Why changing minds on immigration is a lot harder than it sounds


8:40 am - March 7th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    


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“Most of what we’ve been saying about immigration for the last 40 years has backfired, and not worked for us,” said our American host quite bluntly. We were sitting around a table where the new offices of British Future would later be.

A group of Americans campaigners had come over to explain why, despite millions of dollars worth of lobbying, their debate on immigration remained negative and unfruitful. Our quest was to learn how we could avoid making the same mistakes, though it quickly became obvious we were in fact making the same mistakes as them.

There were three common responses to discussions on immigration that didn’t really work, our hosts said. In some cases they actually made people more resentful of immigrants and made the situation worse.

1) When we automatically brand people who want to talk about immigration as ‘racist’.
This response didn’t just fail to convince people, but drove up resentment and therefore led to more anger against immigrants. No doubt some people who oppose immigration are racist but there’s a spectrum here and some knee-jerk reactions are very counter-productive.

2) Telling people they don’t know the facts.
That the public is woefully uninformed on immigration is simply a fact. But there are two problems with this approach: first, people easily forget statistics that are quoted at them. They are more likely to remember narratives and stories (that the tabloid press use effectively). Secondly, the implication is that people are stupid. And when you call someone stupid they become less likely to want to listen.

3) We say immigration benefits us all economically, overall.
The overall impact of immigration may be positive but it won’t be uniform – some will see a positive effect and others negative. It goes without saying that those negatively affected (mostly poorer unskilled workers) will effectively hear us saying they should suck it up because the overall impact is positive.

There will be caveats for all these points above, but what unites everyone on this list above (with many on the left) is that no one likes their beliefs being challenged. If presented with evidence that proves them wrong, people make excuses. Or they reach for explanations that will justify their views. This is common human behaviour.

This is also why we keep losing the debate on immigration – we think people are misinformed, need to be taught facts and should not be listened to. That just makes them want to ignore us.

Why doesn’t Labour change the narrative?
This is the question almost every leftie asks. But probe it further and it quickly falls apart, because it is much easier said than done.

Labour is an opposition party which already struggles to get attention. Even if Ed Miliband said everything that lefties wanted, the media would distort it and re-interpret it for their audiences. And how many times would he have to say it before it got through to people?

Furthermore, people hostile to immigration would just ignore the speech and explain away the facts. This is how people react. This is how the world works. Just making a speech on immigration facts, even repeatedly, just wouldn’t do much to change the narrative.

I’m not saying Labour should pander and I’m not saying Labour should bring back the odious Phil Woolas and triangulate. I’m just pointing out that there are practical limitations to how much Labour can do.

So what is Labour doing then?
Ed Miliband understands that New Labour triangulation won’t work any more. His view has always been that immigration needs to be re-framed as an economic issue (‘a class issue’ – he called it), to help poorer workers at the bottom. He has thus far resolutely stuck to that view.

But you simply cannot take the public with you unless they trust you and think you understand their concerns. This is also basic psychology. So, first, Miliband has to gain their trust with a bit of humility and apologies. Once enough people think he’s trying to solve a difficult issue, only then will they start listening to his solutions.

But there’s another question too – what can left organisations do from the outside to change the debate? As the guys from America pointed out even this has been counter-productive in many ways. This should be the topic of another article.

In the meantime, have heart. Immigration has become a less poisoned debate in America recently only because minorities flexed their muscles and got President Obama elected twice. Though they are a smaller proportion of the British population here cannot exercise the same power, several key Tory commentators (esp. Lord Ashcroft) have noted that Tory hostility to immigration did cost them votes too.

We are a long way away from the days when Tories campaigned on immigration by saying ‘If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour‘. There is plenty of reason to be positive about the future.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Immigration ,Race relations

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Reader comments


Struck by C4 report yesterday and relative success of “e3veryday integration” in Llanybydder although the language question not dealt with well (why should Poles in Carmarthen learn English? their children are taught in Welsh and seem to be trilingual). Labour is in power in many local authorities and could do much to promote, foster and create a shared sense of belonging or, as the mayor of Ghent says a city which has a future of which migrants are a crucial part. Some do this, and MPs and shadow cabinet should be part of this. US campaigners talk of campaigning to be part of the American dream. The British dream is surely about living together well and we need to express that.

2. Mark Laffan

I’d agree that our issue has been in seeing this as a race/culture issue rather than an economic one.

The debate about EU migration in the 90’s and since arrived on a battlefield where the lines had already been set, and were deeply entrenched.

Decades of argument about immigration from the Commonwealth, Powell’s Rivers of Blood, the National Front and BNP, the identity politics of the 80’s – immigration was couched as racists vs the rest.

Labour has to acknowledge that in an economy rapidly losing skilled jobs and where real wages have been falling for decades, its immigration policy increased competition for jobs for those already among the most vulnerable to the effects of our changing economy.

We also failed to meet the challenges for local infrastructure caused by significant influxes of population.

We have to find a way of decoupling the economic argument around the availability of cheap labour from our traditional arguments around multi-cultural societies.

Because the issue here isn’t racial integration. It’s the impact of a completely liberalised labour market on those who are already struggling.

Come on Sunny, I think you are being an apologist here. Ed Miliband could equally have distracted from the issue. He could have said that it is not immigrants that are causing our problems but bankers etc. But what happened instead, a special broadcast to address it.

