I ask hesitantly but do you think we might be about to have a sensible conversation about immigration? The rhetoric about the subject has been appalling for a long time but I notice that today, with the figures for immigration just published and showing a record level, the Daily Mail led with a piece about 'attention-seeking eco-warriors' ruining the Chelsea Flower Show. I don't have any eco-warrior chums but if I did I'm sure they'd be grateful for the attention they sought.
In 2016 there were a couple of pro-Brexit arguments that turned my head. One was the economist Paul Mason arguing that Brexit would give an opportunity for a socialist, renationalising regime to rule unencumbered by EU economic pressure. See The Leftwing Case for Brexit (one day) in the Guardian, May 2016. We came close in 2017. Mason himself voted remain because he couldn't see this happening.
The other was Giles Fraser arguing that the EU made us more generous to refugees and asylum seekers from Europe than the rest of the world and this was unfair. He had further reasons for wanting to leave but he hoped that post-Brexit we would be generous with our borders over which we now had control. It seems as if this is now what has happened although the nature of our recent governments is that it has happened through their inadequately applying their own policies, not through welcome and hospitality to the alien and stranger. Which is, of course, why the immigration figures are not on page one of the Mail. We have '...a regime that neither displays compassion towards those seeking refuge nor gives voters confidence that the government has migration under control' (Andrew Rawnsley, The Observer 28/11/21).
And it is about this that I want to talk.
Surveys of the people of Britain end up with a clear majority for reducing immigration. Take the survey one issue at a time and we find people in favour of more immigration for NHS staff, fruit-pickers, genuine refugees and to buy the wonderful education product at our universities. The treasury keeps quiet because it loves increases in tax-paying immigrants at a time when there are more jobs than people. So our survey shows that people want to reduce immigration but few of the individual examples of it.
Incidentally this theory holds good for tax as well. People are in favour of reducing tax in general but increasing expenditure in particular (NHS, education, defence, pensions).
And so we have an interesting opportunity for a discussion. Neither of the major parties will currently sponsor it because they are both wooing the racist vote, without which they cannot form a majority. Racists don't want any immigration but if they have to have some they would rather it was coloured white. At the 'New Conservatives' conference last weekend Danny Kruger said the Prime Minister '...has the opportunity to win big if he leans into the realignment of politics that happened at the last election' (quoted in the iPaper 22/5/23). I think that's a call for policies to support white, working-class Brits, isn't it? If carried out there would be quite a risk that more reasonably-minded people would find someone else to vote for.
But good questions to be asking now are:
- What is the ideal population size for the UK?
- Do we want to be hospitable and welcoming to the alien and the stranger?
- And, because this is at the heart of the British character, I think - what would be the fair thing to do?