Britain’s Animosity To Immigration should be Addressed, not Exploited


It is the strangest irony that, entirely for the sake of courting public support, politicians often turn their attentions entirely to their fellow politicians, rather than to the electorate they wish to impress. With no issue is this more apparent than immigration. MPs’ desires to besmirch each other often lead to esoteric arguments that are worryingly disconnected from Britain’s mood, and seem to exploit public feeling more often than seriously addressing it.

This August, for example, when the Office of National Statistics announced that net immigration had increased by 21% to 239,000, both main parties leapt to arms. Labour depicted this as the Conservatives faltering on their pledge to cut immigration to “tens of thousands”, whilst Tories presented it as evidence of their governmental predecessors’ “addiction” to immigration. Both parties clearly agree that the issue should be dealt with by arguing over statistics and trying to appeal by appearing ‘tougher’ than the alternative party.

For the public, however, immigration is not string of statistical disputes and party-political arguments; it is a hugely emotive issue. There is a strong, largely hostile, feeling: a 2010 poll found 75% of Britons wanting “far stricter limits” on immigration. With such a mood, the temptingly easy way for politicians to win support is to posture “toughness” (as many did in response to the new statistics). But this is the lazy, myopic approach to democracy. Firstly, this exploits an unhealthy anger amongst Britons. Secondly, and most importantly, this “toughness” misrepresents Westminster’s powers to control the issue.

Politicians should not promise the impossible.  In an era of globalisation, affordable travel, international communication and, crucially, the EU freedom of movement obligation, Westminster faces uncontrollable factors which make immigration inevitable. The government are powerless to curb EU immigration: migration from Eastern Europe increased eightfold last year, yet none of the proposed restrictions apply to this group. Governments are restricted in what they can do, and consequently, the biggest action taken on immigration in any one week will be a measure such as the reduction in the number of jobs available to non-EU workers that took place in September. But in no way is Westminster able to turn the tide on the global social phenomenon of migration. Whilst purporting to be able to be ‘tough’ on the phenomenon, politicians are throwing legislative teardrops into an ocean of unstoppable socioeconomic factors.

Portraying one party as ‘tougher’ than another is unrealistic – no party can curb immigration as drastically as many Britons would currently want. Therefore there is only one honest, realistic response to the public hostility: politicians need to turn their attention towards the anger of their constituents, instead of the misunderstood issue that this anger is aimed at. Immigration is disliked because of simple beliefs. A February poll found two thirds of us proclaiming immigration to be ‘bad’ for Britain (which shows a shocking lack of historical understanding). Those who believe this most likely believe that immigration is going to have negative effects on their lives in the future. To address Britain’s anger, there needs to be a connection with the public mood, and an honest exchange of ideas, instead of an exploitation of public anger.

Firstly, guarantees need to be made to the public: that illegal immigration is not tolerated and is dealt with effectively; and that public services – especially housing and healthcare – are still going to be available for Britons even whilst there is immigration in the future. Secondly, for the sake of all Brits who fear or dislike immigration, our leaders’ objective should be to educate; to spread an understanding and tolerance of the 21st Century globalised economy, in which migration is an inevitable phenomenon.

The benefits of a multi-cultural, diverse and ever-changing Britain need to be argued, loud and clear. The world is not going to stop in its tracks so that some British people can remain comfortably non-multicultural. The British need to address their own intolerance.


Discussion10 Comments

  1. avatar

    This a brilliant article that depicts an educated view I’ve not read anywhere else. It was really interesting to read, and really hits the nail on the head.

  2. avatar

    Here here. Very eloquent article, Lewis. It would be great to maybe make this article a wee bit longer so we could hear any ideas you may have on tackling the issue of ignorance and intolerant attitudes – I know that’s a huge task, but I am always thinking on the subject myself, it’d be great to know what you thought. For me it’s education, education, education, as Tony once said. Subtle but poignant teaching of multiculturalism in schools, greater celebration of diverse holidays and customs starting at a very young age, learning more languages in schools to normalise the idea of an interactive world – taking something wonderful from a culture and spreading that so it becomes infectious and exciting, not alien. Though how to challenge the middle-aged band of anti-immigration civilians, I’m not sure.

  3. avatar

    I agree to a certain extent mate but for me its more the fact theres a lot of immigrants that come into the country (legally or illegally) that dont work or dont come with any ideas or plans to work. Yeah there are lots that do the jobs we dont want or do but there’s a lot that dont do ‘those’ jobs. I dont mind if peope come into our country with the intention to work for their living like the majority of us do but theres a lot of cases where that isnt the case. Countries such as Australia have laws and rules set in place that you have to show you have work or are going to be working or you can only stay for a limited time/have to get a visa to travel etc and I think that having these rules in place means that they know people are coming into their country to work and not use and abuse their systems.

