It is easy to take the view that we British defenders of immigration have never had a tougher time being heard over the omnipresent calls for restrictions, policy changes, and–most frequently–an “open and honest debate” on the subject. Issues of immigration and race relations have indeed increased in salience, but I remain bemused by (and somewhat thankful for) the sterility of the debate as it exists today.
Opponents have got to the absurd point of having to pretend that it isn’t immigration that they care about, but migration. To this end, they speak about net migration rather than immigration statistics, and give their pressure groups names like Migration Watch. In my view, this is quite transparently a PR move and nothing else. Migration Watch claim that their goal is ‘balanced migration’, though I doubt they would be delighted if tens of millions of Brits were replaced with immigrants each year. I am entirely willing to be convinced otherwise when the soi-disant migration sceptics urge the government to do everything it can to reduce net migration – including using state power to increase emigration (perhaps subsidies for yet more Brits to move to sunnier climes).
When one’s opponents have to contort themselves in this way, resorting to the specious economics of the so-called lump of labour fallacy (which most good evidence seems to refute), one should be grateful. They are hobbled by their partial adherence to ideas of acceptable discourse set out by those who would see them silenced. They are less likely to be accused of racism while talking about pressure on wages or queues at the GP surgery than about the merits of multiculturalism.
Various arguments against immigration are unheard beneath this cacophony of mistaken economics. Speaking to the sense of insecurity–alienation, even–that some feel in response to the changing character of their communities, these points can be troubling when made with passion. Enoch Powell wasn’t citing the fluctuation of net migration statistics in his Rivers of Blood speech. Neither was Robert Putnam (though not an opponent of immigration per se) in Bowling Alone when he reflected that the more diverse the community
…the less people vote, the less they volunteer, and the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings.
The observation that these arguments aren’t being made is less cause for optimism and more for wariness. For the moment, while our opponents for the most part refrain from basing their arguments on normative claims about the cultural effects of immigration, and focus on claims about economics, we can rebut, present evidence and, I hope, convince some people that they are mistaken. Indeed, when surveyed, people report that they are most concerned about immigrants’ effects on jobs, public services, and wages, rather than culture, so it might follow that they can be convinced otherwise by contradictory evidence.
However, if the point comes when those opposed to liberal immigration policy realise they are abiding by standards which restrict their side and weaken their argument, and stop doing so, those of us who want immigration (and lots of it) should be worried. The other day, Nigel Farage spoke about protecting our ‘Judeo-Christian’ culture, and yesterday of the moral cowardice of Europe: a taste of what we’ve avoided, or of something yet to come?