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Last week saw an example of the cynicism, not to mention circularity, of our immigration debate that is too important to miss.
The former home secretary, David Blunkett, took to the pages of the Daily Mail to support the current defence secretary, Michael Fallon. Mr Fallon, readers will recall, had just been caught in an interview using the ‘swamped’ word to refer to the historically unprecedented levels of immigration that have affected much of Britain in recent years.
Like many politicians from across the party divide Mr Blunkett has lately become very keen to tell the British public that their opinions on immigration (which poll after poll show to be held by a majority of the public) are not racist after all. These days Mr Blunkett derides those lily livered, politically correct politicians who dare not use the ‘s’ word, and scolds those who try to shut down the immigration debate by using the ‘r’ word. I must say I find it fascinating watching this grandstanding. Not only because of the historically unprecedented wave of immigration that occurred on Mr Blunkett’s watch, but because of one particular memory.
In 2002 Anthony Browne published a series of articles in The Times and a pamphlet for the think tank Civitas called ‘Do We Need Mass Immigration’. Both were models of lucidity, research and exemplary unpicking of a notoriously difficult issue. Had Browne’s careful thoughts been followed (selective immigration, not mass immigration, so forth) back then I doubt the UK immigration debate would retain its potency as a reason for the public to distrust the political class.
Yet I turn to Hansard, and a debate on immigration featuring the then Home Secretary, from 2nd December 2002. Here is Mr Blunkett to one of his Conservative opponents:
‘I asked the right hon. Gentleman to join me in condemning those, whose voices are louder and louder, who are against all legal, never mind illegal, immigration into this country. I heard such comment, by one who is very close to the Conservative party, on the “Today" programme this morning. I have read it in the newspapers. I read it almost every other day now in The Times, and I have to say that, in the case of Anthony Browne, it borders on fascism.’
‘Borders on fascism’. That is what David Blunkett was willing to say about a set of reports by a journalist that now seem (12 years on) to simply espouse the stance that Mr Blunkett and a great many, if not most, other mainstream politicians today espouse.
But just imagine what might have been possible had the David Blunkett of 2002 been willing to say what the David Blunkett of 2014 is willing to say? I don’t mind – indeed I welcome – Mr Blunkett changing his mind. But if he possessed any honesty he would today be writing pieces explaining not why he had always been right, but why he was in fact a significant part of the problem.