Published:


Smith PeterPeter Smith
 is a lawyer who works in central London. He has previously worked in Parliament for Edward Leigh MP.

The first of April saw two new
books launched on the perennial problem of large-scale, permanent migration
into Britain. Despite the inauspicious publication date, their authors are no
fools. They demonstrate that the gap between intellectual Left and Right has
now narrowed substantially on the question of immigration.

Ed West’s The Diversity Illusion sets out,
blow-by-blow and in a racy journalistic style, the social and cultural impact
of foreign settlement. West, who writes for a bevy of titles including The Spectator and Daily Telegraph, seeks to explain, as the subtitles put it, what we
got wrong about immigration and how to set it right.

From the Left, David Goodhart, the
former editor of liberal Prospect magazine
and now head of Demos, examines in The British Dream “the tension
between solidarity and diversity in rich, liberal societies”. His conclusion is
much the same as West’s, but delivered with the additional force of an apostate
condemning his religion.

“[U]nlike most members of my
political tribe of north London liberals I have come to believe that public
opinion is broadly right about the immigration story. Britain has had too much
of it, too quickly, especially in recent years, and much of it, especially for
the least well off, has not produced self-evidence economic benefit.”

The migration both authors consider
fits broadly into two historical trends. From the end of the Second World War
until the mid-1990s, about four million ethnic minority Britons either moved or
were born here to migrant parents. Most came from former colonies and
particularly the Caribbean, India, Pakistan or Africa.


Since 1997, a second wave has risen
and crashed onto our shores. Approximately an additional four million people have
arrived in Britain since New Labour came to power, or were born as the fruit of
these newcomers. Incredibly, fewer than a quarter are from EU countries and the
majority are likely to become permanent citizens – including about half of the
1.5m East Europeans who arrived after regulatory changes in 2004. As Goodhart
notes, this is indeed a “demographic revolution”, and one which will only
worsen in 2014, when Romanians and Bulgarians will have the
unrestricted right to live and work in the UK.

Interestingly, both writers reach
the same conclusions by the same routes. There has been a failure to integrate
and assimilate each wave of migrants as they have arrived since 1945. Social
attachment decreases as networks, although larger, become shallower. There have
been enormous problems for community cohesion and the delivery of public
services in areas where cultural norms divide residents into alien linguistic,
religious and societal blocks. Think, for example, of the hurdles placed in the
way of medical professionals and the criminal justice system when English is spoken
by a diminishing proportion of immigrants. Inner-city schools have tremendous
difficulties trying to teach: more than half of primary school children in
central London speak English as a second language, and in some schools over 40
languages are spoken.

Large-scale immigration is the
second-order, meta-problem lying above and behind many others. In West’s
analysis, it is actually the product of social fragmentation caused by
diversity. Divergence between groups creates clans where religious adherence
prevents marriage and assimilation. As rises in certain populations have
occurred – and West is particularly interested in Islam, since the numbers of
Muslims in Britain grew almost 75% in the decade up to 2009 – hotspots of
non-assimilated peoples have spread and intensified, exacerbated by a declining
native birth rate which has fallen much faster and further than immigrant
fertility levels. Parallel languages, parallel education systems, parallel
lives.

The harm of diversity and
immigration is not just measured in headine-grabbing phenomena such as crime,
education and health, but also intangible metrics. Multiculturalism has
necessitated a profound shift in the “techniques of social regimentation” and
an ever-expanding legalism: absurd political correctness, radical positive
discrimination, harsh restrictions on free speech, self-censorship and the
innovation and labelling of ‘hate’ crimes. These new discourses have captured
institutions terrified of being labelled racist, and have given birth to the
‘community and race relations’ industry and armies of lawyers and ‘equalities
experts’ determined to find imagined as well as real discrimination (the
Equality and Human Rights Commission being the most prominent). As West rightly
concludes, the toleration of difference does require rules but “a society that
needs ‘vigorous’ laws for the smooth interaction of its citizenship has already
failed. It cannot function by legislation alone.”

