Tuesday 28 October 2014

Why everyone is right about immigration...


City-AM published a piece of mapping showing - or purporting to show - the lack of relationship between high levels of immigration and UKIP voting habits.

The results are similar across England and Wales, with Ukip's key messages on Europe and immigration hitting hardest in the areas with the fewest immigrants. 

Now I could quibble with the conclusions made about the map since the Boston area clearly shows some of the highest proportions of residents with a non-British nationality and UKIP is pretty strong there - it's one of the places where they've a better than evens chance of winning in next year's general election.

But this isn't the point I want to make. Rather I want to argue that only relatively small numbers of immigrants are needed to alter people's perceptions of immigration. So we'll start with this statement from the article accompanying the maps:

Ukip's first elected MP, Douglas Carswell, represents the coastal seat of Clacton, where residents with a non-British nationality make up between one and three per cent of the population.

Clacton's electorate is 67,447 - is 1-3% of these people are not UK citizens that's 1349 adults, Add in children and we've between two and three thousand immigrants in Clacton. I'm going to guess that these immigrants are concentrated in the parts of the constituency with low cost housing, often (and this is especially true of seaside towns) close to the centre of town. There'll be a shop saying 'Polski Sklep' or similar that caters for the community. One of the pubs in town will become a gathering place and there'll be a collection of lurid and overblown stories about crime or violence. Someone, somewhere will say the town is being 'swamped' by 'these people'.

So while folk like me who say that immigration is far less of a problem than people make out are right, it's also true that these perceptions - the impact of immigrants on how people see a place - are true. People do see that their town has changed, and don't always see that change as being for the best. And we shouldn't dismiss such botheration as 'xenophobia' or 'racism' or those who express concerns as narrow-minded little Englanders (or whatever chosen pejorative us who know better have selected).

If there is a solution then it lies in getting to know the immigrant, in breaking out from the 'Parallel Lives' situation that described Bradford after the riots of 2001. Now I think a good deal of the onus here is on the immigrant to respect local culture, mores and rules - it is completely unreasonable for us to be expected to change the way we talk, act or otherwise behave so as to accommodate immigrants. But this also means that one of those old customs - being a good and welcoming host - applies. And this is down to us who already live here.

Three years ago I wrote about the village where I live:

Friday night, Cullingworth Conservative Club and it's quite busy. There are a few blokes who've chosen to watch the rugby here rather than at home as well as the usual Friday night collection. Some people are playing dominoes in the corner, others are playing snooker and the rest are sitting or standing to talk and drink.

All very typical of that English culture which presents such a barrier to those from different cultures we might say. But let me invite you to take a little closer look - and to discover why the separate development theory of multiculturalism was wrong.

Stood, pint in hand, with the rugby watchers is Manu - newsagent, Parish Councillor, avid Bradford City fan. Across the lounge sits another middle-aged Asian lady with her friend - her white, bottle-blonde friend. Occasional side conversations are held between her and others passing by - some older, some younger. Friendly exchanges about shared experiences in village, mutual acquaintances and other such matters of moment.

Among the domino players is Pete - Chinese takeaway owner and former ping-pong player. Pete's also on the club committee and, while his accent's a bit impenetrable after a few lager & blackcurrants, he's as much part of the Club and the village as anyone else.

I'm pretty sure that, if I put my head round the corner past the one-armed bandit, there'll be a selection of the Brown clan - mostly third or fourth generation in the village and varying in colour from dark brown to a good sun tan. And sitting with them will be friends and neighbours, girlfriends and boyfriends - also native to the village but with a paler hue.

And there will be others less noticeable among the crowd. People whose parents arrived after the war from Eastern Europe, for example. Beyond the Club, there's a Muslim lady who's our GP, there's 'Smiler' who owns the general store and many others who - like me - aren't from the village. Yet we seem to get along alright. There aren't all that many fights - and these won't usually result from racism.

This is the sort of world we should aspire to and it isn't served by wanting to stop all immigration now nor is it helped by telling anyone who expresses worries about immigration that they're thick xenophobic racists.



Sean O'Hare said...

This is the sort of world we should aspire to and it isn't served by wanting to stop all immigration now nor is it helped by telling anyone who expresses worries about immigration that they're thick xenophobic racists

Very difficult to disagree with that statement. All things to all men.

asquith said...

I was sat on the bus and amongst the passengers were two Polish lesbians. And it dawned on me. This is what I'm meant to be living in fear of. This is the alleged existential threat. This, in what may or may not be Michael Fallon's opinion, is swamping me. At least I'd have a good view on the way down...

Yes, there are problems assimilating immigrants. And this brings me to the girvance I have. People, right up to Eric Pickles, are hectoring immigrants for not speaking English. And it's a statement of the bleedin' obvious that they should be speaking better English than many of them speak, such as the gentleman who asked me where the post office was earlier on and failed to understand my explanation of where it, in fact, was.

But what would you expect when there's so little support for ESOL? It's very difficult to learn a language from scratch, which is why most Britons (including many who live abroad, and shamefully myself) only speak English. We should be offering ESOL and making it compulsory. There should be a recruitment drive and the understanding that students of Polish, Urdu (Stoke "boasts" a significant number of older Urdu monolinguals, whose few interactions with the outside world are done through their children) or whatever can hope for a well-remunerated and interesting career.

We are cementing our ties to Poland, a country whose significance on the world stage only grows and which owes a share of its new-found prosperity to the efforts of people who have done their time in Britain. Like the foreign students, we want them having fond memories of us, and not America or Germany.

Even those without formal qualifications, you must know enough such men in Bradford whose lives have ended successfully despite apparent lack of promise at first.

I don't support utterly open borders because I consider it unfeasible to admit every last person who would come here given a chance. But I want:

1. An end to speaking of immigrants as if they were always and everywhere a burdeen.
2. The facilitating of integration, especially through ESOL. Because for all the goodwill there is it won't just happen by magic.
3. I have in fact forgotten what (3) was going to have been, but I've said enough :)

tomrat said...

I grew up in Armley, Leeds Simon and remember a time when it's town centre was an unspiring pit of despair and greyness, with kids ravaging the night (I know; I was one of them) and adults getting drunk on pale swill.

Well, the greyness is still there, the kids are still there, and the drunk adults are still there, but so is whole new community shops for the polish and eastern European communities that have set up shop in the local estates and I have to say they have added a positive colour to the area; I don't feel quite so depressed wandering through it from time to time now, nor as threatened; just busied by busy people. Not a bad change to be honest. I'll take it.