Does he do special broadcasts on other issues? No. So what it does is justify the issue as an important issue in people’s minds. It tells the public that actually UKIP have got something to be concerned about. And there was no reason to do that, other than to court the votes of the right.

“That’s what the government want you to think” say our local Green Party members on the anti-cuts stall, when people in the street start blaming their problems on immigrants and they go away with something to think about, someone else to blame for their predicament.

With Golden Dawn growing in popularity in Greece, the worst thing any progressive party could do in this country is to put their own quest for power above the good of the country, and above the well-being of minority groups and that is, in my opinion, what Labour are doing.

Coasting around the issue with endless debate about how to ‘change minds’ is besides the point. The best way to make people less resentful of immigrants and more open to civil discourse about immigration is by cutting the numbers.

Attempts to encourage greater integration, a more geographically even dispersal of new migrants etc are all welcome, but the problem with Sunny is that he wishes to see the numbers of unskilled migrants continue to rise nationally – ignorant to the corresponding impact on working class jobs, housing, schools and hospitals.

Criticism and ridicule of those who take the opposing view has been a longterm feature of his writing for this site. A post like this does little to ease my concerns.

5. Mark Laffan

Carrie,

I think you’re right that we shouldn’t go down a road of blaming minorities, but I don’t think that’s what this shift is about.

The Labour party can’t cogently object to the increasingly casual nature of work, inadequate wages, rising NHS waiting lists, a full blown housing crisis and all the rest while at the same time holding that the arrival of signficant numbers of people does not pose a challenge.

It’s not about blaming minorities, and it’s certainly not about the right’s view that we have a housing crisis/wage crisis etc because of immigration.

But if the Labour party is to represent working class people, then it has to acknowledge that the concerns those people have about immigration are economically legitimate.

It’s not the fault of minorities any more than it’s the fault of the elderly that we’re going to collide with the costs of an aging population over the next decade.

But that doesn’t mean that these issues don’t exist. And dismissing anyone who raises them as “right wing” hasn’t helped.

Oh dear. It’s still about changing people’s minds because they are wrong or just ill-informed.
I’m pretty sure I’m considered to be ”a troll” to be ignored on LC by now, so I can say this freely without concern.

The OP is patronising IMO, because it seems to say that people don’t know what’s good for them.
I’m in Plymouth this morning, and to some people it is ‘hideously white.’
If only it could become more demographically like Bradford or Tottenham, everyone (or everone bar the racists) would see how much better that would be. But Devon is filling up with people who move away from the modern urban reality we have in our big cities today. You can’t make everyone fall in love with their town becoming like Peckham or Handsworth in Birmingham.
Maybe it would be a start to ask what it is that so many ”Middle England” type people dislike about places like those. What’s not to like?

Poverty for a start. Places like Handsworth and Aston are always shabby and litter strewn. Is that the council’s fault for not keeping them cleaner?
Inter-community relations in those places are not always the best, and it seems to me that community blocks build (literal) walls around their communites- in the way of great big Mosques and Gurdwara community centres … and largly ignore people from outside their own community … pretty much.

West Indians in Handsworth having little to do with the large Sikh population for example, and whole neighbourhoods where the white working class is pretty much invisible, or living apart from the more vibrant ethnic communities.

Comparing the UK to the USA isn’t really that useful here either as the differences are so great.
When people say they are against ever-more immigration, I think they are saying that they don’t like everything they have seen so far, and what’s in it for them anyway.
Plymouth would be a different city if it had large areas like Beeston in Leeds amongst its residential suburbs. I walked around Beeston last year. It’s majority Pakistani Muslim …. and poor and shabby. It’s a bit of a ghetto.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/may/06/mohammad-sidique-khan-hometown-beeston

Talking up places like that, and saying they are wonderful is dishonest IMO. They aren’t. And neither are some of the white estates around Leeds either. They’re grotty and depressing places.
I wish people would just describe places as they actually are. As for Harehills where I was living – it’s the most depressing place I’ve ever been. Horrible. White poor uneducated people and tribal community minded muslims who just did their own thing as they couldn’t integrate with the white community.
Plymouth is better I think for NOT having this racial and cultural divide.

Ed Miliband could equally have distracted from the issue. He could have said that it is not immigrants that are causing our problems but bankers etc.

Sure – he could have made a speech just saying that (although I don’t think anyone is blaming immigrants for the crash) – but it would not have made the blind bit of difference.

8. Uncle Satan

I agree Sunny. The left should concentrate on reframing the whole debate.

I have lived on council estates where there has been considerable anti-immigrant feeling. It was perceived that “immigrants are stealing our jobs”. Many of those self same people would however, if the truth be told, rather spend the day at home watching dvd’s playing PS2 and smoking weed.

Imagine if those people, rather than simply being called racist and bigoted were told “You’re right. Though immigration has benefited the country as a whole, it has been detrimental to you, so here’s what we’re going to do to redress the balance. Firstly, you will all receive a weekly allowance of £200, plus housing expenses. In addition to this you will each receive 1/4 oz of skunk. This will be paid for by taxes from immigrant labour who will do the jobs that the tory government has been trying to bully you into taking. Remember, more immigration means bigger weekly weed allowances.”

“Not only this, but we will introduce a new compulsory course for immigrants where they will watch porn and explain to them that the behaviour they see is considered normal in the UK, and that it considered good manners to introduce yourself to you neighbours in this way.”

I think you’d find that should do the trick, and that feelings toward immigration would change overnight.