So what does the future look like? The Office
for National Statistics predicts, on the basis of the 2011 census data, that
the proportion of the ‘visible non-white British’ population and people with
mixed backgrounds will treble in the next 25 years across the UK. Without
substantial assimilation programmes and the arrest of ‘white flight’, more
ghettos will develop in urban areas, parallel communities that exist independent
of – and in some cases antithetical to – mainstream British life. As Goodhart
notes, “to combine diversity with solidarity, to improve integration and racial
justice, it is no good just preaching tolerance, you need a politics that promotes a common in-group identity” (his
emphasis).

Does the Left have this
politics? The answer must be no. Goodhart’s final chapters set out his ideas
(but, he is careful to add, not his prescriptions) for the future. I’m afraid I
find his appeal to the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics to be ridiculous:
it was a show, a coming-together-of-Britishness insufficient to found a nation.
Goodhart cites with approval the creation of ‘state citizens’ united by “new”
rituals: “the registration of a newborn child could become a public rite in
which parents, their friends and family, and the state agree to work in
partnership to support and raise the child (and perhaps a short book spelling
out a citizen’s rights and duties could be handed out); in the transition of a
young person from childhood to adulthood, many schools have leaving ceremonies
that could be made more formal even the paying of taxes and receiving of
benefits could be accompanied with much more information about, say, the
allocation of public spending and an invitation to contact the relevant local
and national politicians.”

For West, the answer lies in
remembering the best parts (i.e. most) of our Christian heritage. Religious
pluralism grew out of Christian division, not Christian-Muslim relations. Only
by having a viewpoint can you have a point from which to view. To most of
Islam’s scholars, the political and the theological elide completely, and there
is almost no scope for divergence or the realm of secularity. West “paraphrases
Napoleon, a less-than-fanatical believer who understood society’s need for
faith: a nation that does not respect its own religion will soon learn to
respect someone else’s.” The closest Goodhart comes to recognising Christianity
is in calling for the feast days of the national saints – George, David, Andrew
and Patrick – to be public holidays. Incredibly, he seems not to realise why those days exist, and proposes that
they should be “a day for partying, for volunteering, for giving blood, for the
young to pay their respects to the old and for large and public citizenship
ceremonies in the local town hall”. Without a spiritual thread to connect these
activities, Goodhart has described a day like any other – and certainly it is
not enough to found a nation.

When anecdotal experience suggests
to many that service jobs are dominated by foreigners – think who drove your
bus this morning, served your lunch sandwiches, or spoke from the bank’s call
centre – and with youth unemployment in Britain still catastrophically high,
none of the political parties has given a proper answer for why internal
migration should be replaced by immigration from abroad. As a country we owe a
duty to our citizens, and our civil duties diminish the more remote a person
becomes, not just in territorial distance but in cultural and social affinity
too.

Both authors are to be commended for doing their
bit to make migration a more acceptable dinner table topic, one where normal,
sensible people are unafraid to voice doubt against the liberal consensus
without cheap and baseless accusations of racism flying their way. For all his
plodding analysis, Goodhart’s book is perhaps, in the grander scheme, more
hard-hitting than West’s because of Goodhart’s reinvention as a heretic. No
doubt his erstwhile friends have begun to cut him off the Winterval card list
and delete as spam his invitations to try that new organic tofu deli on Upper
Street. The luvvie-Lefty book lie-in of the Hay Festival has already rejected
Goodhart’s application to speak on the grounds his work is “partial,
predicatable and sensationalist
” and contrary to the Festival’s purpose of
“celebrat[ing] multiculturalism on a global scale.” Its director, Peter
Florence, apparently told Goodhart “I just don’t want to be on this island with
the Tory posh boys and their privileges when the drawbridge is pulled up.” The
rest of us don’t want to be here if the drawbridge remains down. 

Comments are closed.