Ok it's not my favourite topic, but I did promise something on the subject over the weekend, so here it is. Immigration is probably the most heated area of discussion in British political life, probably because its effects transcend the chatter of the Westminster Village more than those of any other issue, and impact on the real lives of real people. Whether it's the availability of housing, school places, healthcare, employment or an assortment of other things, it is these everyday experiences that make immigration a topic on which most people have an opinion.
Looking at a survey carried out in February this year, it would appear that there is a clear majority that hold some sort of 'anti-immigration' sentiment. 59% of those polled believed that there were 'too many immigrants' in the Uk, which is interesting when one considers that this figure was only 27% in Germany and Holland, two countries with higher immigrant populations in percentage terms. 23% regarded the question of immigration as the single biggest issue in British life at the moment - more important than over 2 million unemployed, NHS reform, education, transport etc. It is clearly an emotive subject, perhaps illustrated by the fact that a clear majority also supported the recruitment of more doctors and nurses from overseas - so some of this 59% who want either significantly less immigration or none at all in the forseeable future would also like more immigration when it suits.
What this appears to demonstrate is the capacity of most people to make a clear distinction between what they see as 'good immigration' and 'bad immigration'. In the 1960s, the Conservative government had actively recruited health professionals from the West Indies in order to staff the NHS. The Health Minister who had overseen the training and hiring of those born in Jamaica amongst other places was none other than Enoch Powell, who is now seen as something of a poster boy for 'close the door' sentiments. Many a YouTube clip, Blog or forum thread has appeared under the heading 'Enoch Powell was Right', while his 'Rivers of Blood' speech from 1968, one of the most divisive pieces of rhetoric ever produced on these isles, still chimes with a great many to this day - there is no point denying it. I'll attach an except from a documentary on the man and, as ever, invite you to make up your own mind http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJQMz-fZzC0&feature=related
Those 59% who wish to see less or no immigration would naturally fall into two categories, and there is no doubt that those seeking a complete halt and a 'No Entry' sign held up at Dover are more vocally represented and almost certainly stronger in number than they were even a few years ago. It would be arrogant and churlish to simply dismiss those wishing to 'close the door' as racists, nutters and fruitcakes. Not only have I met perfectly reasonable and intelligent people expressing such sentiments, but there is actually something profoundly anti-racist about saying 'no immigration at all for say, five years' as there is no attempt made to distinguish between one ethnic group or nationality and another. Many of course use the word 'immigrants' as code for 'Muslims' in order to express an entirely different sense of unease (probably a subject worthy of a fresh post all of its own), but if those arguing for an end to overseas migration are as sincere about locking out Canadians and New Zealanders as their stated position would indicate, then one can hardly accuse them of 'playing the race card' on the issue.
Much of the concern about mass immigration centres around a notion that I will admit to never quite understanding - namely that of English or British identity. What does it mean to be English or British, and how exactly does that differ to the sense of say, French or German-ness that an inhabitant of either of those nations would feel equally entitled to? Like most, I'll follow England at football or cricket, while supporting British participants in athletics, tennis or boxing. Beyond that, if we're talking about having a pint on a Sunday afternoon, or going to the match and returning home to fish and chips with a mug of tea, I struggle to see exactly how these things have been taken away from people in the way that some would suggest.
Perhaps the people you will encounter while taking in such innocent pleasures will be a different colour, from another country, or believe in a faith that is alien to you and I, but if one wishes to pursue this quintessentially 'British way of Life' then I'm running short on reasons why this cannot still be done. Technology, innovation and the information boom have left so many choices out there to people that were of course not available even two decades ago, and I'd suggest this has had as much and possibly more to do with people's diverse lifestyles today as immigration. The churches are empty when compared with those of a generation ago as organised religion is continually 'sussed' by many, British television has (rightly or wrongly) looked to America for inspiration while the world is just getting smaller in terms of what you can see or read, and who you can talk to. To blame all of these changes on those who have come here from overseas is at best simplistic and, if we're being more honest, plain wrong.