9. Uncle Satan

Plymouth would be a different city if it had large areas like Beeston in Leeds amongst its residential suburbs. I walked around Beeston last year. It’s majority Pakistani Muslim …. and poor and shabby. It’s a bit of a ghetto.

Plymouth has plenty of really shitty places. The middle England emigres to Devon are constantly slagging off the white indigents of the county refering to them as thick janners, chavs and bumpkins – depending on where exactly in Devon you go. I know places in Devon where the main body of the town has been taken over by snobby immigrants from London and the other big cities and the locals are now effectively confined to shitty reservations at the edge of town.

Frankly, if Devon were more like Leeds, many poorer Devonians would be a damned sight better off.

@damon I suppose the fact that areas where ethnic minorities live are shabbier (if this is indeed the case) is nothing to do with the fact that ethnic minorities are over-represented in low paid work? Thus they tend to be poorer on average, and have little choice but to live in poorer areas.

@ Carrie

This isn’t about courting the votes of the right, it’s about courting the votes of the disillusioned working-class left – people who thought the Labour party was supposed to be about defending workers’ rights and workers’ wages against the worst excesses of a free market in labour.

Most of the policies Labour are proposing are specifically about protecting immigrant workers from exploitative practices (such as being paid less than the minimum wage or housed in slum conditions). Of course, if one joins the dots, that means less downward pressure on domestic workers’ wages and less reason for foreign workers to come here looking for work (since they’re less able to compete). But it’s not anti-immigration for its own sake, and it’s certainly not anti-immigrant.

The question is, why does the Left feel the need to be pro-immigration?

Like so much on the left, it’s mostly about feeling good about oneself and naturally superior to the bigoted others; others who (naturally) only ever act in bad faith.
Same applies to enthusiasm for the EU.

Sunny states that gaining the ear of the electorate is a stepping stone to communicating Labour’s policy. In fact, the chief policy, in isolation to any other policy, must be to gain the ear of the voters, per se.
What I mean is that the noises coming from Labour are empathy to those who previously felt they were ignored.
So having the conversation without finger wagging is probably 90% of the issue unto itself.

“It goes without saying that those negatively affected (mostly poorer unskilled workers)”

I think evidence suggests that after EU enlargement there was no impact on low-skilled workers when Poles etc. moved the UK. It’s possible for migration to be universally beneficial if it’s not too fast – at least economically.

9. Uncle Satan

Don’t know where you live in Devon, but where I live it’s nothing like that at all.

17. Planeshift

I do love the irony in posting this article the day after you post an article by Chris Naden arguing that the electorate are more liberal than politicians think they are.

The problem with trying not to frame the anti-mob as racist is that;

1) most of them are racists (as in the barking wing of the Tory right, UKIP and politically indistinguishable BNP members).

2) those that aren’t racist soon resort to racism when presented with facts that refute their argument.

3) they tell so many unsubstantiated, tall tails, it becomes a choir to listen to them any longer, arguing with them is also clearly pointless and a accusation of racism can be an expedient way to rid yourself of another immigration bully. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve asked for proof that there are millions of immigrants living in million pound mansion houses with their 40 children, receiving a £100k a year in benefits only to have the immigration bully to try to become physically intimidating.

Personally, I’m just gonna keep on trucking, calling a racist a racist, a misogynist a misogynist (another group who’ll deny the label that fits so well till they’re blue in the face), as you’re article makes abundantly clear, the immigration bullies are not going to change their mind either way.

In the mean time though, it would be useful if the rest of us could have a reasoned debt about who exactly benefits from immigration. We should remember that the Tories started mass immigration of cheap labour, the unions and Labour opposed it. The Tories wanted to treat the newcomers as subhuman and again the Left objected (winning the argument this time).

Why has the left allowed the right (who take the lions share of the benefits) paint mass immigration as a leftist policy? Because we let them and the media they control repeat the lie so often if may as well be true now.

Sunny, you suggest that people don’t know the facts, but telling them so can be counter-productive.

Is it not also possible that some “lefties” as you call them also do not know the facts?

For example, you state correctly that while bringing cheap labour into the country benefits the economy overall, it can have an adverse impact on the people directly competing with the new workers.

This is actually a claim that some people on the left would find controversial. It implies that some people in our society may have rational reasons for opposing immigration (at least, if we accept that it’s rational to oppose reductions in your own income and standard of living). Some – not all but some – on the left seem to believe that rational opposition to immigration is impossible, and that opposition can only ever be a result of racism or ignorance.

In other words, people on the left can also be wrong about immigration.

As Yvette Cooper said today, “Overall migration has created jobs, increased the growth in our economy and filled vacancies where skills were short. But some of those in low paid work have seen downward pressure on wages.”

Labour has given up pretending that problems don’t exist, and instead begun the process of explaining to people how it will solve those problems. That – as opposed to listening to the left – is the way to win support for immigration.

I do love the irony in posting this article the day after you post an article by Chris Naden arguing that the electorate are more liberal than politicians think they are.

