By David Goodhart
PUBLISHED: 18:21 EST, 22 March 2013 | UPDATED: 18:21 EST, 22 March 2013
Among Left-leaning ‘Hampstead’ liberals like me, there has long been what you might call a ‘discrimination assumption’ when it comes to the highly charged issue of immigration.
Our instinctive reaction has been that Britain is a relentlessly racist country bent on thwarting the lives of ethnic minorities, that the only decent policy is to throw open our doors to all and that those with doubts about how we run our multi-racial society are guilty of prejudice.
And that view — echoed in Whitehall, Westminster and town halls around the country — has been the prevailing ideology, setting the tone for the immigration debate.
But for some years, this has troubled me and, gradually, I have changed my mind.
... I am now convinced that public opinion is right and Britain has had too much immigration too quickly.
For 30 years, the Left has blinded itself with sentiment about diversity. But we got it wrong.
I still believe that large-scale immigration has made Britain livelier and more dynamic than it would otherwise have been. I believe, too, that this country is significantly less racist than it once was.
In many places immigration is working as the textbooks say it should with a degree of harmony, with minorities upwardly mobile and creating interesting new hybrid identities in mixed suburbs.
But it has also resulted in too many areas in which ethnic minorities lead almost segregated lives — notably in the northern ‘mill towns’ and other declining industrial regions, which in the Sixties and Seventies attracted one of the most clannish minorities of modern times, rural Kashmiri Pakistanis.
In Leicester and Bradford, almost half of the ethnic population live in what are technically ghettos (defined as areas where minorities form more than two-thirds of the population). Meanwhile, parts of white working-class Britain have been left feeling neither valued nor useful, believing that they have been displaced by newcomers not only in the job market but also in the national story itself.
Those in the race lobby have been slow to recognise that strong collective identities are legitimate for majorities as well as minorities, for white as well as for black people.
For a democratic state to have any meaning, it must ‘belong’ to existing citizens. They must have special rights over non-citizens. Immigration must be managed with their interests in mind. But it has not been.
The justification for such a large and unpopular change has to be that the economic benefits are significant and measurable. But they are not.
One of the liberal elite’s myths is that we are a ‘mongrel nation’ that has always experienced high inflows of outsiders. But this isn’t true. From 1066 until 1950, immigration was almost non-existent (excluding Ireland) — a quarter of a million at the most, mainly Huguenots and Jews.
Post-World War II immigration has been on a completely different scale from anything that went before. These days, more people arrive on our shores as immigrants in a single year than did so in the entire period from 1066 to 1950, excluding wartime.
... By 2066, according to one demographer, white Britons will be in a minority.
This is already the case in some towns and cities, including London, Leicester, Slough and Luton, with Birmingham expected to follow in the near future.
Okay, Slough (all I know of it is John Betjeman's poem), but London ... That's as crazy as giving California away to foreigners.
If Britain had a clear and confident sense of its national culture and was good at integrating people, then perhaps this speed of change would be of little concern. But this is not the case.
We are deep into a huge social experiment. To give it a chance of working, we need to heed the ‘slow down’ signs that the electorate is waving. And all the more so given that the low economic growth era we are now in means people’s grievances cannot easily be bought off with rising wages and public spending.
The fault lies with our leaders, not with the people who came for a better life. There has been a huge gap between our ruling elite’s views and those of ordinary people on the street. This was brought home to me when dining at an Oxford college and the eminent person next to me, a very senior civil servant, said: ‘When I was at the Treasury, I argued for the most open door possible to immigration [because] I saw it as my job to maximise global welfare not national welfare.’
I was even more surprised when the notion was endorsed by another guest, one of the most powerful television executives in the country. He, too, felt global welfare was paramount and that he had a greater obligation to someone in Burundi than to someone in Birmingham.
Such grand notions run counter to the way most people in this country think or arrange their priorities.
The British political class has never prepared existing citizens for something as game-changing as large-scale immigration, nor has it done a good job at explaining what the point of large-scale immigration was and whose interests it was meant to serve.
Probably because the answers were:
Q. Whose interests it is meant to serve?
A. Not yours, dear voters, not yours.
Q. What is the point of large-scale immigration?
A. To rub your noses in diversity. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a human nose being rubbed in diversity — forever.
Crucially, they failed to control the inflow more overtly in the interests of existing citizens. On the contrary, the idea that immigration should be unambiguously in the interests of existing citizens was blurred from the start.
Then, whenever there were problems with immigrant communities, the tendency was for the host society to be blamed for not being sufficiently accommodating or for being racist, rather than considering the self-inflicted wounds of some minority cultures.
Parts of white working-class Britain believe that they have been displaced by newcomers not only in the job market but also in the national story itself
Thus, the absence of fathers in many African-Caribbean households was excused as a cultural trait that just had to be accepted rather than a dereliction of duty that needed addressing.
Yes, being a newcomer can be hard, even in a liberal society such as Britain’s that today offers undreamed of protections and rights compared with earlier eras. But what has been largely ignored is that mass immigration makes big demands on host communities, too, and a successful strategy must engage the attention, consent and sympathy of the host majority as well.
Democratic common sense demands that politics and law cannot concern themselves only with the problems of minorities. The majority must have a voice, too, in how we manage a multi-racial society.
What, for example, do we say to the elderly white people of the Pollards Hill estate in Merton, in South-West London — which I visited on my travels — many of whom feel displaced and disrupted by the arrival of a large Ghanaian population in recent years?
To the local whites, the Ghanaians are not fitting in but imposing their own way of life on the neighbourhood. Similar small battles are taking place in thousands of other housing estates up and down the country.