Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Immigration is a success. Integration is a disaster.

Immigration is a success. Britain is a richer place with a stronger economy because of immigration. We have kept the wheels from falling off our health and care system, maintained the provision of cheap fruit and vegetables, slaughtered a lot of chickens and built the world's greatest financial sector on the back of immigration.

Immigrants are more likely to be working, less likely to be claiming benefits, contribute more in tax than they take out and bring a bewildering variety of new experiences to our great nation. Immigration is not the cause of NHS crises, the lack of school places or the shortage of housing - short-term policy-making and a daft planning system are far more to blame for all this. And compared to similarly poor communities, immigrants commit less crime.

So why is immigration such a problem? How did migrants and refugees arriving in the UK cause such an outcry and, in part, contribute to the decision to leave the EU? Are the British incorrigibly racist? Is it the result of the drip drip of nasty bigotry from dubious newspapers? Or is there some other reason such as lousy public policy?

Let's begin with a couple of myths. Firstly, "it was the media that did it".
The referendum was won on a drumbeat of anti-foreigner sentiment. It’s the same tune being played by demagogues in every corner of the globe. It’s the same tune that was played in the 1930s. It’s the same old beat that rises in volume when people are afraid. In the UK, it’s echoed by a rabidly right-wing press and unchallenged by a flaccid establishment media. Mixed by a band of unscrupulous liars and political zealots, it has become a tsunami of bile that has downed and drowned a once great nation.
Now I don't want to get sucked into the vortex of the Brexit debate but the gist here - from LSE economist John Van Reenan - is that the driving force for Britain's 'anti-foreigner sentiment' was that 'rabidly right-wing press'. This is pretty much received wisdom amongst the intelligentsia but is just baldly stated, no evidence is presented to substantiate the argument that the British people - and the English working classes in particular - have been led by their ignorant noses by a corrupt and Fascist press working hand in glove with those 'unscrupulous liars and political zealots'.

This just isn't true. Not that the press is innocent or perfect, it's a long way from that, but that Van Reenan has cause and effect in the wrong order. The Sun, Daily Mail and Express are commercial enterprises - they exist to make money for those who own them. This means they deliver what they think the public wants, they are like the advertisers they depend on for income - mirrors of society not the creators of society's mores or values.

The second myth is that the problem comes from the values of immigrants - most specifically that these are in some way not compatible with nebulous and vague 'British values'. We talk about honesty, decency, respect for the law, family and so forth as if these ideas only exist as values in the UK, that somehow immigrants - Muslims in particular - don't share these essentially fundamental views about behaviour. Now, while I'm happy for core values to be part of what we teach children and young people, I don't see that you can isolate a particular set of values and say they are in some way exclusive to Britain.

To suggest that, for example, Islam doesn't contain these values is to misunderstand that faith entirely. For sure different emphases are evident - more stress on justice than on rights for example - but these are nuances within those values not a different set of values. It's true, however, that these higher order values are a damn sight easier to elevate when we are economically successful and secure. And it is here, at least in part that the problem with immigration starts. Just as there is a tendency (not always without reason) for immigrants to see their status as a factor in their poverty, there's also a feeling among the poor communities where migrants arrive that these new arrivals contribute to the poverty of those already there. The lump of labour idea may be false but it is emotionally appealing.

So if it isn't media manipulation or differences in values and only partly economics, what is the reason for the rise in what Van Reenan calls 'anti-foreigner sentiment'? It seems to me that the problem is one of culture combined with a terrible failure of public policy. In economic terms immigration is brilliant and, for us successful folk with good jobs and good incomes, something of a boon but in cultural terms immigration over the past thirty years has been a disaster. We have left established communities across Britain - and particularly in England - with the feeling that, at best, their culture is something to be sneered at and, at worst, that it's based on bigoted, racist, Little Englander attitudes that have no place in the modern world.