No one should be under the illusion that the British public is liberal on immigration. I’d say Chris’ piece applies better to the economy

21. Richard W

On this thread and others the lefty counter response to tabloid migrant myths appears to be to invent some myths of their own. The acceptable “progressive” myth appears to be that immigration reduces wages for those at the bottom and that should concern progressives in a non-racist concern about immigration. Migrant workers do not reduce wages, if anything migrant workers increase wages because there is a positive impact on output. That applies at all levels of the income distribution. People appear to have some idea of a labour market supply and demand model, that sees wages falling when more labour is added. That does not happen because demand and output also rise. Look, if adding more workers reduced wages sparsely populated areas would enjoy higher wages than densely populated areas. The opposite is the case because densely populated areas have more demand, therefore adding more workers to the national population does not cause unemployment or a reduction in wages.

http://www.niesr.ac.uk/pdf/090112_163827.pdf

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2011/09/27/labour-are-apologising-for-their-record-on-immigration-in-office-they-are-wrong-to-do-so/

Issues around housing and especially social housing are related to not building enough houses. We effectively had a buildingless boom that enriched some at the expense of many. The last government and their buddies in local government can be blamed for that outcome. Moreover, it is not rocket science how to alleviate housing problems.

Cultural impacts on local communities by large scale immigration is not really something where there is a right or wrong answer. Some people will object for quite legitimate reasons and others will be unperturbed. Blaming the last government for not building enough housing is a legitimate complaint. However, blaming them or immigration for reducing the wages of their core vote is not borne out from the evidence.

22. Planeshift

“No one should be under the illusion that the British public is liberal on immigration”

I’d say the majority probably wants additional restrictions on low paid migrant workers and asylum seekers. But equally wants a system that enables “genuine” asylum seekers* to get through the system, and has no restrictions whatsoever on skilled workers and entrepreneurs.

Which is in reality a policy to the left of what labour actually did, and a policy to the right of what many people perceive labour to have done.

So the sensible political strategy is to say:

“Lab ours position is to adopt a points based system for migrant workers, design a system to crack down on fraudulent asylum seekers whilst allowing genuine ones in”

And leave it at that. Don’t try and pander to ukip and bnp voters – it will never work and piss off your middle class activists whose location (and finance)in marginals is more politically important than adding another 500 votes in safe seats. Don’t keep the issue in people’s minds, repeat the above statement when asked, and then introduce the points system when in government whilst quietly reversing the draconian stuff like locking up children and NRPF for women fleeing abusive relationships.

* Whenever an asylum seeker who becomes well known in the local community is threatened with deportation, the local press and local community rally around to keep him/her in the UK. This wouldn’t happen without substantial and genuine support for the principle of asylum, and the idea that people will support other people they “know” to be genuine.

“I’d say the majority probably wants additional restrictions on low paid migrant workers and asylum seekers. But equally wants a system that enables “genuine” asylum seekers* to get through the system, and has no restrictions whatsoever on skilled workers and entrepreneurs.”

Agreed. To put it bluntly, I doubt people are worried about besuited American lawyers or Indian doctors. But ill-educated people with poor English are more likely to raise antipathy. You could argue then that hostility to immigration is actually down to snobbery.

I find Sunnys post a bit of a cop out for labour. Most progressive social change has created intense opposition from the losers of that change. Sometimes the opposition has been on economic grounds, on others social or cultural grounds. The case for change has never been unambiguous. Thus on this particular type of change, why should a party that aims to be progressive get a free pass?

25. Planeshift

“I doubt people are worried about besuited American lawyers or Indian doctors”

Particularly when such doctors are the difference between a local hospital having an A+E department and not.

(incidentally, as health services are usually planned on potential patient numbers, with a min number needed for a particular service according to royal college guidelines, then immigration swelling the local population is actually the difference between a local District General Hospital in a mid sized town having a full range of services or not)

26. Shatterface

I’ve mentioned this in another thread but one way to tackle anti-imigration is to cut off the argument that immigrants drive down wages by increasing the national minimum wage and enforcing it.

Also tackle those on the toff-fringes of the ‘left’ who argue that British workers are lazy. Why Marcus Brigstock isn’t hounded for his class-hatred while less bigoted comedians are hounded is a mystery.

Rahul, you may be correct to say that most progressive change has sparked opposition from people who lose as a result of it, but isn’t it also often true that the losers in those examples tend to be people who are privileged and fear losing those privileges?

The dilemma posed by immigration is that it actually benefits the most privileged in our society, while those who fear they will lose out – and are sometimes right – are people at the bottom.

So even if we discount the need to win public support for a policy (and how many of us think it’s right for government to ignore public opinion when majority opinion is on our side?) there is still a progressive argument for ensuring immigration benefits everyone, including the least wealthy and powerful in our society.

@ 18 Sampson

“We should remember that the Tories started mass immigration of cheap labour, the unions and Labour opposed it. The Tories wanted to treat the newcomers as subhuman and again the Left objected (winning the argument this time).

Why has the left allowed the right (who take the lions share of the benefits) paint mass immigration as a leftist policy? Because we let them and the media they control repeat the lie so often if may as well be true now.”

Quite. Ideologically speaking, the free movement of labour sits most comfortably within a right-wing, free-market belief system according to which wages and working conditions should be decided purely through the operation of market forces – rising for highly-skilled workers who are in short supply, falling for low-skilled workers who have to compete with one another on the basis of willingness to work longer hours for less pay.

However, the inherent social conservatism – OK, racism and xenophobia – of many right-wingers has always pulled in the other direction. Hence the Tories find themselves in the bizarre position of arguing against a free market in that most fundamental commodity – labour – in spite of the evident centrality of such a market to free-market capitalism.

