That ‘Balanced Migration’ tract…

3:19 pm - September 10th 2008

by Laurie Penny    

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This week, according to the tabloids, there has been an ‘all party call for a cap on migration’. Bollocks there has. In fact, what has happened is that Frank Field and Nicholas Soames have colluded to produce a proposal, Balanced Migration, calling for a cap on the numbers of immigrants entering the country. The disingenuous reporting of the proposal has been nothing short of shite.

Firstly, Balanced Migration is emphatically not an ‘all-party call’ for a cap on migration. One bigoted Tory colossus and his favourite Labour defector does not an all-party call make. There are, in fact, more than two political parties in this country, and one of the alternatives has commanded around 20% of the popular vote at the last two general elections. This is, in fact, a bipartisan proposal, limited in scope and not officially condoned by either represented political party. Good job this is a basic mistake that only the right-wing tabloids are making, then. Oh, wait.

Far be it from me to suggest that Nicholas Soames is a racist. But barely a year ago there were calls from within his own party for him to resign after he quoted figures seemingly lifted from a BNP pamphlet as part of an anti-immigration speech to parliament. And far be it from me to suggest that Frank Field is a racist, but not two months ago the BBC had him all but endorsing Enoch Powell, saying in response to the racist rabble-rouser’s predictions that white people are fleeing the country because of the influx of ethnic minorities: ‘There is apprehension and people are leaving if they can – they don’t like what’s happening to this country.’

Now, I happen to have gotten my grubby little paws on a copy of the proposal, and I’ve read it through, after which I found myself chain-smoking and shaking with rage in the back garden. It’s a vile piece of xenophobic drivel. After the first few pages it doesn’t even try to be polite to ethnic minorities, openly lamenting the fact that fewer and fewer economic migrants are coming from ‘the EU and the Old Commonwealth – Australia, Canada’ and more and more coming from ‘Africa, India and ‘other foreign.’’ Pretty soon after this, its unsupported statistics start unashamedly talking about ‘white’ versus ‘black, asian and other non-white’ as opposed to ‘british-born’ versus ‘foreign-born’. Oh, and the nation ‘Britain’ seems to be interchangeable with a place called ‘England’, entirely omitting to mention that we have at least three other countries with their own devolved governments and proud ancient cultures within this nation state. But that doesn’t bother Field and Soames, neither of whom have, it seems, any particular inclination to even think about Glasgow – where, incidentally, the rate of immigrant cultural integration is commendably high.

In the pages on social cohesion and community integration, the Bradford riots are cited without detailing any causal relationship between immigration and social unrest. We’re merely invited to assume that there is one, and that a cap on migration is the best way to deal with it rather than, say, encouraging greater social dialogue. We’re also invited to assume that the increasing number of schools where English might not be spoken in the homes of the majority of pupils is intrinsically a bad thing. And again, ‘balanced migration’ – rather than extra language lessons for immigrant pupils and their families – is apparently the answer. The proposal is a racist striptease, tearing away veils of decency paragraph by paragraph to reveal the real sickness behind its slippery statistics: the notion that Field and Soames might just not like ethnic minorities, and might not want any more of them in their country.

All of this makes me spit. I’m proud to be British, and part of the reason I’m proud is that when my grandparents were driven out of Lithuania in the pogroms, they made a long, torturous journey across war-torn Europe to the UK, hoping for something better, and they found it. A country where they were allowed to work and worship as they pleased, where they established themselves in business and became leaders in their local synagogues, where their race and religion and country of birth didn’t prevent them and their children from becoming British citizens.

Actually, we are all immigrants, even British-born natives who can trace their families back centuries untold. Immigration is what Britain is all about: since records began it’s been the waves of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Romans, Normans, Spaniards, Celts, Hibernians, Hugenots, German Protestants, Jews, French, Italians, Chinese, South-East Asians, Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Eastern Europeans and Americans that have kept us vibrant, kept us whole and humble and constantly changing as a nation.

