Because I am essentially kind of heart, I wouldn’t go as far as accusing Michael Howard of playing the race card in announcing the Conservatives’ new policy on asylum and immigration the other day; however, unless he can expand on his comments that millions of foreigners want to get into the UK, I think it is fair to accuse him of playing the “ignorant, irrational fear of immigration” card, which is a very similar thing.
Nowadays, it does seem as if people can give vent to their xenophobia by dressing it up as a legitimate concern over immigration policy. This week, “The Politics Show” went out and did a (notoriously unscientific) vox pop regarding peoples’ views on immigration. The majority (including all the first generation Britons polled) came up with the usual “enough is enough”, “we’re full up”, “I’m not racist but…” arguments. I love the idea that the country is literally full up. Where do these people actually live? Do they spend their entire life queuing shoulder to shoulder for a drink in Wetherspoons? Seeing as the population of the world is supposed to be able to fit on the Isle of Wight, I think we can squeeze a few more people into these islands for a while yet. Perhaps this idea had some currency when we had high levels of unemployment; but today?
Now, let me be clear; I am not arguing against any immigration policy at all. I have no truck with economic migrants posing as asylum seekers, not least because it is unfair on genuine economic migrants who are going through the legitimate channels. As for other legal immigrants, I think is sensible to restrict entrance to people who we believe will benefit our society; it seems crazy to do otherwise. But with these points in mind, what on earth is wrong with people being economic migrants? Why shouldn’t we welcome people who want to live and work in this country? My Mother was an economic migrant from Scotland to England some years ago; if she were from Slovenia, say, would there really be any difference in essence? Some people seem to work from the starting point that economic migration is bad in itself, but may occasionally be a necessary evil to fill certain jobs; but why? Unless you are racist, what argument is there against immigration per se? Why not err on the side that there is nothing wrong with one person moving from one country to another in the understandable desire to improve their life, and that the onus should be on proving that the would be immigrant will not contribute to, or would have a negative effect on, their new nation?
Two arguments which people often use against immigration are that a) immigrants only come here to claim benefit and don’t want to work, and b) immigrants come over here and take our jobs. No wonder such people are scared of these inscrutable foreigners; if they can take our jobs and not work, then you can understand the concern (a similar comment was made last week in Laurence Rees’s latest, timely programme Auschwitz; The Nazis and ‘The Final Solution’. A Slovak recalled how, during the War, everyone knew that the Jews in Slovakia didn’t want to work; he then laughed as he remembered helping to ship out the Jews and take over their businesses. So they owned businesses but didn’t work? A clever trick indeed. No wonder so many anti-Semites believe in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy).
Why would people want to come to this country to claim benefits, when our social security system is one of the least generous in the EU? Any poor bogus asylum seeker who wants to emigrate here for this reason has spent too long in Sangatte reading yesterdays’ Daily Mail (if there is an immigration problem, then, perhaps they should shoulder part of the blame). As for taking our jobs, new immigrants often find work that many Britons are unqualified for, or are unwilling to do. Immigrants are often highly economically productive and successful, working hard at their second chance, their fresh start.
But still the bullshit lies persists, going unquestioned by people who are happy to believe and spout nonsensical rubbish because it sounds more plausible and reasonable than out and out racism. I remember once going on a course with an unpleasant character from another office. As we sat eating lunch, he went through the whole list of stereotypical nonsense; that we have an open door immigration policy, we just let anyone in; they don’t want to integrate, none of them; they take our jobs, et cetera. I was looking anxiously about the room, trying to spy an escape route, when he said “and they all drive better cars than I do”. I nearly choked to death on my sandwich, there and then. He may have been a nasty racist, but fortunately he was also a dab hand at the Heimlich Manoeuvre; if he hadn’t been I probably wouldn’t be here now, maligning him.
But the line about the car, or similar, is surprisingly prevalent in the argument against immigration. I remember watching Newsnight a year or so back, when they featured a North Wales council estate that accommodated a number of refugees; refugees mind you, not illegal immigrants, or asylum seekers, but people whose request for asylum had been accepted. I can’t remember exactly where the report was set, but I recall the town looked even worse then Queensferry (my apologies to anyone from Queensferry; for criticising your home town, and for having to live there). The reporter spoke to a number of the local youths, and asked them what they thought of the refugees. Their comments were not altogether kind, but the main complaints were that a) they all had mobile phones, and b) they were prepared to work for minimum wage, or less, while the locals themselves wouldn’t work for so little. To be honest, these indigenous youths didn’t look like they really wanted to work at all, ever, but perhaps I am being unkind.
What I find strange – well I don’t really, but what I would like to find strange – is that when the BNP and their like criticise immigrants for just coming over here to claim benefit, they don’t seem to subject our own home-grown benefit claimants to the same scrutiny, as if social security abuse is solely the preserve of weird foreigners. I wonder why? Is it because in doing so they know they would be having a go at a potentially rich source of new recruits; that they think it is better for such people to have their fears and prejudices stoked up, rather than for them to face the same criticisms they aim at asylum seekers?
Imagine the refugees walking past the locals on that estate, on their way to another long day at work, hearing the verbal abuse and name calling; I have no problem with mobile phone wielding, hard working people, wherever they may originate from, and I would argue with anyone who would call for their repatriation. As for their indigenous accusers, idly watching the immigrants en route to work, shouting their intolerant venom, I wonder; could a case be made for their depatriation?