Meanwhile, the Left have mirrored that situation. The whole idea of a free market in labour flies in the face of left-wing ideas about requiring employers to offer decent pay and conditions. The idea that an employer should be able to ship in cheap labour from somewhere else if he doesn’t like the demands being made by the local workforce is about as far from the traditional beliefs of the labour movement as you can plausibly get, and working class hostility to migrant workers is surely – whether we like it or not – a close cousin of hostility to ‘scabs’.

On the other hand, left-wingers have increasingly tended towards social liberalism and anti-racism, and as such have felt the need to oppose right-wingers on immigration because of the way they have historically framed the debate in terms of race, culture, religion etc. Hence we have found ourselves in the bizarre position of defending a free market in labour.

It really is time we started to unpick some of this. Just because the Right’s position is confused doesn’t mean ours has to be its mirror image.

@hobson – thanks for a thoughtful response. I would agree with you as long as we accept that the set of people for which to analyse power and privilege is UK nationals.

For arguments sake, let’s decide that the set of people to analyse are all EU citizens. This is not unreasonable in that UK immigration policies affect not just those who live here but those who want to come here.

In that broader set, an unskilled poor Briton starts looking quite privileged compared to say an unskilled Romanian (who is the true poor/ bottom of the EU). And preventing the latter from working in the UK becomes protecting the privileges of the former to keep their wages high.

@Jimmy (comment 15) – you raise an excellent point.

There is a broad assumption on both the left and the right that immigration lower wages for the low skilled. The common sense thought process is that an increased supply of commodity low-skilled workers + constant demand will result in lowered wages/ more competition for the same jobs.

Both the empirical and theoretical work done by economists on this seem to find this to be not true. The common sense intuition does not work in this case. Specifically: it seems to be quite rare that native born low skilled workers and foreign born low skilled workers are substitutes for each other. Rather one complements the other, with the native born being able to take slightly more skilled work than the foreign born.

For those interested its worth looking at the work of Declan Gaffney on competition for jobs and US based Matt Yglesias or Adam Ozimek for wage effects.

31. Richard W

@ 28. GO

A good summary. However, the often ignored factor is we live in an EU single market. I would prefer to live in a borderless world but recognise that is not likely in my lifetime. Therefore, I would be quite happy to go along with a points system for non-EU migrant workers. A points system will naturally exclude non-EU unskilled or low skilled migrant workers. Not what I would consider progressive but if it keeps the left happy who am I to complain.

Neither a leftwing nor rightwing perspective makes much sense in being opposed to the free movement of labour when they favour being a member of the single market. If they oppose the movement of people they should favour EU withdrawal. The free movement of people was fundamental to the Treaty of Rome (1957. UK withdrawal from the EU may actually be a good thing on its own terms. Withdrawal because we do not like the free movement of people is probably the least important reason. The UK left and right need to decide if they favour EU membership or not because that is the central issue.

32. David Pavett

Ed Miliband’s admission that Labour got things wrong about immigration is a helpful star to a new debate. It is a pity that he hasn’t really put much flesh on the bones. I don’t think that Sunny Hundal’s approach will help Labour to do that.

What I think SH confuses is (1) the need for Labour to have a clear and objective analysis of the issue and (2) the most effective modes of getting over its ideas based on that analysis.

Some sections of the population may be unmoved by facts/data/arguments needing emotive stories to engage them. For other sections of the population it may be the other way round. The important thing is to realise that we are not all the same.

So, in the first place Labour leaders need a clear analysis basis on fact and careful analysis. In the second place they need to explore the most effective ways, many could be required, to get over the policy decisions they reach on the basis of those facts and analyses. All this seems to be confused in Sunny Hundal’s approach.

In that broader set, an unskilled poor Briton starts looking quite privileged compared to say an unskilled Romanian (who is the true poor/ bottom of the EU). And preventing the latter from working in the UK becomes protecting the privileges of the former to keep their wages high.

And guess who’s vote counts if Labour wishes to win elections. Clue – it ain’t the people several nations away.

For another perspective, try: The Labour Market Effects of Immigration

– The impacts of immigration on the labour market critically depend on the skills of migrants, the skills of existing workers, and the characteristics of the host economy. Research evidence on the labour market effects of immigration is thus always specific to time and place.

– UK research suggests that immigration has a small impact on average wages of existing workers but more significant effects along the wage distribution: low-wage workers lose while medium and high-paid workers gain.

– The wage effects of immigration are likely to be greatest for resident workers who are migrants themselves.

– Research does not find a significant impact of overall immigration on unemployment in the UK, but the evidence suggests that immigration from outside the EU could have a negative impact on the employment of UK-born workers, especially during an economic downturn.

– For both wages and employment, short run effects of immigration differ from long run effects: any declines in the wages and employment of UK-born workers in the short run can be offset by rising wages and employment in the long run.
http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/sites/files/migobs/Briefing%20-%20Labour%20Market%20Effects%20of%20Immigration_0.pdf

The irony is, I have talked to people who fall into the right wing/BNP narrative in bars and said to them ‘it’s the bosses fault’ I have been told ‘you’re right’ doesn’t alter their prejudice one iota, but it does make them think – until the next pint, when they forget…

The biggest problem is spelled out in the word tribalism

Sampson @18

Personally, I’m just gonna keep on trucking, calling a racist a racist, a misogynist a misogynist (another group who’ll deny the label that fits so well till they’re blue in the face), as you’re article makes abundantly clear, the immigration bullies are not going to change their mind either way.

