Ed West is the deputy editor of The Catholic Herald. Follow Ed on Twitter.
I was slightly disappointed that I
never got to see the Home Office's "go back to your own country" van
as it toured around London like a reverse Olympic torch. They could have got
some jugglers and corporate backing, with people handing out fizzy drinks, as it
travelled around the capital.
The van was a mistake, not because of
its aim of removing illegal immigrants, but because it was a stunt, and stunts
and gimmicks backfire, even more so in sensitive areas such as this – so it
just came across as nasty.
Besides which, like those signs that
say “thieves operate in this area”, which subconsciously say “police don’t”,
the vans also gave the impression that the country wasn’t in control of its
borders (which may well be true, but we don’t need to advertise it).
But it should not deter the
Government from its stated goal of reducing immigration down to pre-Blair
figures. It has reason and public opinion on its side; its critics have only
hysteria and hyperbole.
One of the main themes of my book, The Diversity Illusion, is that Labour's immigration policy was
inspired by a radical, utopian vision in which borders and national ethnic
identity would melt away. This universalism is utopian because it fails to take
into account human nature and our instinctive need for community and
solidarity; in this vision, all the myriad problems of a multi-ethnic society
can be overcome by ideological training.
By this logic, a belief in borders,
and in limited immigration, is a manifestation of that modern form of false
consciousness, racism (like its ideological distant cousin, Communism,
universalism has to come up with complex and unfalsifiable explanations for why
the people, especially the working class, hate it). This is why the
Conservatives' policy on immigration has to be explained by racism.
And yet hostility to immigration does
not mean hostility to immigrants – the PEW Research Centre’s findings showed
that in most European and North American countries opposition to mass
immigration was overwhelmingly strong, and yet most people had favourable
opinions of people from the developing world. They don't want their countries
to be radically changed so that they no longer feel their neighbourhood is
theirs – no one does – but, incredibly enough, they're not just itching for
their chance to get on the jackboots and start murdering their neighbours.
Part of the reason for UkIP’s success
is that it is clearly led by people with this fairly nuanced, human view of the
world, who don’t fit this false dichotomy where everyone is either an approved
anti-racist or a racist. Just like the vast majority of people
around the world, in fact. Nigel Farage's criticism of the van has been called
clever triangulation, but I'm guessing it was heartfelt – his argument is that
there is no need to be nasty while dealing with immigration effectively.
The Home Office has a difficult task,
but it can do its task effectively and humanely, while being sensitive to race
relations. The British liberal-left's problem is that they think any
restrictive immigration policy is racist and must be about demonising
immigrants, and that puts them out of step with most voters (including a
significant minority of black and a majority of Asian voters). The over-the-top
outrage at the so-called "racist van" only illustrated this.
It is odd that people who generally
think the state must do everything in our lives get angry about it doing its
basic, primary function – defending the borders. Illegal immigrants have to be
removed, difficult and upsetting though that is, if we are to have borders, and
all the things that depend on borders (including the welfare state), and the
public agree with this; just as the public agreed that there should be
restrictions on fetching marriages, another reform that the Guardianistas and
the race industry made a fuss of, but which Labour quietly abandoned any
opposition to when they realised that the public supported the Coalition.
Likewise the row over bogus students, despite some fairly biased coverage by
the BBC, saw initial squeals of outrage and warnings about economic disaster and
Because underlying the opposition to
reform is the argument that discussing immigration, in any way that upsets the
Guardian worldview, will lead to actual violence. In a New Statesman article
about the death of an African migrant, one writer declared that it is “vital
to draw the link between tragedies like the death of Mubenga and the way
immigrants are discussed in the media and politics”.
Really? The strangest thing about the
universalist take on immigration is that it's built on a series of conflicting
theories. Among these are the twin beliefs that (a) multi-ethnic societies are
wonderful, harmonious places and (b) in multi-ethnic societies we can't go near
the subject of race or immigration because it will lead to pogroms by whites
against non-whites. Either (a) is true or (b) is, but they can't both be. And
if (b) is true, then surely the narrative put about by anti-racist activists,
that Britain is a racist society holding back minorities and persecuting
Muslims, must also lead to violence by minorities against whites (numerically
more common)? Indeed, many young Islamic radicals have in the past stated that
they became radicalised because they believed Muslims were being persecuted in
Europe, using language that sounds remarkably familiar.
Is that an absurd link? Possibly, and
it can’t be proved either way. And I suspect that the Government’s rhetoric is
not in fact inspiring any violence or hatred at all, and a sharp reduction in
immigration will take place without the country becoming any less welcoming or
And in the longer term firmer borders
will allow greater social cohesion and integration among communities already
here, which as a bonus may lead eventually to more minorities making the
migration we care most about – from Labour to Conservative.
But in the meantime, leave
off the gimmicks.