Nothing is more likely to turn the already sceptical British public towards outright hostility to the European Union than immigration from new accession states. When it becomes clear that they no longer have any control over their borders in terms of immigrants from accession countries Rumania and Bulgaria, there will be real anger – is the political class ready? If there is one power that indicates sovereignty it must be the right to control your borders. Of course the power was ceded before this, but now the European Union is made up of countries with very different standards of living. The incentive of freedom of movement to migrate in large numbers from poor to rich countries is therefore great. Parliament cannot change the law easily as it no longer has the right to do so under European treaties.
What is even more worrying is that the political class does not really understand how deep a concern immigration is for voters. When canvassing myself as a parliamentary candidate it was usually one of the first issues raised by residents on the doorstep. Politicians must remember they are the public’s servants and much as they may be eager to see the nation transformed into a multicultural, confusing and sometimes threatening mixture of different nations, the British public does not want such a transformation to their home. The polls are clear: The politicians need to listen.
Before the blogger goes any further, let’s put to rest some insulting misconceptions. Being concerned about mass immigration does not make someone a racist. It is possible to have friends from different cultures and races, indeed to find that difference between you and what you have in common with your friend a matter of interest and a building block for friendship. At the same time it is not a contradiction to have that deep instinctive need to feel at home in your own country where common norms of behaviour and values are silently understood. This is human nature and when politics goes against the grain of human nature it will always lead to disaster.
For many of those voters I met when campaigning the problem is nothing to do with the individual immigrant; it is the sheer level of immigration and the way that it undermines common cultural understanding. If immigrants are fewer then they can be better integrated and the differences can be a welcome matter of interest rather than feel a threat.
Often politicians talk of the economic benefits of immigration, by which they mean immigrants taking on jobs while natives remain on benefits - New Labour's false solution to welfare dependency. But Britain is not simply an economic polity of different cultures such as Singapore. Rather, this nation owes its stability and freedom to a common understanding of its history and the legitimacy of its political institutions. Small-scale immigration can be accommodated, but a large amount of immigration in a short space of time can threaten this united view of what the nation and its values amount to.
The blogger himself confesses to feeling a stranger in some parts of London. This cannot be good. It is far easier to be a place of welcome to the immigrant, the stranger and the refugee if one’s home country is bound together by a common culture.
The most negative aspect of mass immigration has been the policy response of the political class. That policy is summed up by the concept of “Multiculturalism” – the doctrine whereby every culture however new to these shores is equally valid with the indigenous culture. This has made it all the more difficult for immigrant communities to integrate, to become accepted and to better themselves economically. Multiculturalism was as much a failure to treat the immigrant with respect, as it was to uphold the traditions of the indigenous culture, because it disadvantaged the immigrant in trying to adapt to his new home. It could only lead to a festering resentment on both sides of the multicultural divide. The problem of Political Islam growing amongst a second-generation community that has not fully integrated is a key example of the problems multiculturalism has led to.
Thankfully Anglo-Saxon tolerance and a determination on the part of many immigrants to be part of the nation has undermined the liberal elite’s aim to keep cultures separate in a new, relativist society. Most immigrants adapted to and became very much part of the home culture.
There is a strong feeling however that with new waves of immigrants with no historical affection for this country, that the British public is being taken for a ride. With Commonwealth immigration, different as many were in terms of appearance and tradition, they understood what Britain was and had a shared history through Empire. The easy movement across the European Union on the other hand means those with a very different history and culture can come here for economic benefit alone. It is not just about claiming welfare, it is about jobs too, especially in a recession. It is argued that increased demand for public services from large numbers of immigrants means more jobs. We all know in the real world it actually means creaking public services that cannot respond to increased demand. Doctors’ surgeries, schools, housing, are all under far greater pressure than they were.
The political class must show that on the issue of immigration it has stopped sanctimoniously preaching and has started listening. The question to politicians is simple: On immigration are they listening to the British voter or the European Union?