That is a good example of everything that is wrong about discussion of this subject. You really have to go back to the start and define what ”a racist” is.
It does seem to be part of the human condition that people identify with people more like themselves.
In every non western country I’ve ever visited, there is a very distinct understanding on who is a local, or national and who is an outsider.
I was just in Egypt in December and there’s no way that as a white European I could be anything other than a foreigner. Even if I lived there.
They don’t do multi-cultural very well.
Tribalism is the norm in great swaths of the world. Even in supposid modern societies like Kenya. We don’t condemn them for it, we leave them have their tribal space. Thai’s are the same, as are Han Chinese.
You’re either Chinese or you aren’t. It’s a racial thing. Why liberals in the west go so much harder on white people I can only guess at. But whites can be tribal too.
I have asked several eastern Europeans I’ve met, how their country ”will deal” with becoming as diverse as parts of London… and they all have said the idea is fanciful and that it would never work. Lithuanians just wouldn’t want a little Brixton or Tottenham in their capital city. Does that mean most Lithuanians are racists? It might do by that definition.

When people blindly champion the ”extreme diversity” that has developed in many English cities now, I think they are often being either dishonest, lazy or just have a blind spot because of their ideological conviction.

I use the term ”extreme diversity” as I think it’s a point that should be taken up. Maybe it’s not the best term, but I mean to distinguish it from lesser diversity – like I experienced going to school in the 1970s for example, where there were lots of minority people in my year and class, but it was minorities not majorities. Now I see schools where all the pupils seem to be from BME communities and hardly a white kid amongst them. These changes in demographics alter the lived experience for people – in the same way that Newham is totally different to Plymouth today. It’s just different.
What Sampson seems to be suggesting is that if you have a preference not to live in and area of extreme diversity …. you must by definition be a racist.
So BME people who don’t want to go to Cornwall because it’s too white have to be called racists too by that way of argument …. which gets silly.
I would hate to be forced to live in Egypt for more than a couple of months, but that doesn’t mean I hate Egyptians.
I really don’t like the dishonesty and spin which drowns any possibility of discussing this properly. Everyone seems to have an ideological agenda.

It is difficult to understand why anybody should be crazy enough to advocate still more immigration into Britain. The country is overcrowded, particularly London & the South East where most immigrants are likely to settle, there are 2.5 million unemployed, house ownership is out of reach for many young couples, there are huge housing waiting lists, public services such as schools, health etc are close to breaking point. Cultural integration is almost non existence. The arrogance, and contempt for ordinary people, underpinning this article is breathtaking. Stop hawking your superior moral conscience around and start addressing how we can repair our broken society, which the likes of you with their elevated moral self indulgence have helped create.

38. Chaise Guevara

“It is difficult to understand why anybody should be crazy enough to advocate still more immigration into Britain.”

The ageing population, for a start.

“The country is overcrowded, particularly London & the South East where most immigrants are likely to settle”

The country isn’t. There’s plenty of space. London is, though.

“there are 2.5 million unemployed”

Immigrants, as people, create employment as well as taking up jobs.

“house ownership is out of reach for many young couples, there are huge housing waiting lists, public services such as schools, health etc are close to breaking point.”

I’ll grant you housing, but public services are funded by tax, which immigrants pay. Incidentally, immigration has helped us stave off emergencies in lack of healthcare staff.

“Cultural integration is almost non existence.”

I’d love to know your basis for that. There are bastions of immigrants (I live near one) and natives, but most places I’ve lived or frequented have shown plenty of cultural integration, if by that you mean “neighbours of all colours getting along and understanding each other’s stuff”.

“The arrogance, and contempt for ordinary people, underpinning this article is breathtaking.”

I’d argue that the arrogance is in assuming that someone has to share your views to count as an ordinary person.

“Stop hawking your superior moral conscience around”

Look who’s talking! Don’t argue in moral terms then whinge at other people for doing the same.

“and start addressing how we can repair our broken society, which the likes of you with their elevated moral self indulgence have helped create.”

I don’t think we have a broken society. It’s far from perfect, but “broken Britain” is just a sensationalist tabloid cliche recently adopted as a Tory motto.

Chaise Guevara@38

Taking each of your points. More immigration is most certainly not the answer to an ageing population. This will only defer and compound the problem since immigrants themselves grow old. The proper response is to increase the retirement age and encourage older people to keep working, policies which the current and previous government have both supported.

You acknowledge that London is overcrowded but so too is the South East. This is because insufficient housing is being built in this area to accomodate the people displaced from London.Local people object to the loss of countryside. In my work I deal with SE planners and this is a matter which raises a lot of concern. It is soluble but only by “concreting over” the countryside, a very unpopular policy.

With 2.5 million people unemployed there is absolutely no need for immigration so why allow it? Local people should be trained if necessary.

You concede that there is a problem with housing. This in itself is sufficient reason to severely curb immigration, since this is a basic need for local people.

Yes immigrants do pay tax but there is a long time lag between their impact on public services and the provision of additional facilities. This leads to public services being severely stretched in many areas, all due to immigration.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that outside the work environment people from different communities live largely separate lives. All the social and cultural events and venues I have attended in London are hugely monocultural in favour of my own culture and race, despite nearly half the people in London being of different cultures and races. Many Metropolitan liberal minded journalists have noted with some anguish that nearly all their Facebook friends are the same race as themselves.

My definition of an ordinary person in this context is someone on average or below average income – these are the people who have been most adversely affected by open ended immigration.

I have no problem with people arguing in moral terms. What I object to is the assumption that support for more immigration equates with moral superiority whereas opposition to immigration equates with bigotry.