It’s racists and recalcitrants in power who are the real scum muddying up the waters of change and vitality roaring around these islands, keeping the poor poor and the rich ignorant, holding us back. If the Home Office has any sense at all, it’ll drop this sickening tract in the shredder.

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About the author
Laurie Penny is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a journalist, blogger and feminist activist. She is Features Assistant at the Morning Star, and blogs at Penny Red and for Red Pepper magazine.
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Reader comments

Not all-party, not even bi-partisan, just bi-polar. So not even balanced then.

*I’m referring to the report, not this article.

Of course I don’t always disagree with you Laurie – heaven forfend!

And yes, we all come from somewhere, but strangly you miss off your list most of the recent contributors to my gene pool, but I’ll forgive you.

What gets me most is the scaremongering that is always used. We must stop the immigrants otherwise we will not be able to cope! No more houses, no more services, no more infrastructure…it’ll all collapse!

It completely ignores that if we were experiencing trends for a higher birth rate, or higher income of EU nationals as they are more than welcome to do, the government wouldn’t even be thinking about how they can control the numbers they’d be thinking about how they can reform services, how they can bolster infrastructure, and secure housing. But because we’re talking about a bunch of blacks from Africa and India suddenly it’s all fucking chaos? To be fair, of course, the likes of the US are also included in the list also but I somehow don’t see that side of immigration holding up to the same level of scrutiny that those from poorer nations do.

If things are really that bad then they need sorting, stopping immigration isn’t the answer it’s actually fixing the “sinking ship”, if it’s even remotely bad enough to be described as such.

But it’s not even as if the government’s own proposals are any better, a skilled worker from the EU is clearly worth more than a skilled worker from India. Hell and unskilled, unemployed, layabout from France (hypothetically) is worth more to us in legal terms than a genius in a field we have a skills abundance. It’s ridiculous, and on a slight side note I think the adverts they’re putting all over TV are pathetic, any business that wants to employ someone from overseas isn’t going to find out about immigration law changes from watching X Factor on a Saturday night, the whole process is just comes across as the government really trying to show the “British people” that no more of those foreigners will be plaguing us for now.

Like Laurie, the whole situation just makes me pretty sick.

A Brazilian friend of a friend was coming to Britain on holiday a couple of months ago. He is a middle class dentist and had a return ticket, but when he arrived he was held overnight by immigration officials and put on the next plane home as a suspected illegal immigrant.

Every time I get off the plane from Brazil now I am met by a squad of aggressive immigration officers and police who routinely intimidate every Brazilian under the age of 30. Last time I arrived with my wife – who has an Italian passport – she got put through a humiliating questioning. It is becoming a more and more unpleasant experience.

“the whole process is just comes across as the government really trying to show the “British people” that no more of those foreigners will be plaguing us for now.”

yeah – it’s all show. and they know it – the government is very unlikely to do anything which seriously harms business, as any kind of major immigration reform would. So I doubt that there’s going to be much of a real change – they’ll make a lot of noise to obscure that fact. (I strongly suspect that a Cameron government will continue that policy). Neither Labour not the Tories can afford to do anything too drastic because it would be bad for businesses. Or am I being too optimistic?

I’d forgotten about ‘Bunter’ Soames doing the old BNP two-step, but Frank Field definitely repeated the “7 new cities the size of Birmingham” line on Radio 4 the other morning, which is going even further than the dodgy ‘Government is “planning to build five giant new cities, each the size of Birmingham, over the next 30 years, to house over five million new immigrants” BNP leaflet in the 2004 Euro elections…

I’m sure any similarity between him and the BNP is purely coincidental, naturally… *cough*


Oh, and when it comes to Glasgow, remember it’s the ‘colours’ you follow they’re usually more concerned with… 🙂

(e.g. I’m sure they don’t sell too many of these in certain parts of the city) 🙂

Hope the bloody html worked…

Reading about a bit I get the impression that FField is completely out of touch with reality in his ivory tower at Westminter, and while he restored some credibility to his reputation as a result of getting lucky over the 10p tax debacle he has reacted intemperately in putting his name to this report. He should be put out to grass, or at worst, if he can’t be unshackled from active political life, elevated to the Lords – promote him sideways.

