Friday, 11 April 2014

Immigration: resisting the hordes. Over and over again.

David Cameron is terribly upset. The British Office for National Statistics has had to revise information about immigration. Upwards. Of course.

“What the latest ONS statistics underline is the point at which, in the 2000s, immigration was out of control,” he’s quoted as saying in today’s Guardian

Labour was in power in the 2000s, so that’s what passes as a subtle political dig in Cameronspeak.

Getting immigration under control. It really matters. To some people, at least. Those who can’t have these hordes of ravening foreigners flooding into the country and submerging our glorious culture. Trouble is, it’s easier said than done. Here, for example, is what the Guardian had to say about Sir Joseph Leese, a Member of Parliament who opposed a new law on immigration. It seems he attacked one of his opponents who:

“...had stated that a bill to exclude the ‘scum of Europe’ had been defeated by the tactics of the Opposition. Nothing, said Sir Joseph, could be further from the actual fact. The bill was an ill-conceived, badly drawn, and almost impossible measure.”

It seems that Sir Joseph had worked with his colleagues to try to turn the bill into one that had a believable chance to “exclude the real scum of Europe.” But then, he raised a key issue:

“Did what [his opponent] called the ‘scum of Europe’ include hard-working, frugal, decent foreign workmen and political refugees?”

Yep. That’s the million-dollar question. We have immigrants pouring into this country, and they are certainly taking lots of jobs. But they’re jobs that need filling. Hotels, restaurants, shops would flounder without immigrant labour from Central Europe. The NHS depends on Central European, Asian and African nurses and doctors to keep ticking over.

So who do we need to keep out? Well, some of the immigrants commit crimes. The Guardian reports that Sir Joseph suggested he wanted legislation that would:

“...exclude all foreign criminals if [authorities] were able to ascertain that they were criminals before they arrived, and if after arrival they were convicted send them back to their own country as a consequence of their sentence.”

Sounds sensible.

Of course there are also those who come here to claim benefit. The Guardian report shows that Sir Joseph addressed that problem too. Two years before he spoke, only 0.75% of the alien population were dependent on public benefits. 2.4% of the native population lived on assistance.

Does that figure for people on benefit sound low? Well, the Guardian report I have been quoting appeared on 27 January 1905. This was the beginning of the debate on the Aliens Act which came into law in the summer of that year.

It was primarily directed against the Jews, but they came anyway. In the twenties and thirties, it was the Irish, and the British reacted with consternation to that “flood” too. After the Second World War, it was immigrants from the Indian Sub-Continent, the West Indies and Africa. Today it’s Central and Eastern Europe.

22 June 1948: 492 passengers from Jamaica land in Britain
The start of the great post-WW2 wave of immigration
With each wave, the cries of protest have been the same. These are lazy, indolent people coming here to take our jobs or, even worse, to steal our benefits (anyone who believes our benefit levels are an enticement to move to this country hasn’t been following the news). And yet, just as when Sir Joseph was speaking, a far smaller proportion of immigrants than of the native population draw benefits.
Just as a higher proportion of native Brits commit criminal offences.

Every attempt at stemming the flow has failed. Even between 1951 and 2010, the percentage of the population that’s foreign-born grew from 4.2% to 11.9%. That’s what happens in a globalised world with convenient and relatively cheap travel. Legislation, and there’s been plenty since that Act of 1905, can’t stop it.

Fortunately the many apocalyptic forecasts for the consequences of uncontrolled (and uncontrollable) immigration haven’t been fulfilled. Somehow, Britain has muddled through, and is still recognisably Britain. It’s changed, of course, but that may have at least as much to do with two world wars, a sexual revolution and the loss of Empire.

Still, immigrants have caused change. They’re the reason we eat curries rather than fish and chips. In London, Leicester and Luton, the White British are a minority.

Change is never comfortable. When it happens, it’s nice to have someone to make a scapegoat for it. And what’s better than a minority that can’t hit back?

So don’t expect any let-up in the anti-immigrant rhetoric any time soon. It won’t have any effect, because it can’t. And, given the contribution they make, shouldn

Though it will if it turns nasty.

In which case, God help us all. Immigrant or native.

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