I accept that society as a whole is not broken, but we do have a growing underclass of people who suffer from long term unemployment. Large scale immigration has helped create the circumstances under which this underclass has grown, not helped by the destructive lifestyle choices they sometimes adopt when they find themselves in this situation.

I conclude that for all the above reasons it is completely crazy to allow open ended immigration into a country such as Britain.

Chaise Guevara

The country isn’t. There’s plenty of space.

It’s a fair argument, but you will accept that a lot of people will object to ”empty space” being built on.
There’s a council estate at the top of the road where my mum lives. It backs onto woods and fields and is criss crossed with paths and trails. Great for dog walking and even horse riding.
I always like going for a walk up there when I’m in the area.
And I’ve often thought it would be a shame if someone in the council decided they needed to expand the estate because of housing need and just cover over that area with new housing. The loss of a wood and a few empty fields (where local children play and roam) – for another couple of hundred houses. There is a cost in losing that open land IMO. Some people don’t value such spaces of course and always think another shopping centre is much better use for such land.

I think Britain would be better with fewer people myself. Fifty million would be more than enough. Quieter roads, less pressure of people all trying to get to the seaside or national parks on the bank holidays, less hosing pressure etc etc.
It’s not that the numbers are wrong (having too few people), but the way in which our consumer society has gone that is the problem and why we need so many new low skilled immigrants.
After all, who would we have to work in all or fast food resturants and ubiquitous halal chicken shops if we didn’t keep bringing people in to work in them?
Surely not ….. teenagers. OMG, we can’t have them doing saturday jobs and the like any more.

The same with picking daffodils in Cornwall. It shouldn’t be an industry that needs people to come in from abroad to harvest them. If it’s such a crap a job that locals don’t want to do it, then we should just do without daffodils.

40

I can’t comment on the daffodil pickers in Cornwall but in Lincolnshire, seasonal fruit, veg and flower picking has gone on for decades and by local labour. The real problem is that owners don’t want to pay the minimum wage so they ‘employ’ agents who access foreign labour and then charge them for accommodation (usually an old office or manufacturing building) and then take ‘rent’ for supplying same. In reality, these agents charge the owners much less than the NMW hourly rate and make extortionate charges for ‘rent’ to the individual worker.

42. Planeshift

“Fifty million would be more than enough”

What if 25 million of them were over the age of 60?

Planeshift @ 17: I would argue that this is an issue which simply doesn’t break down into liberal / conservative, or even particularly usefully into left vs right.

Most of the animosity towards immigrants in the UK is xenophobia, which is simply not the same thing as racism. This, for me, is why the racism accusation from the left has been such a failure. A very large majority of the people who don’t like immigrants are just as annoyed about Aussie barmen and Polish plumbers as they are about Ugandan Asians in Southall or Ghanaians and Jamaicans in Tottenham. They feel genuinely and legitimately aggrieved at being accused of racism, on the grounds that they hate the white immigrants too.

We’re an island. We have very deep-seated cultures of insularity and suspicion of foreigners. It’s worth noting that to many of the people I see in the pub in the West Midlands, someone from London or Newcastle is a foreigner. I’m very much ‘not from around here’ (pansy Southerner) and yes, it has lost me work.

The left misunderstands lower-class anti-immigration sentiment because the left is conditioned to see racism, when in fact it’s a mulish distaste for anyone who ain’t from round ‘ere.

Middle-class anti-immigrant feeling, on the other hand, is overwhelmingly racist in my experience; many of the middle class still see the Welsh, Irish and Slavs as being of a different ‘race’ from the Saxons they consider themselves to be, let alone anyone of colour. Equally I’m not saying no poor people are racists; quite a lot of them are. It’s fairly common in the building trade round the West Midlands for tradesmen to automatically reject out of hand jobs for Asian landlords.

So this doesn’t break down in the way the issues I raised in my last post (gay marriage, universal healthcare, etc.) do, liberal / progressive vs. conservative / bigot. An immense proportion of the commonality in both tribes are xenophobes, and a smaller percentage on both sides are racists, but the two phenomena are not the same.

As to the ‘taking our jobs’ canard; I’m not unemployed because of immigration. I’m unemployed because George Osbourne took a nascent recovery and killed it stone dead, resulting in a job market in which every menial minimum-wage position has 12-20 applicants, because 20-25% of this town are out of work. The city has more students than immigrants. The only way an immigrant can ‘take my job’ is if an employer decides to hire them over me, and given the above comments about default xenophobia among the working class in the Midlands, that’s very unlikely to happen unless they’re not only better suited than me but very considerably better suited than me.

44. Charlieman

@43. Chris Naden: “We’re an island. We have very deep-seated cultures of insularity and suspicion of foreigners.”

But as a bunch of islands, we are very open to newcomers. How long ago was it that we welcomed the Chinese to the UK? As islanders living in one of the least comfortable places in the world, UK has historically done a wellcoming job for a long time to all.

I don’t think that you understand that bit, Chris. To start off, UK is not an island.

It’s also worth mentioning that economic migrants of the low skilled variety tend not to settle here permanently, after all if one is sending the bulk of one’s wages back home, that usually implies that one plans to move back at some point. That’s why mass immigration is generally seen as not potentially adding to the ageing population ‘problem’.

What if 25 million of them were over the age of 60?