This is the sort of self-righteous left-wing rant that causes the BNP to cream themselves as more Old Labour votes fall into their lap. Public opinion has always been right-wing on immigration (though fortunately not as right-wing as the BNP), a face that the Liberal-Left sitll hasn’t got round to dealing with. With some honourable exceptions (Polly Toynbee for example) the Liberal-Left is too tempted to scream “racist” or imply there are sinister motives behind those who are concerned about the level of immigration and in doing so are effectively tarring around 70% of the population if the polls are anything to go by. I remember a TV debate a few years ago on the topic when David Aaronovitch was speaking for the pro-immigration side. His argument consisted of accusing the other side of being racist and then getting a quote from Nick Griffin.

I think we realise that public opinion is broadly to the right on immigration.

Though, it really depends on how you frame the issue, isn’t it?

The point about screaming ‘racist’ is not to shut down debate but point out the obvious – why are these MPs and Migration Watch so concerned about non-EU immigrants coming here as opposed to Eastern Europeans?

The report is clear about why this is – these people are troublemakers, in a way that its obvious what the implication is.

We may know where public opinion lies, but why should we follow that line just because the Daily Mail etc are willing to distort the debate through lies?

let’s not forget that public opinion is hugely shaped by what people read in the newspapers and hear from politicians. That’s why it’s not that surprising that surveys show the public overestimates the number of immigrants/ethnic minorities/ asylum seekers in the UK and believes that the solution to nearly every problem is less immigration.

why are these MPs and Migration Watch so concerned about non-EU immigrants coming here as opposed to Eastern Europeans

The MPs are only concerned about non-EU immigrants because they both know leaving isn’t really an option and free movement is a key provision of the Aquis (one which most of us benefit from).

To be, um, fair, to “Migration Watch”, they do complain about EU immigration, and are as far as I can tell fully paid up members of the ‘stop-the-world’ lobby.

I don’t think it’s right to describe free movement as a ‘right wing’ issue, it’s a liberal/authority issue, there are strong (but illiberal) left wing reasons for opposing immigration and trade (cf a lot of Democrat rhetoric in the current campaign over the pond), just as there are right wing reasons. The ability to move freely and settle where you like is something that both left and right wing liberals normally agree on.

So saying that, it is about how the debate is framed and what questions are asked—”would you like to be able to retire to Greece/Spain” will get a positive response on free movement for the most part (although not from me, far to bloody hot), and even ‘if an employer advertises locally and doesn’t get a suitable applicant, should they be prevented from advertising overseas’ would probably get a liberal response, especially if you replace ’employer’ with ‘hospital’, etc.

You can even get silly in the push polling—”would you like a return to the days when cowboy builders could overcharge for shoddy work or do you prefer the refreshing competition and decreased costs that skilled workers from Poland have brought to the home-improvement sector”. But that might perhaps be a little too silly…

Richard [8] your point is fair. The fact that the majority of the population would like to see a change from Labour’s ‘open door’ immigration policy means that it is de-facto NOT now a ‘right wing’ position’ but a thoroughly centrist one.

It is bizarre that many on the left (like Laurie Penny) are so wedded to the idea of immigration at any cost. It is part of the reason that Labour are about to spend a decade or more in the wilderness.

The ‘racist’ cries ARE used to shut down the debate. To the majority of people who would like a sensible and open debate on the subject, this is frustrating and almost as patronising as the idea that they let a newspaper do their thinking for them.

The left needs to grow up on this subject, this is the UK not some Trot student drinks party.