However, there are real anxieties with real day-to-day consequences. Towns and Cities segregated into white and non-white areas, with racial tensions and the rise of political extremism as a result. White working-class males have felt left out, forgotten and ignored by the political elite as they compete with newcomers for jobs, housing and access to local services. There is an understandable sense of frustration that someone can come to these shores from overseas and enjoy the same access to welfare as an individual who has lived, worked and paid tax here for decades. The political slimeballs of the British National Party and their street operation, the English Defence League, have naturally exploited this angst to their own advantage. This bunny's view that we should generally ignore and laugh at the BNP as a bunch of wackos and pseudo-Nazis is tempered by the reality that in 2009 they won their first ever seats in the European Parliament. People are actually voting for them, in fact 1 million did at that election.
This brings us neatly onto the next point, which is that a thousand discussions on the topic of immigration will mean precisely nothing until Britain leaves the European Union and returns full control of our border policy to London, where it belongs. There are so many reasons for seeking an amicable divorce from the EUSSR, and the ability of Parliament to decide its own policy on immigration is just another to add to the extensive list. With some 80% of our overseas influx coming from EU states, rhetoric on the subject from domestic politicians means the square root of nothing while we remain members of this crooked champagne socialist club. The current government's policy of quotas and limits is profoundly dishonest, designed as it is to give the impression of 'doing something' while skating over the fact that it can only 'control' a marginal slice of the action.
As I've stated previously, I'm instinctively pro-immigration, support open borders. and have taken the step on previous occasions of defending those who have travelled here to work hard and contribute. With so many workshy among the 'indigenous population', we need someone to prop them up and pay the taxes that they refuse to, and I'm keen to point this out to anyone who applies a blanket rule of indigenous = good, immigrant = bad in the context of this discussion. That said, I understand that a combination of high welfare and open border immigration are potentially ruinous, and would naturally be eager to resolve it. Where this bunny and the anti-immigration lobby invariably part company is on this point - it is welfare, not immigration, that is the problem.
Many issues that have been attributed to immigration are actually brought about by an over-generous welfare state and its unintended consequences. Over-Population? Welfare not Immigration, and as someone else has already said it better than I could, check out Malpoet's observations on this subject - http://malpoet.wordpress.com/2011/06/30/population-growth-welfare-not-immigration/. If you incentivise people to have more children by increasing welfare and benefit provision, the inevitable consequence is more people having more children they could not otherwise afford. A cap on the number of kids covered by child benefit would go a long way towards resolving this situation, although I'm fairly relaxed when it comes to the 'one child or two' argument, since it's people having seven children and existing eternally on the efforts of others who the policy would be aimed at. Health tourism? Thank the 'sacred cow' of the NHS for that. Foreign scroungers? Perhaps inspired by our own, or tempted by the sweeties on offer that they couldn't get elsewhere. The quantity of welfare on offer will inevitably drive the quality of immigrant who wishes to live in your country.
Then again, incrementally rolling back the welfare state, cutting taxation as we go and cultivating the concept of self-reliance will not happen overnight, so what do we do in the meantime? Statist solutions, as ever, help nobody. A free-for-all backed by lavish welfare and state-imposed multiculturalism is dangerous, counter-productive and ultimately does as much damage to immigrants themselves as anyone else. Closing the door will only result in unfilled skills shortages, a malfunctioning economy and fewer jobs for all of us - a very high price to pay in the name of ethnic nationalism, although I've now heard a few people who have stated that it would be one worth paying. Here any attempt to show respect to my natural opponents would have to be temporarily parked - that is absolutely insane.
One of the market's many positive attributes is that it is not strangled by politically correct dogma, nor is it inherently racist in any way. This sounds like the sort of force we can trust and deal with, and therefore the best equipped to decide exactly how much immigration is absolutely necessary. First up, we need to replace EU membership with a free trade agreement, and implement a points system that applies to all would-be migrants. Then we can allow the skills requirement of each region within the Uk to weigh up what employers need against the talents and aptitudes of those looking to live and work here. Those that are successful are granted not a work permit, but full time residency and the same rights as anyone born and raised in these shores, for if you travel overseas with the clear intention of contributing in your adopted home, it is the least you deserve. Civilized countries don't do second class citizens.
Of course, if we could ever scale down the welfare state to the point where it ceased to be a magnet to the idle and phoney sick of the world, then we could open the doors to whoever wanted to come here. The chances are we would only get immigrants who had travelled for the right reasons anyway. As it is, we will have to accept that this is a difficult issue for Libertarians in general, and deal with the reality as we find it. Take care and I'll catch you soon...