Obviously we are tied into these economies that need perpetual growth. Whether that is sustainable in the long term I won’t be around to see.
Personally (as a person who makes do on very little) I would have no problem seeing people having to ”survive” on small amounts of money and not having this mass consumption as the norm culture that we have. Our grandparents did alright living more simple lives, and some of those over-60s might just have to make do with less. Poorer pensioners already have to. The idea that we have to keep importing people to prop up our system can make the whole environment a more alienating one.
Having spent the last month in Devon and Cornwall, it is slightly strange to see the more traditional white English society that is so different to the Croydons and Elephant and Castle places I know much better.

I’m not saying it’s better in the South West because it’s less diverse, but it is very different because of being like that. Some aspects ARE nice. I like to hear people speaking with a traditional local accent, unlike where I grew up in south London where now so many young people speak that ‘street pigeon’ English.
It’s only a small thing, but something I’ve never gotten used to. When I come back to London and hear it on the bus I really hate it. Spoken by young people of all races.

47. domestic extremist

“Labour is an opposition party which already struggles to get attention. Even if Ed Miliband said everything that lefties wanted, the media would distort it and re-interpret it for their audiences.”

Moral of story: when in government, legislate to break the right-wing corporate stranglehold on the media system, instead of colluding with it because it so conveniently marginalises, demonises and misrepresents the authentic socialist left, which capitalist-stooge social democrats loathe and fear just as much as the rest of the ruling class does.

48. Charlieman

@47. domestic extremist: “Moral of story: when in government, legislate to break the right-wing corporate stranglehold on the media system…”

Moral of story: be a liberal. Acknowledge hegemony and beat it by being better.

49. domestic extremist

@48 Charlieman: I acknowledge the existence of a hegemonic pro-capitalist ruling class. What I deny is its legitimacy. Or that so-called liberal democracy is other than a sham, since key freedoms it claims to offer to all citizens are in reality either only available to the rich, or (like the freedom to exploit other people’s labour) licences to oppress and rob. And democracy under capitalism is a lie and a delusion, a cloak for ruling class power to disguise itself in.

Who are the ruling class?

“Public funds totalling £500 million a year are being spent on an army of at least 29,000 professional politicians in the UK, according to new figures.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/feedarticle/8605308

Compare that with the British electorate of about 45 million.

All the social and cultural events and venues I have attended in London are hugely monocultural in favour of my own culture and race

Well yes. That’s the thing about BNP meetings and EDL marches.

“Furthermore, people hostile to immigration would just ignore the speech and explain away the facts. This is how people react. This is how the world works. Just making a speech on immigration facts, even repeatedly, just wouldn’t do much to change the narrative.”

I’m afraid then we need to invent a rival narrative. The tabloids’ narrative involves a wide range of false ‘facts’ which people seem quite capable of remembering, like, you know, immigrants are destroying the NHS and they’re the reason you can’t get a council house.

This approach of attempting to appease fears over immigration is counterproductive. It first convinces people that “even Labour admit” that fears of immigration are justified, and that immigration is the main reason for the current problems – but it does not really propose to do anything substantive about it. I mean, if people see immigrants as the reason for all their problems – they will naturally want them punished. I’d hope Labour would have issues with inflicting gratuitous pain on people who are basically innocent (and many/most of whom they regard as having become British).

Right wingers like UKIP, on the other hand, will happily make substantive punitive proposals, and hey presto! You have convinced a bunch of people who might previously have been waverers to vote UKIP.

Unless you’re proposing Labour shut down all those universities (many of them good ones) dependent on foreign students; unless you’re proposing Labour impose draconian restrictions on marrying foreigners; unless you’re proposing Labour impose exit controls which mean you have to get to the airport many hours before your flight leaves; unless you’re proposing Labour ban the burqa, oppose new construction of mosques and refuse to deal with ethnic community groups… (all measures I should say for clarity that I would condemn) then you’re proposing a strategy of endorsing the idea that the UK is being destroyed by immigration and ‘multiculturalism’ while doing nothing about it – a tactic which will lead to a strengthening of the far right in the UK.

Charlieman:

How long ago was it that we welcomed the Chinese to the UK?

By which you mean, imported near-slave labourers and abused the fuck out of them for 150 years? Fought two wars to force their home country to let us sell them opium? Nice welcome we got there. The US, of course, has a similar history, but they openly invited enormous immigration before abusing each wave of immigrants for generations. As early as Pitt you’ve got speeches in Parliament bemoaning the terrible trials of foreigners swarming on the south coast (though they, of course, were talking about French Huguenots).

Or go back to the Norwich Blood Libel: the main problem we had with Jews, besides owing them money, was that they were more or less intrinsically not from around ‘ere, both as a class and individually. They traveled widely in an era when hardly anyone did, so large numbers of them were literally from elsewhere (typically Spain, France and Italy).

We’re not talking about government policy, we’re talking about social reactions. Read what the Victorians wrote about the Chinese in London, or about the Ashkenazi immegrant communities during the Ripper case.

You’re also right that the UK isn’t an island. Greater Britain, however, is a small archipelago. I was referring to a fairly well-known insularity that comes from being hard to reach: the vagabonds of early Modern Europe could walk from Portugal to Prague, one day at a time, in search of food and work and many did. They couldn’t walk to Britain. That difference of experience over centuries changes the depth and density of xenophobic sentiment.

The British don’t like foreigners. It’s a fairly basic fact about our social culture, which is only slowly eroding under the forces of better education and a more traveled population.


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