Britain's proxy debate on immigration

Britain's political class is happy to debate immigration now that the emphasis has shifted to eastern Europeans. This is merely a carefully constructed substitute debate, which allows our politicians to ignore other concerns that long predate matters related to the EU

Real debate, or a smokescreen?
Vincent Cooper
On 9 January 2014 19:48

Is it not strange that now, after more than sixty years of relentless immigration to Britain, the political class in Westminster is finally debating the issue?

Is it not strange that the political class is not just debating the taboo subject of immigration, but both Conservative and Labour parties are actually trying to outdo each other in being seen to be “tough” on restricting immigrants?

What’s happened? Why is the British political class so willing to discuss a subject that only a few years ago, particularly on the left, was political suicide?

Remember when Gordon Brown was prime minister? Remember when, not realising he was being recorded, Mr. Brown called an elderly working-class lady a “bigot”, simply because she expressed concerns about immigration?

Well, those days have gone. Britain’s mainstream political parties are now bravely discussing the problems of immigration. Even the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee has acknowledged that immigration might not be socially or economically beneficial for the British people.

After sixty years of being beyond the pale of civilized debate, questioning the merits of immigration is now the order of the day.  

But why? Why is there a national debate on immigration taking place, with even the BBC’s Nick Robinson doing a programme The Truth about Immigration? (It wasn’t the truth, of course.)

Certainly, Nigel Farage is part of the answer. Arguably, no single person, not even Enoch Powell, has done more than Farage to break the moral taboo that was the subject of immigration and put it at the heart of political debate in Britain today. (And see this piece on how Sky NEWS and other media used Powell earlier this week to smear Farage in blatantly below-the-belt fashion.)

That’s a major achievement for a non-Westminster politician, and shows the vast gulf between the Westminster political class and the public.

Nigel Farage has made the mainstream party leaders look like headless chickens in the debate on immigration. They react rather than initiate the debate, and it is Farage and Ukip they react to. It is Farage and Ukip who reflect democratic opinion on immigration.

But Nigel Farage is only part of the answer. The other part has to do with the fact that the immigration debate is heavily focused on European immigration, not on Asian or African immigration, presumably because media and politicians are terrified of false accusations of racism. That suits the left.

Polly Toynbee and The Labour Party are now prepared to acknowledge the negative economic and social impact of heavy immigration – provided the debate stays focused on Eastern Europeans. The BBC’s The Truth about Immigration was a perfect example of this proviso. The programme hardly mentioned the fact that the vast majority of immigrants in Britain, and coming to Britain, are from outside the EU.

Between 2001 and 2011, almost 4 million immigrants came to England and Wales: 30 percent were from the EU, 70 percent from outside the EU; mainly Asia and Africa. It is estimated that up to a million illegals entered the country during that period.

That 70 percent from Asia and Africa, and those million illegals, are of major concern to the British people, yet Westminster and the Left refuse to address the issue.

Essentially, there is an intellectual dishonesty about the immigration debate in Britain today. It looks and sounds like Britain is at last having that long awaited public debate on immigration, but it is only superficial.

What is happening is a proxy debate, a substitute debate, with the another vital aspect of the immigration issue ignored.

The political class and the media know that public concern predates the coming of the eastern Europeans. But such concerns were always sniffily dismissed by a self-righteous political class and a liberal media that believed immigration should not be a matter of democratic choice.

For western liberals, Third World immigration to western welfare states was always seen as an entitlement owed to the world’s poor. The working-class taxpayer in Britain had no say in the matter. Again, he or she was a "bigot" if they even raised the subject.

But for the liberal/left, eastern European immigration is different. The Poles and Lithuanians have recently thrown off the shackles of communism and are not likely to be impressed by the Polly Toynbee, Guardianista style patronising of the working class. Why, many of these eastern Europeans are good Christians! Many even want a Christian education for their children!

Yes, the political class and the left are happy to debate that 30 percent of immigration to Britain – provided the debate stays clear of the remaining 70 percent.

Vincent Cooper is a regular contributor to The Commentator

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