Two interesting publications have recently come about. One is the much-publicised report by the Office for National Statistics suggesting that people are happier in rural areas and small market towns, while they are unhappiest and most anxious in urban areas. The other is a book by developmental economist, Paul Collier on the impact of immigration, called Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the Twenty-First Century.
While Collier has previously focused on the impact of a lack of common culture in African countries, he has now turned his attention to the impact of immigration in the developed world and the erosion of mutual regard. Mutual regard is lost when people have very different cultures – whether that be tribal differences in the modern African state or multiculturalist divisions in Western countries. Collier appears to realise what politicians do not: That concern about immigration has much more to do with a loss of a common understanding of norms of behaviour and values, than economics alone. Diversity has a corrosive effect on a shared identity and therefore undermines trust in a society. This has nothing to do with race, but everything to do with the damaging doctrine of multiculturalism and the sheer scale of immigration in recent years.
The ONS report on the other hand makes clear that we are less lonely and less anxious when we live in more local communities – the market town in particular stands out as an ideal form of community. Of course what holds the market town or the village together is that people know each other – they are not strangers in their own community. People have a common understanding of norms of behaviour and shared values.
The common thread to these two publications is a fact that might be blindingly obvious to the man in the Dog and Duck, but is rarely articulated and completely misunderstood by the political class. That fact is surely that what strengthens community is the local and the cultural things held in common. We all need to belong to community to feel fulfilled and we need to share common values, manners and standards with our neighbours.
The way to achieve this goal of the happy society is to live in smaller and more homogeneous communities. This is directly contrary to all recent governments’ agendas, which have pressurised local authorities to build more and create larger and less homogeneous communities. Indeed in the blogger’s own home district, a recent report has shown that the primary cause of housing demand is immigration.
This leads to two negative effects: It undermines the smallness of the community and makes it more diverse. This is not at all good for general wellbeing. It must be right to recognise that a healthy society is not only about how economically rich it is, but how happy people are. We can be materially wealthy, but spiritually poor. The latter poverty is far more serious.
This blog is not arguing that we should close the doors on everyone, rather the argument is that a society can deal better with immigration, maintain its own wellbeing and make the immigrant more welcome, when people are better assimilated. That requires a strong community into which the immigrant can be absorbed. Otherwise we all end up as lonely atoms randomly bouncing around a bleak and urban world.
The Government is looking closely at how to increase general wellbeing. Surely, the lesson from these recent publications is that we need less development in our small towns, more controls on immigration, protection of our nearby green spaces. It is time for the political class to acknowledge that concern about these issues is not only about house values, but is a valid concern about losing something far less tangible but far more valuable - our wellbeing. It is time to start listening to and stop dismissing the so-called Nimbyists!