In simple terms the adoption in the 1980s of a policy based on multiculturalism led to a complete failure of integration and sowed the seeds of today's 'anti-foreigner sentiment'. And once the feeling that the great and good considered immigrant cultures to be superior had established, it was a short step to concerns about immigrants taking jobs, stealing our women and generally ruining everything that's good about England. Public policy seemed to say that bangra was more important than brass bands, that Christmas should be turned into 'Season's Greetings', and the last night of the proms was a slightly sleazy exercise in jingoism. Strategies to 'celebrate diversity' featured every kind of imported culture and none of the home grown stuff. Integration failed because public policy deemed it unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting here that English culture - and specifically English working-class culture - is somehow superior to cultures from elsewhere, merely that it ours and it deserves more prominence as the culture of the people who already live here. We tend to think that "when in Rome" refers to abiding by local laws but, while this is true, it goes a lot further - it's about respecting the mores, values and culture of the people you've come to live amongst. Multiculturalism, for all that it was well-meant, resulted in some immigrant groups feeling that this no longer applied.

None of this is to suggest that racism and xenophobia doesn't exist. Rather it is to say that multiculturalism is a failed policy that has contributed more to our current attitude to immigration than the media, populist politicians or misunderstandings about values. To go back to where we started, in economic terms immigration is a success, The problem is that in cultural terms we've allowed it to be a disaster. And unless we begin to give a greater prominence to indigenous culture and especially the culture of those some sneeringly refer to as 'the left behind', we will continue to face these problems.

Immigration is a success. We are all richer for people coming here and contributing to Britain's economy. We should direct our efforts to integration rather than pretending that closing the borders will solve the problem. Back in June I listened to some people express their concerns about immigration. Except, as I pointed out, their concerns weren't about immigrants but about people who were born here, for whom Bradford is just as much home. This makes it all our problem and not one solved by immigration control. It's multiculturalism that has failed us not immigration.



asquith said...

I agree with this as far as it goes, but there are other criticisms to make of government's role.

Most notably, the underfunding of ESOL and other efforts to get people learning the language & into work. Of course people should speak English, and despite the outrage it provoked in some quarters I substantially agree with Dave's remarks about "traditionally submissive".

However, it was (as usual for him) a sleight of hand since funding overall for ESOL has been reduced by the Tories. What we all agree people should do has become harder to do, and simply telling people to do something won't get it done.

The rise of unscrupulous landlords has also led to immigrants being held in privately rented houses, often in appalling conditions, and since the homes are often on council estates this feeds a perception that immigrants "get all the houses". The restriction on asylum seekers working while their claim is being addressed is just daft and a typical piece of New Labour nastiness that needs to be repealed.

The problem arises when there isn't true diversity because almost everyone in a given neighbourhood is, say, Pakistani. This weakens the wish/need to integrate but how much of this is also driven by housing policy? You have only to compare Chinatown in Birmingham with areas like Handsworth, Alum Rock etc that have fewer recent immigrants but are worse in terms of race relations, to think it's partly the attitudes of the residents but other factors at play.

You can begin with the above to get people legally working and taking part in society, libraries, and what have you. We agree that immigrants aren't some kind of scourge but it hasn't been made to work and I deny that May is any better in this department.

Henry Kaye said...

I have no problem with immigration; my four grandparents were all immigrants - honest hardworking artisans who between them produced 10 sons and daughters - all of whom became "more English than the English". I believe that the objections to immigrants in recent years is firstly the sheer numbers and secondly, cultural and religious differences. It is undoubtedly true that there is currently a loss of Christian identity amongst those who possibly think of themselves as Christian but do not partake of any of the truly Christian practices such as church going and religious observance. Nevertheless, most English people have been brought up in what has been a basically Christian country and have lived their lives in accordance with some very basic "rules" of morals and behaviour. Most immigrants from Europe share those values and have no trouble with integrating - given the chance. The integration problem arises with immigrants from other cultures, with different values and different practices. Integration for them can be more of a problem and may be insoluble. Those of us who are born and bred here are jealous of our culture and are uncomfortable when surrounded by a heavy incidence of alien cultures.