The case for immigration

The UK voted to exit the European Union and nearly half of those polled by Ipsos MORI feel that controlling the borders is more important than access to the market. Who is convinced by the case for immigration these days?

Where’s the point in explaining that immigration makes the UK richer when the poorest are watching their income fall while the richest tenth’s rises? Where’s the point in flagging up the net gain from immigration if the incomers are seen to be competing for the things that are scarce, like jobs, and undercutting the going rate of pay? Where’s the point in celebrating immigration when there is a received wisdom that there isn’t enough healthcare, homes, teachers’ attention to go round? Where’s the point in chiding people about their lack of hospitality when unscrupulous landlords are allowed to turn local family homes into HMOs with no sitting rooms, forcing their young male residents into the gardens and streets to socialise over a beer? Who is convinced by dewy-eyed talk of Open Britain when our proclivities and weirdly segregated approach to schooling has made us so much more a mosaic than a melting pot? Where is the impact in supporting immigration if you are a educated, healthy, materially secure and self-righteous twitter user who never penetrates beyond a social network of people just like you? And – this really makes me want to spit – where is the point in talking about how migrants keep the NHS going when 1-in-10 younger people is workless, the inherent satisfaction in the paid work that does exist is falling, and so many people think their kids deserve those jobs more?

Spare me all that. There is no fair right-wing case for immigration – and without fairness there is no hope of enduring security for those of us with funny names or darker skin. Openness to migrants depends on the political left first coming up with a winning strategy for the Davos-styled Fourth Industrial Revolution, then winning (or in fact even making) the case for taxation and redistribution of wealth, and in turn being trusted to spend wisely, and have high expectations of individuals as good citizens and neighbours, rather than vague hopes that all society’s problems have structural solutions. There can be no unequivocal welcome for migrants while there is a bottom of the social heap, a race to it, and this much jealousy over the crumbs there.

Arguments which connect with a diversity of voters is the most important thing that progressive politicians need. I am hoping my constituency will stay Labour, because the only alternative is to the right of Labour. I live on the eastern fringe of London, a place where Polish people helped campaign for Brexit because the migrants from the accession states made their standing precarious. Where some citizens’ ambivalence stems from their relatives on the Indian sub-continent being refused entry while strangers from 27 European states ease in. And – though depressing and wrong – this is not surprising, and not monstrous. I am so bored – so bored – of radical home owners and university workers, often in safe Tory seats, who are more confident, learned, and clever than me, scolding progressive politicians for not finding a way to change minds on immigration – especially when there is no pro-immigration force of any stature waiting in the wings.

So do some work – contribute some arguments and have your conversations in the supermarket queue or somewhere more discoverable than a social network.

Some reading:

Image by Sam Ward for Al Jazeera America, used without permission.

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