Left-wing protest song, a “new world” based on a “new man”. But now the new man (sorry, “person”) would be formed not by changes in the power of capital or the ownership of the means of production, but in cultural attitudes and behaviour. The revolution now had to be confined to what went on in people’s heads: to their values, their assumptions and their reactions to each other.
The phrase “altering consciousness”, which had once meant awakening the proletariat to its own economic enslavement, now referred to raising awareness of social injustices, such as intolerance of cultural differences, social inequality, or discrimination against minorities. But the subtext was always self-examination and personal guilt: the indigenous Briton must be trained (literally, by the education system) always to question the acceptability of his own attitudes, to cast doubt on his own motives, to condemn his own national identity and history, to accept the blame even for the misbehaviour of new migrants–whose conduct could only be a reflection of the unfortunate way they were treated by the host population.
Included in this programme for the newly constituted British psyche was a whole package of subliminal assumptions, which were adapted from the Old Left stable: international solidarity rather than national sovereignty, collective values rather than personal conscience, and “social equality” rather than individual achievement. It was a peculiarity of New Labour’s vanity that it actually tried to persuade the country that, under the miraculous Blair dispensation, it could have both sides of these dualities at the same time. But the full consequences of the new country that it envisaged, and the role that immigration was to play in the creation of it, broke the most basic rule of the democratic process: the electorate was never told it was voting for that.
The goal was a social revolution abetted by the influx of a huge variety of diverse cultures, which would provide both the need and the pretext for reshaping British life. It may have been relatively new (at least in Britain) as a specific political policy, but it was much of a piece with the conventional objective of Left-wing political movements, which is to transform human nature.
When you decide whether to give your support to a party of the Left or of the Right, you are actually making a judgment about what you think politics is for. If you believe that it is the function of government to alter or determine people’s perceptions and responses–their innermost feelings about themselves and others–then you will probably opt for the Left. If you take the view that the state should concern itself only with behaviour–with what people do, especially insofar as it affects other people, rather than what they think or feel–then you will be more likely to veer to the Right. So this is really a question of whether you want politics to be concerned with what goes on in people’s heads as much as with events in the objective world.
But of course, at least since the 1960s, when “raising consciousness” became the refrain of every group that sought change in any sphere, almost all parties have had to talk this way to some extent. It has become part of the politician’s acknowledged brief to suggest ways in which the internal lives and attitudes of voters can be influenced or directed. There is scarcely a party leader now who would dare to say that these matters are none of his (or any government’s) business.
Almost no one seems prepared to discuss the obvious danger: that if politics becomes a replacement for religion by taking upon itself the responsibility for transfiguring human nature then politicians, of all people, become the prophets and the priests. Just at the moment, I can’t think of a more absurd idea.