According to academics at University College London, European migrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits, while immigrants from outside Europe cost the country nearly £120 billion in the 17 years between 1995 and 2011.
The Guardian has gleefully seized on the former finding, the Daily Telegraph on the latter, and the think-tank Civitas has criticised the report for being “shallow”. Whatever the truth, the idea that the costs and benefits of immigration can be reduced to an economic equation is a nonsense.
That said, we should be grateful that immigration is being debated at all. A decade ago, the subject was off-limits, unless you wanted to sing its praises or announce yourself as a racist. The Tories, still tarnished by their ‘nasty’ tag, held their tongues and stood by impotently while New Labour ushered migrants into the country at the rate of almost one a minute for thirteen years.
How things have changed. UKIP has led the backlash, the Conservatives have followed their lead, and even Labour is getting in on the act. The suspicion remains that the major parties are following their survival instincts rather than their consciences in promising to tackle immigration, but ideas that are positively radical compared to those of a few years ago are being put on the table all the same.
One might imagine that this shift in policy, and the resulting outcry from certain quarters, followed a long period of public support for immigration – that after years of celebrating diversity and benefiting from cut-price tradesmen, a jaded electorate has rediscovered its inner xenophobe, prompting politicians to follow suit. It’s certainly true that immigration is unpopular in Britain right now, with more than three-quarters of people favouring a reduction; but the fact is that it has been consistently unpopular for half a century or more, with large majorities of Britons opposing it since at least the 1960s.
You wouldn’t have known this from following current affairs and popular culture during New Labour’s heyday. Inasmuch as immigration was discussed at all, respectable opinion had it that, while a few Tory-voting dinosaurs bore a grudge against Johnny Foreigner, all self-respecting citizens of Cool Britannia were at ease with people arriving on our shores from all nations, in whatever number, with no pressure on them to integrate whatsoever.
The great and the good of the British Left never believed any of this. They may have supported runaway immigration in private, but they weren’t about to make it a public talking point, because they understood its unpopularity with the man in the street. So, Labour let the policy play out with as little fanfare as possible and its media lapdogs did their bit by keeping the issue out of the headlines – something confirmed by a 2007 report into BBC impartiality, which found that its coverage of immigration had amounted to bias by omission.
It says a great deal about the influence of the chattering classes that such an unloved policy could be foisted on the country for so long, and it goes to show the disdain the political class has for public opinion. Moreover, it demonstrates that, while they may occasionally make populist concessions, politicians’ ultimate allegiance is to their own beliefs and to their ideological bedfellows. The current tough line on immigration could vanish as quickly as it appeared.
It is now clear that Labour imported a new people they hoped would show their appreciation at the ballot box. That particular cat is well and truly out of the bag, and those who were wise to the scam are rather less outspoken on the subject than they used to be. But turn on the TV or look at social media, and you’ll still find plenty of people (a few libertarians, but mostly angry lefties) horrified at the idea of bringing immigration under control. Suggest closing the door an inch and they act as if you’re calling for mass deportations, lynch mobs and the machine-gunning of asylum seekers.
Whatever their motivation, they certainly aren’t honouring a grand Labour tradition. It was only in the early 1980s that the party started its journey towards the NuLab deluge. A few years earlier, Harold Wilson’s government had been enforcing the Immigration Bill with greater ruthlessness than the Tories before them, and as late as 1979 the Labour manifesto was predicting that large-scale immigration to the country was coming to an end – a state of affairs it had no apparent desire to reverse.
Since it ceased to be a working class movement, the Left has become a refuge for middle-class narcissists, who blame their frustrated desires on the selfishness and stupidity of others, and who delight in demonstrating how clever and caring they are by comparison. As far as they are concerned, immigration and multiculturalism, like the pursuit of equality, are means of undermining the people and institutions they hold in contempt.
This is what New Labour adviser Andrew Neather meant when he spoke of rubbing the Right’s nose in diversity. As the Left sees it, Britain is dominated by a hegemony of fat cats, bully boys, blazered bigots, and working class racists too selfish to vote Labour. Blair and co hoped to put their noses out of joint by swamping the country with foreign cultures that would dilute their influence and offend their parochial sensibilities, and give Labour a new flock to shepherd into the bargain.
If you see nothing in your culture worth conserving, you’re unlikely to have a problem with giving people unhindered access to your country. But there is no historical perspective to this position, no awareness that not all ways of life are compatible with our own, no recognition that importing cheap labour depresses wages and encourages welfarism, and no acknowledgement that it is wrong to disfigure a nation’s culture without the consent of its people. You’re either a saint who favours an open door, or a devil who’s trying to force it shut.
A certain amount of immigration is healthy for a nation, but until our elites are willing to give up their fashionable self-loathing and holier-than-thou posturing, the number of people coming to this country will only be half the issue. There is more to British culture than diversity, tolerance and the welfare state, and unless newcomers are encouraged to celebrate it and contribute to it, we will be inviting them share in the disgust the ruling class feels for our country.