Two views on immigration

This morning has brought a couple of different pieces in the newspapers about immigration which are worth a short comment.

Firstly, in the liberal-left’s house rag the Guardian, former New Statesman and Independent on Sunday editor Peter Wilby has written an interesting piece on how the Labour Party could somehow banish immigration concerns by seeking to restore the “historic bargain” with its traditional working class supporters on wages (which stagnated during the last great phase of immigration during the last Labour government).

Then in The Daily Mail, the liberal-left’s bête-noire, comes a front page story that England has now overtaken the Netherlands as the most crowded country in Europe (excepting tiny Malta), with 411 people per square kilometre, compared to 374 in 1997, and with an estimate of an increase to 460 by 2030.

The [Hate] Mail’s journalism is often dismissed on the left as shrill and heavily biased, but besides the typical tabloid hyperbole and blame games in the story, the research itself is sound. It was in fact gathered by House of Commons researchers on a request by the Conservative MP James Clappison, based on data from the UK and EU statistical agencies.

The Mail said: “Population growth is so rapid that four times as many people will soon be crammed in as France and twice as many as Germany.”

It added: “The research raises concerns about how the UK’s infrastructure can cope with the increased pressure on schools, hospitals and roads.

The large numbers packed into the country will also affect water and power supplies, and will increase pressure to build over green spaces.”

These are all legitimate concerns which are rarely addressed with much attention by the dominant left when opining on immigration.

Wilby’s piece, while interesting and thoughtful, is another example of that genre.

He says:

No subject is so encrusted with myths and misconceptions that are firmly accepted by a majority of the public. Voters hugely overestimate, for instance, the numbers of migrants already here, the cost of their claims on welfare and the NHS and their access to social housing.”

This comment points to the essential conceit which underlies the dominant liberal-left position. This conceit is that knowledge matters more than meaning. By this view, if someone overestimates the number on certain measures of immigration (which are open to plenty of misunderstanding and manipulation remember), their opinion on whether there has been too much immigration is somehow invalid.

This is not a decent way of approaching things. It assumes that our feelings and opinions are, or should be, primarily based on our knowledge of abstract facts presented to us by statisticians and economists. By that rationale, someone’s opinion on how the economy is ‘performing’ (GDP figures etc) should dictate whether their opinion about their own economic circumstances is valid.

There is a widespread conceit here which perhaps points to why our politics in general feels so distant from ordinary people. It is at root a view that people’s opinions are not worth considering unless they are ‘right’. It is therefore fundamentally anti-democratic, for democracy* is based on everyone having a say, whoever they are and whatever their opinion is.

Wilby also reminds us of historical white working class racism and union opposition to immigration (now largely reversed or suppressed). This provides an essential background to conventional liberal-left attitudes, which take this racism as assumed and look to work around it and manage it rather than consider the real situation here and now, which is very different to the 1940s or 1970s.

On the left, we also generally fail to address the issue of land, which is brought to the fore in the Mail story. As our population grows, we need land for more homes, schools, hospitals, social infrastructure like sports pitches and children’s centres, and physical infrastructure like roads and railways. We therefore occupy more and more land that would otherwise be used for food production or left to nature (and on that note, where has lefty environmentalism gone?).

By demand going up, supply of land for all these ends (or no end) gets squeezed, and prices go up.

Refer to Labour’s main theme of the moment: the cost of living crisis, and you have a clear match.

So what has been Labour been up to over the Christmas period?

Answer: attacking Thomas the Tank Engine as sexist for not having any female engines, and blaming that in part for the lack of female train drivers.

Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh’s point is not a bad one on its own. But as an example of the preoccupations of Labour’s elites and their distance from everyday people, they don’t come much better than this.

* The first article I did as a blogger was on 'Democracy, immigration and the liberal left'. Also, I have written in more detail about the theme of legitimacy and the existential aspects of immigration here.


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