    Good work though!

    • avatar

      Jerry’s comment has nothing do with the article. The article is arguing that politicians need to focus on how to change people’s attitudes towards immigration, not how to tackle to immigration at all. How can you agree or disagree with what the article is saying by counterarguing a point from a totally different debate? I think this article is very well-worded and look forward to more you will write in the future.

  4. avatar

    Thank you anonymous 1 and Chloe, it’s very nice to have such support! Ironically, the one thing I was certain people wouldn’t want to read was a manifesto on how to go about such a strategy! I wholeheartedly agree with your main premise that it is an educational project, and that the education needs to begin from a young age. I believe all your suggestions are excellent ways of improving our childrens’, and thus our society’s, tolerance. But yes, the middle-aged band of hostility is much harder to tackle (and needs to be tackled if the relatively minute portion of time that children spend with their teachers, as opposed to parents, is not going to be negated).
    My main thoughts on this are that the initiative needs to be taken by politicians. They have huge scope to influence attitudes in what they choose to endorse and stand for. Unfortunately, in an outrageous and patronising example of class snobbery, it seems to be assumed by politicians at the moment that working class, white Brits are hostile to foreigners, and always will be. This explains the attempts to seem ‘tough’ on immigration and similar issues, and the lengths that politicians will go to in their efforts to listen to, and pretend to sympathise with, hostility to foreigners. For example, in the run-up to the 2010 election, Gordon Brown famously listened to Gillian Duffy asking him “what about the all these Eastern Europeans? Where are they all flocking from?”. The former PM did not question her obvious hostility, and instead fed her some statistics about everything he was trying to do to stop the eastern Europeans, before desperately trying to sound like he agreed with her. But it is a shockingly short-term strategy to become this kind of yes-man to voters, even if democracy makes it tempting. Instead, I would like to see a few more politicians in photo-ops with Chinese, Polish and Indian workers, and not just for the sake of winning over Chinese, Polish and Indian voters. Such campaigns should be for the sake of showing off excellent examples of UK citizens to the rest of the country, and highlighting the good that immigration has done for the UK.
    Jerry, this article is not ‘pro-immigration’, nor is it about any specific immigration-related policy ideas, so I’m sure it’s really the place for arguments which are ‘anti-immigration’. I did not express any opinion about migration into the UK. Rather, the point I wished to make was that the UK does not have any special status which allows it to avoid the inevitable phenomenon of immigration, and that for this and other reasons, preparing our population for immigration is a wiser, more long-term solution than for political parties to posture a “toughness” on the issue which they can’t deliver. Out of interest, though, what makes you say that “theres a lot of immigrants that come into the country…that dont work or dont come with any ideas or plans to work”? Do you have any statistics or evidence that supports this? I wasn’t aware that there was any significant statistical difference that showed citizens born outside the UK are less likely to work than those born within the UK. If I had to guess, I would have expected immigrants to be more likely to work. This is not out of xenophilia, but basic human psychology: I expect those who have uprooted their lives, left behind their friends and/or family and taken an enourmous risk in an attempt to better their lives would be fairly keen to work hard to make their new life better, so that the upheaval is worth the reward. To be a migrant must require considerable boldness, determination and drive. Perhaps this is why a nation almost entirely populated by immigrants – and which has a national consciousness strongly influenced by the immigrant’s ‘Dream’ of self-betterment – is currently the wealthiest and most powerful on Earth.

  5. avatar

    Excellent. What needs to be addressed as part of the education process is the abuse of opinion polls. Questions designed to produce anti-immigrant results duly do so. Their results are plastered on the front of hysterical red tops and thereafter are regarded as “evidence” in the debate. White working class Britons must not be characterised as racist. Ask them instead if they’d like their hospital closed because the Trust cannot recruit enough low paid cleaners to keep it safe from infections. Ask them if they’d like their sons and daughters barred from travelling abroad to work in well paid jobs because international migration has been restricted. Unethical opinion polls are not “evidence” and must not be allowed to skew the debate.

  6. avatar

    Hi Lewis,
    It’s great to see finally some sound writing skills on the wessex scene website. I’m often embarrassed at just how low the calibre of writing is, but this article is intelligently and eloquently worded. Thank you! I actually think it’s the right length as it is, (perhaps I have a short attention span). You could always write follow on articles to expand on your own ideas.
    Looking forward to reading more from you!

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