3:19 pm - September 10th 2008
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.
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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