Just the sort of drivel I have come to expect of Laurie Penny. No substance whatever. The same trite old mantra; ‘we’re all a nation of immigrants!’ now let’s shut up about over-immigration and start talking about stuff which real people care about like IVF for lesbians. I thought it especially pathetic how she cited the irrelavent case of her grandparents who came to Britain at a time when movement between countries was minimal. It’s so easy to knock this kind of bollocks down. This is why only a few weird left-wing bloggers like woobegone and Lee can be bothered to add supportive comments. For most humans, constantly repeating massive lies has a corrupting and demoralising effect on people’s character, they can only do it for so long.

‘Neither Labour not the Tories can afford to do anything too drastic because it would be bad for businesses. Or am I being too optimistic?’

And funny isnt it how the left who misconstrued Thatcher’s ‘There is no society’ speech now actually belives that society doesn’t matter. Business interests are all that matters. Oh sod the fact that proper intergration is not possible without a period of restrictionism, who cares if it transforms familiar neighbourhoods at a disturbing rate? we don’t live in places like that.

Capping immigration would have no effect whatever on the economy Woobegone, you talk the same sort of bollocks as the crazed europhiles did in the late 90s: that Britian’s economy would suffer because we refused to join the Euro.

Diet Coke –

I don’t understand how stating how many people in this country have immigrant ancestry can be deemed ‘irrelevant’ when right-wing commenters like yourself ask us to accept blithely that ‘over-immigration’ is actually happening. By whose reckoning are there too many immigrants in this country?

I think you’ll also notice that I’m not making the ‘immigrants are good for business’ argument here, because I think it’s massively tangential to the issue. What matters is that immigration is good for this country and this society, period.

I’d ask both DC and ac256 where their own grandparents were born, but that would be childish.

“The ‘racist’ cries ARE used to shut down the debate”

It’s not a crying-racist-to-shut-down-the-debate thing, it’s just the use of logic. I’m quite willing to believe that 70% of the British population are too fucking stupid to understand logic, but that doesn’t stop it from being true.

There is no moral difference between someone with the good luck to be born in Britain (yes, anywhere: while it’s true that there are outrageous disparities between rich and poor in this country, even someone born in the scummiest sink estate in the UK is substantialy better off than the median citizen of the world) and someone without.

Therefore, the only reasons to favour the former over the latter are racist reasons (given that race is a social construct which has absolutely nothing to do with DNA and everything to do with people-being-from-different-places).

By all means, you can make the point in favour of racism (“we’re a democracy, so we represent the lucky sods born here, not the unlucky sods who weren’t”), but anyone who says immigration controls aren’t racist is wrong. And anyone who then says “oooh, just for expressing my racist views I get called a racist” is a clueless muppetteer with no grasp of logic.

(and no, this argument probably doesn’t help the left-liberal cause. But fucking hell, it’s *indisputably correct*, and I’m reluctant to avoid pointing out things that are clearly true because they might scare off buffoons…)

16. douglas clark

Diet Coke,

It used to be that the cheery sons and daughters of the London working class would take a train to the countryside of a late summer / early autumn, and pick fruit. Apparently it doesn’t happen anymore.

If this is to be believed, fruit is going to be left to rot.

Get used to it. The world has moved on a lot and you haven’t.

“Therefore, the only reasons to favour the former over the latter are racist reasons (given that race is a social construct which has absolutely nothing to do with DNA and everything to do with people-being-from-different-places).”

Race is not entirely a social construct as anyone who has seen someone of a different race can probably tell; of course the social *meaning* of race is a “construct” (although I wouldn’t use that loaded word myself) and to an extent the classification of different ethnic groups into larger “racial” categories is arbitrary (but only to an extent, there are real genetic categories too).

Anyway the point is that there is a big difference between racism (hating someone on account of their race) and nativism (favoring (in this case) British people over others simply because they are British.) One could easily be a nativist – i.e. “British jobs for British workers” or whatever – without being a racist. In fact this happens all the time.

This is important because the number of true, hardcore racists in this country is probably a lot lower than some people think, but the ones that do exist are very dangerous people. the number of nativists on the other hand is a lot higher, but they are tamer, few Daily Mail readers are outright racists for example but many are nativists. And of course some people are a mix of the two etc. – I shouldn’t need to spell that out.

