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Peter Smith: Two books, one conclusion. Immigration has been and is too high.

Smith PeterPeter Smith is a lawyer who works in central London. He has previously worked in Parliament for Edward Leigh MP.

The first of April saw two new books launched on the perennial problem of large-scale, permanent migration into Britain. Despite the inauspicious publication date, their authors are no fools. They demonstrate that the gap between intellectual Left and Right has now narrowed substantially on the question of immigration.

Ed West’s The Diversity Illusion sets out, blow-by-blow and in a racy journalistic style, the social and cultural impact of foreign settlement. West, who writes for a bevy of titles including The Spectator and Daily Telegraph, seeks to explain, as the subtitles put it, what we got wrong about immigration and how to set it right.

From the Left, David Goodhart, the former editor of liberal Prospect magazine and now head of Demos, examines in The British Dream “the tension between solidarity and diversity in rich, liberal societies”. His conclusion is much the same as West’s, but delivered with the additional force of an apostate condemning his religion.

“[U]nlike most members of my political tribe of north London liberals I have come to believe that public opinion is broadly right about the immigration story. Britain has had too much of it, too quickly, especially in recent years, and much of it, especially for the least well off, has not produced self-evidence economic benefit.”

The migration both authors consider fits broadly into two historical trends. From the end of the Second World War until the mid-1990s, about four million ethnic minority Britons either moved or were born here to migrant parents. Most came from former colonies and particularly the Caribbean, India, Pakistan or Africa.

Since 1997, a second wave has risen and crashed onto our shores. Approximately an additional four million people have arrived in Britain since New Labour came to power, or were born as the fruit of these newcomers. Incredibly, fewer than a quarter are from EU countries and the majority are likely to become permanent citizens – including about half of the 1.5m East Europeans who arrived after regulatory changes in 2004. As Goodhart notes, this is indeed a “demographic revolution”, and one which will only worsen in 2014, when Romanians and Bulgarians will have the unrestricted right to live and work in the UK.

Interestingly, both writers reach the same conclusions by the same routes. There has been a failure to integrate and assimilate each wave of migrants as they have arrived since 1945. Social attachment decreases as networks, although larger, become shallower. There have been enormous problems for community cohesion and the delivery of public services in areas where cultural norms divide residents into alien linguistic, religious and societal blocks. Think, for example, of the hurdles placed in the way of medical professionals and the criminal justice system when English is spoken by a diminishing proportion of immigrants. Inner-city schools have tremendous difficulties trying to teach: more than half of primary school children in central London speak English as a second language, and in some schools over 40 languages are spoken.

Large-scale immigration is the second-order, meta-problem lying above and behind many others. In West’s analysis, it is actually the product of social fragmentation caused by diversity. Divergence between groups creates clans where religious adherence prevents marriage and assimilation. As rises in certain populations have occurred – and West is particularly interested in Islam, since the numbers of Muslims in Britain grew almost 75% in the decade up to 2009 – hotspots of non-assimilated peoples have spread and intensified, exacerbated by a declining native birth rate which has fallen much faster and further than immigrant fertility levels. Parallel languages, parallel education systems, parallel lives.

The harm of diversity and immigration is not just measured in headine-grabbing phenomena such as crime, education and health, but also intangible metrics. Multiculturalism has necessitated a profound shift in the “techniques of social regimentation” and an ever-expanding legalism: absurd political correctness, radical positive discrimination, harsh restrictions on free speech, self-censorship and the innovation and labelling of ‘hate’ crimes. These new discourses have captured institutions terrified of being labelled racist, and have given birth to the ‘community and race relations’ industry and armies of lawyers and ‘equalities experts’ determined to find imagined as well as real discrimination (the Equality and Human Rights Commission being the most prominent). As West rightly concludes, the toleration of difference does require rules but “a society that needs ‘vigorous’ laws for the smooth interaction of its citizenship has already failed. It cannot function by legislation alone.”

So what does the future look like? The Office for National Statistics predicts, on the basis of the 2011 census data, that the proportion of the ‘visible non-white British’ population and people with mixed backgrounds will treble in the next 25 years across the UK. Without substantial assimilation programmes and the arrest of ‘white flight’, more ghettos will develop in urban areas, parallel communities that exist independent of - and in some cases antithetical to – mainstream British life. As Goodhart notes, “to combine diversity with solidarity, to improve integration and racial justice, it is no good just preaching tolerance, you need a politics that promotes a common in-group identity” (his emphasis).

Does the Left have this politics? The answer must be no. Goodhart’s final chapters set out his ideas (but, he is careful to add, not his prescriptions) for the future. I’m afraid I find his appeal to the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics to be ridiculous: it was a show, a coming-together-of-Britishness insufficient to found a nation. Goodhart cites with approval the creation of ‘state citizens’ united by “new” rituals: “the registration of a newborn child could become a public rite in which parents, their friends and family, and the state agree to work in partnership to support and raise the child (and perhaps a short book spelling out a citizen’s rights and duties could be handed out); in the transition of a young person from childhood to adulthood, many schools have leaving ceremonies that could be made more formal even the paying of taxes and receiving of benefits could be accompanied with much more information about, say, the allocation of public spending and an invitation to contact the relevant local and national politicians.”

For West, the answer lies in remembering the best parts (i.e. most) of our Christian heritage. Religious pluralism grew out of Christian division, not Christian-Muslim relations. Only by having a viewpoint can you have a point from which to view. To most of Islam’s scholars, the political and the theological elide completely, and there is almost no scope for divergence or the realm of secularity. West “paraphrases Napoleon, a less-than-fanatical believer who understood society’s need for faith: a nation that does not respect its own religion will soon learn to respect someone else’s.” The closest Goodhart comes to recognising Christianity is in calling for the feast days of the national saints – George, David, Andrew and Patrick – to be public holidays. Incredibly, he seems not to realise why those days exist, and proposes that they should be “a day for partying, for volunteering, for giving blood, for the young to pay their respects to the old and for large and public citizenship ceremonies in the local town hall”. Without a spiritual thread to connect these activities, Goodhart has described a day like any other – and certainly it is not enough to found a nation.

When anecdotal experience suggests to many that service jobs are dominated by foreigners – think who drove your bus this morning, served your lunch sandwiches, or spoke from the bank’s call centre – and with youth unemployment in Britain still catastrophically high, none of the political parties has given a proper answer for why internal migration should be replaced by immigration from abroad. As a country we owe a duty to our citizens, and our civil duties diminish the more remote a person becomes, not just in territorial distance but in cultural and social affinity too.

Both authors are to be commended for doing their bit to make migration a more acceptable dinner table topic, one where normal, sensible people are unafraid to voice doubt against the liberal consensus without cheap and baseless accusations of racism flying their way. For all his plodding analysis, Goodhart’s book is perhaps, in the grander scheme, more hard-hitting than West’s because of Goodhart’s reinvention as a heretic. No doubt his erstwhile friends have begun to cut him off the Winterval card list and delete as spam his invitations to try that new organic tofu deli on Upper Street. The luvvie-Lefty book lie-in of the Hay Festival has already rejected Goodhart’s application to speak on the grounds his work is “partial, predicatable and sensationalist” and contrary to the Festival’s purpose of “celebrat[ing] multiculturalism on a global scale.” Its director, Peter Florence, apparently told Goodhart “I just don’t want to be on this island with the Tory posh boys and their privileges when the drawbridge is pulled up.” The rest of us don’t want to be here if the drawbridge remains down. 


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