No longer just against the European institutions, UKIP are now against Europeans personally. They have made a breakthrough with this repellent rhetoric already – actually winning would just have been the nasty icing on the cake.
It’s not just the crack-down coalition that hears this inchoate yelp from what they call Middle England, either. Labour are also listening. They’re going to address voters’ concerns on immigration, they say.
Fine. Address mine: here they are.
I am very concerned at the way immigration is described as a problem. Immigration isn’t a problem, let alone the problem.
Let’s start with the closest thing there is to “an immigration problem”, though, which is a problem caused by slow and incompetent administrative responses to changes in population levels. When particular areas see large numbers of people move into them, whether from within the UK or from the rest of the EU or from beyond, then services and funding for services need to follow them. If not, shortages of school places and longer queues in GPs’ surgeries can lead to resentment and community division. Extra support for translation, interpretation and the provision of English tuition will often be required. Central government needs to be more responsive here.
Next, there are concerns about pay. Does increasing the labour supply cut pay? Well, simplistically applying classical economics may suggest so, but economies and societies are more complicated than that. For one thing, immigrants aren’t just potential employees, they are also potential employers. These are people who have already shown enough determination to uproot themselves and come here, so I’d be astonished to discover they weren’t, pound for pound, more likely to be innovators and hard workers. Why else would the right-wing propaganda machine be so determined to tell us they’re scroungers? And there are solutions here, measures we should be taking irrespective of immigration: don’t strangle the economy with austerity, support tax-paying SMEs and co-ops rather than tax-avoiding multinationals, and above all, in this context, make the minimum wage a living wage and protect employee rights.
We live in a world where there’s virtually unrestricted movement of capital, but still restricted movement of labour. It’s a divergence designed to exploit: workers in country A get organised and demand better pay and conditions? It’s easy enough to shift business to country B, or at least as easy as it can be made for companies to do so. I’d expect any party that’s actually of the left, unlike the modern Labour party, to understand that. A real party of the left would wish to rebalance it.
More broadly, I’m concerned that politicians from Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems seem not to realise the broader cultural contribution immigration makes. Imagine a Britain that had somehow barred the various waves of post-war migration, or a Scotland without the Italians, the Asians, the Poles, the Sudanese. Depressing, isn’t it? Many of our institutions are still “too male, stale and pale”: if the whole country still looked like that I’d be looking to get out of it myself. When was the last time you heard any politician from any of those parties be just plain positive about immigration or immigrants? Sure, sometimes they make a token nod in the direction of positivity, but you know a “, but…” is going to follow.
I’m also concerned that when British residents move abroad for work they’re called “ex-pats”, and it’s seen as their absolute moral right to do so, which is fine, except that the same people are told that someone making the exact same move in the opposite direction for the exact same reasons is an immigrant, come simultaneously to take the jobs they’ve left behind and to scrounge off benefits. Let’s use the same term for everyone doing the same thing, in whichever direction. “Ex-pat” is a more positive term, so let’s go with that.
Finally, without wishing to blur the two issues like the right do, there are asylum seekers and refugees. In those cases, we see all the same benefits, plus the fact that we’re offering a safe haven to someone whose own country has become unsafe for them. It’s a basic moral principle. I have a couple of friends who came to Scotland as refugees from Sarajevo. I remember the day they got their status through: I cried. And they are now EU citizens, but they call Scotland their home. That makes me proud, prouder than any nationalist’s praise for his or her own country. “You just happened to be born here”, I think, “whereas these two made a positive choice”. Imagine a civil war here, or the rise of a truly fascist state: wouldn’t you want the French or the Chileans or the South Africans to offer vulnerable British people a safe haven?
Overall, though, my main concern that we’re missing out on the economic and social benefits that more immigration, with the protections set out above, would bring for this country. Are you listening, John Denham?