The immigrationists: continuing their fight against democracy

‘Immigrationism’ is a bit of a clunky, unwieldy word, but it accurately describes an ideology that manages to bring together our big business elite and free market fundamentalists with the far left and the Blairite centre-left: an unusual and powerful political alliance. Even though around 80 per cent of the population stands against it, this motley crew of political factions has enough serious clout to win most political battles in Britain, and indeed it has been conclusively won the political battle over immigration up until now.

Sheer weight of public opinion seems to be shifting that situation, though as yet our main political parties seem powerless or resistant when it comes to doing anything to seriously reduce immigration. Currently net migration (immigrants minus emigrants) is adding around 200,000 more people to Britain’s population every year – quite a lot for a crowded island with already stretched infrastructure (transport, housing, schools and hospitals for example) and a population with an understandable reluctance to despoil what remains of its ‘Green and Pleasant Land’ (see Danny Boyle’s London Olympic Opening Ceremony).

On a few occasions here I have detailed the impressive lengths to which liberal-left immigrationists go to in order to bolster their political hegemony – the specious appeals to ‘facts’ and ‘logic’; the aggressive silencing and shutdown narratives; the cries of racism; the reduction to doubtful, purely economic, arguments; and the invoking of folk devils like the Daily Mail.

These arguments are looking increasingly exposed now, despite constant repetition in the liberal-left media.

The latest piece I have seen on these lines was from James Bloodworth, the editor of the website Left Foot Forward and generally quite a decent, sensible centre-left writer. Writing for the New Statesman’s Staggers political blog, he makes quite a remarkable argument that ‘we’, by which he seems to mean the British public, are actually “quite comfortable with being lied to” by politicians about immigration.

He continues:
We know very well that migrants pay in to the exchequer more than they take out; and yet still we demand that politicians "crack down" on the mythical concept of "benefit tourism" (there was no evidence of widespread benefit tourism by EU nationals, according to a report last year by the European Commission). We know that Britons are more likely (two-and-a-half times more likely) to be claiming working age benefits than non-UK nationals, but still we buy into racist tabloid stereotypes about opportunistic foreigners ready to steal the shirt off our collective back.”

There is a fair amount of false and double talk in this passage which is worth picking apart briefly. Bloodworth says: “migrants pay in to the exchequer more than they take out”. This is true when it comes to EU migrants as a whole, but not when it comes to non-EU migrants as a whole, with some nationalities like Somalis and Pakistanis paying in significantly less (as aggregated groups) than they take out. Indeed Labour is using relative worklessness and low pay among ethnic (and especially Asian) minorities in London as a justification for introducing further measures of favouritism for ethnic minorities - even though some minority groups are doing very well indeed.

But these debates around taxes versus benefits also neglect the hidden costs associated with population increases: increased property and housing prices, the need for more schools, hospitals, social infrastructure and transport capacity – with all the costs and environmental damage that causes.

As the left-wing Cambridge economist Robert Rowthorn has said in a recent report:

The only thing that is certain is that immigration on the present scale, if it continues, will lead to much faster population growth and a much larger total GDP than would otherwise be the case, with consequent pressure on infrastructure and the environment.”

He adds that this would in turn have a negative impact on the standard of living through effects such as overcrowding, congestion and loss of amenity.

Bloodworth and others pitch their argument of benefits versus tax contributions as an argument against racism. However, if you stick only to these bald, decontextualised facts (as opposed to morality and respect for persons) you could easily be led the other way. Many liberal commentators and businesspeople are quite happy to show themselves as prejudiced on race already though, but in the other direction - as broadly contemptuous of white Britons, and especially those who are feeling anxious about immigration and change. For example John McTernan, a former enforcer for Tony Blair and then chief spin doctor for Australian ex-prime minister Julia Gillard, wrote recently: “There is nothing wrong with Ukip voting parts of England that a solid dose of migration wouldn’t fix. Nothing.”

This, an argument to basically displace and replace Britons from their homes and communities, is one I find staggering (though not particularly surprising), and reprehensible. For such sentiments to be so openly-expressed by respected, important figures on the liberal-left should cause us great concern – not least when we are trying to get those people to vote for us.

This all feeds into a wider narrative of globalisation. In an essay for Policy Network (the same think tank that McTernan was writing for), the Dutch Labour Party thinker Paul Scheffer said of this:

Immigration is the most visible aspect of globalisation, which gives many people a sense that their familiar world is vanishing. This is not yet felt to be an improvement. In European countries many people are convinced that a period of stagnation or even decline lies ahead.”

Yet the immigrationists think, as all ideologues do, that we need more of the same medicine, that even more of it will cure our ills. The likes of Bloodworth remain convinced of this. Their reasoning might seem surprising coming from the left, which is normally suspicious of ‘free markets’ and the impact of cheap labour. For, as David Goodhart of Demos and Sunder Katwala of British Future have pointed out, this attitude of scepticism towards free markets is reversed when it comes to immigration.

Bloodworth himself exemplified this in responding to my suggestion on Twitter that Britons “mostly want the pace of immigration to be cut", coming out with an argument straight from the lips of Tony Blair. “They want to stop the world (globalisation) and get off?” Of his support for free markets, he added, “I support free movement of workers to match what already exists for capital.”

This is the liberal part of the mainstream liberal-left in Britain coming to the fore: an enthusiasm for opening the borders and letting everyone in freely, trusting that the consequences will be good, and decrying anyone who thinks that they are not all good.

This is a profoundly anti-democratic argument when four-fifths of the population want the opposite. Indeed it is an argument which entails the demise of democracy and nationhood itself.

For, if you have no control over who comes to live on your land, you have no control over your destiny as a society and community. You also inevitably lose much of your choice of what to do with that precious land; unlimited and indefinite future arrivals of people will need land to accommodate them and their needs.

Democracy matters. When big business and liberal authoritarians whinge about it getting in the way of progress, that is a sign it is working, that the people are actually having an influence. We shouldn't scorn this, but embrace it.

For more on this topic, see Immigration and the left page.


  1. Really interesting and thoughtful piece. And sentiments I completely share - I too, have often wondered why sections of the left are so enthusiastic for open doors immigration which is guaranteed to drive down wages. I think it's partly connected with an anecdote in one of Dave Goodhart's essays where he talks of an unnamed but quite well known liberal left journalist rejoicing in the fact that his home town had been changed out of all recognition by immigration and the locals were really unhappy about it - it's a mixture of snobbery and spite, betraying a contempt for 'ordinary' people that doesn't fit well with supposed socialism. And, of course, those who call for open borders are unlikely to lose their jobs as a result. I still count myself as being on the left but I've seen so much of this sort of more right on than thou nonsense both in public and at work - I'm an academic - that I've more or less given up. I do sense that elements of sanity on the left are finally realising they're not quite alone as they thought, but it's going to be a long fight. Good blog, will revisit

  2. Very good blog. McTernan comes across as suitably vile as always. Have linked you in my blogroll, always enjoy reading your stuff. Even when I don't agree with all of it, it's great to see someone on the left writing from the heart rather than being terrified of the closing of ranks when it comes to immigration/feminism/political correctness etc. Keep on going!

    1. Thanks thestateoftheleftinengland - and indeed Anonymous previously - but it's a bit of a lonely place on the left to be writing like this. Even when plenty of folks agree with you, the opposition is organised and long-established and not the slightest bit interested in reconsidering how it approaches things, which is alienating a whole load of people who would otherwise lean to the left. The closing of ranks around these things is probably inevitable in these circumstances, but I think it means a continued polarisation in our politics.


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