“This is why only a few weird left-wing bloggers like woobegone and Lee can be bothered to add supportive comments. ”

I don’t have a blog (at least not a left wing one) and I don’t remember ever commenting supportively on… any article on Liberal Conspiracy, actually. I’m a critical kind of guy.

It’s always constructive criticism though. ^_^

“The point is that there is a big difference between racism (hating someone on account of their race) and nativism (favoring (in this case) British people over others simply because they are British.)”

That’s where we differ. Given that under generally accepted definitions of racism it’s possible for white people to be racist against the Jews, who look the same as them and have little discernible difference at DNA level, I think making sense of the ‘nativist’ distinction is a struggle.

Not at all. If I were an intelligent nativist I could say that I support favoring people who have lived here for decades and have family & property ties to the country (of whatever “race”), over people who have just arrived from a foreign land, on the grounds that the former people are part of this community and have an interest in its future whereas foreigners have a different set of interests, allegiances and rights. Rather like I would be more willing to trust my sister to babysit for me than another woman, even though the other woman might be a perfectly nice person, I just don’t have the family connection of trust.

Personally I think that line of argument is flawed but it’s not racist.

According to the caricatures and stereotypes promoted by racists and eugenicists, ‘jews’ do not look like ‘white people’ and things like facial features and shapes were actually used to try to distinguish between the two as a consequence.

Perhaps you have a short memory john b.


“I don’t understand how stating how many people in this country have immigrant ancestry can be deemed ‘irrelevant’ when right-wing commenters like yourself ask us to accept blithely that ‘over-immigration’ is actually happening.”

If you knew me, you would realise quickly that I am not really ‘right-wing’ at all. Whats more I think racist arguments against immigration are stupid as well as immoral because they assume that British culture can only be passed on through the blood rather than through the mind. But like most liberals I have accepted that ‘over immigration’ is happening and far from being blithe about it, I have taken the trouble to canvas the views of thousands of people on their doorsteps as well as those of immigrants erolling for English courses in the college of NW London. If you had the time or inclination to do something similar, you would quickly realise the true extent of the immigration and intergration problem in this country. You would also understand that our immigration system is irrational beyond belief (e.g. often the most productive immigrants are deported and potentially productive refugees are turned into parasites through enforced state dependency) and that virtually everybody who votes Labour, LibDem or Tory, whether they be white or other, agrees that it should be far stricter and overall levels should be drastically lower. The people who still dissent from this view have now dwindled down to an almost undetectable number of odd-balls who inhabit the untypically peaceful and leafy areas of Hampstead, and a few bloggers on Liberal Conspiracy it seems.

To me your article just consists of emotion, irrelevancies and non-specifics but if you are still convinced that it is you who are right and everybody else is wrong or blithe or racist, then perhaps you would support a little trial period for these immigration caps? If these led to any serious injustices or any economic or social disadvantages surely this would become public knowledge and sensible people could no longer support such measures.

Strangly you say it is only the ‘recalcitrants in power’ who want to limit immigration when that is the complete opposite of the truth. It is the ordinary people who want immigration to slow down so we can get used to each other. It probably would not suit business since it would mean the end of cheap labour; it probably would not suit governments whose economic policies need endless growth. It probaly wouldn’t suit the rich who like the wider range of cuisine. These are the people in power Laurie (for that is why mass immigration never seems to relent or pause) but these are also people have no real long-term concern for this country as a functioning, unselfish community.

It’s extraordinary that I still have to repeat this but your claims that this is a ‘nation of immigrants’ are simply untrue. Past migrations, of Huguenots Jews &c, have never been on anything like the current scale. There is such a thing as society, Laurie but judging from your very blithe support of mass immigration you do not seem to agree.

(And in case you’re interested, my grandmother was born in Bialystok and arrived here as a refugee in 1947. My grandfather is also Polish but was born in Kiev and spent the war taking aerial photos for the RAF)

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