Saturday, 26 February 2011

Nationalism, immigration and national recovery - a dark thought

A Poster from the US National Recovery Administration of 1933
In my meanderings round Bradford, in thousands of conversations with folk from every conceivable ethnic, economic and political background, I have often heard non-white people bemoaning new immigration. After all like the white working class, our Black and Asian workers feel threatened by the influx of new people. And – just as white people worry about the impact of new cultures, so do established Asian and Black communities!

And the racism! Some of the racist people I know are Pakistanis – some comments about Bengalis, Chinese, Arabs and Jews cause even a hardened old hand like me to wince. This isn’t to do down my Asian friends and acquaintances but to point out that they live in the same city as the white folk and that the pressures of that urban life produce a related set of prejudices, assumptions and biases to that we are familiar with from white racists.

Now Searchlight, the anti-racism group have conducted a survey looking at attitudes to immigration, race and ethnicity. And here’s one of the findings:

According to the survey, 39% of Asian Britons, 34% of white Britons and 21% of black Britons wanted all immigration into the UK to be stopped permanently, or at least until the economy improved. And 43% of Asian Britons, 63% of white Britons and 17% of black Britons agreed with the statement that "immigration into Britain has been a bad thing for the country".

Stop and think a little. Is what we are seeing the “deracination” of immigration as an issue? Or are these opinions a reflection of racism becoming a more complicated than our current depiction of “white prejudice”? I don’t know but is reminds us again of the challenges we face in managing the competing needs of the economy, community and individual families.

Understandably, the left-wing opponents of nationalism find political concerns in the polling – not surprising given this finding:

 ...48% of the population would consider supporting a new anti-immigration party committed to challenging Islamic extremism, and would support policies to make it statutory for all public buildings to fly the flag of St George or the Union flag.

I guess that these people would also be susceptible to protectionism, to tougher punishments for criminals, to less tolerance of bad behaviour and to a host of intrusive measures aimed at creating that stable, predictable, mildly hierarchical society beloved of Fabians. This is why we must watch with care the debate inside the Labour Party – the ascendancy of beer-bellied, rough-talking union masters may just, if connected to the agenda of immigration control, nationalism and protectionism, create a terrible government. A government badging itself one of "national recovery" and employing all the techniques of modern media to enforce compliance - far more effectively that with America's NRA in the 1930s.

"Perhaps the most famous case was Jacob Maged, the fourty-nine year-old immigrant dry cleaner who spent three months in jail in 1934 for charging thirty-five cents to press a suit, when the NRA had insisted that all loyal Americans must charge at least fourty cents" that would destroy the great good that has come from 50 years of free trade and free enterprise and squash any real hope of recovery.


1 comment:

Curmudgeon said...

I can appreciate the intellectual argument, but I find it hard to see a Labour government relapsing into quasi-Fascism.

The SNP, on the other hand...