Alex Massie

A Question of Numbers or of Kind?

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David Aaronovitch's column in the Times today is excellent. Worthy of three cheers.

I should say here that the ONS begins every such report with the explicit warning that its projections are not forecasts, as Mr [Frank] Field claims, but projections forward of recent trends.[Empasis added] When I spoke to him yesterday Mr Field essentially dismissed this as nit-picking. I think he’s wrong.

...What Mr Field didn’t point out — because his intention is propagandist, not informative — was that the 2008 projection was a reduction (albeit small) from the 2006 one. Nor did he mention that the last actual figures, for 2008, showed net inward migration of only 118,000, far below the ONS projection. And even these numbers are likely to be substantially undercut by figures out next month for April 2008 to March 2009. Broadly the ONS assumptions have been based on an unparalleled period of growth. They don’t speculate on what might happen if things change.

It’s likely that net immigration will fall and the next set of projections will be revised, although they certainly won’t get down to Frank’s magic 65 million (at which point, I guess, the rivers run out of water, to be replaced by blood). One thing readers should know is that — contrary to tabloid imagination — those emigrating are not all white British citizens escaping the horrors of foreignisation, but are mostly former immigrants going home.

Another thought: anti-immigration organisations deplore the idea that, if current trends continue (an important caveat!), the population of the United Kingdom may rise, in time, to 70 million souls. That, apparently, would Guarantee the End of Britain. For reals! But is it the number of people that's the problem or where they were born?

Because if it's the former and were the horrifying 70m, or 65m or whatever other figure is this year's scary number reached by a "British baby boom" then wouldn't your logic support, nay demand, a "One Child Policy" to get the population "under control"?

Of course, it's the latter concern that animated you then,, at least in the terms of this hypothetical, don't you need to admit that you don't actually care about the number of people living in this country at all? Just the type.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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