Alex Massie

Immigration: A Question of Patriotism

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Ben Brogan's column in the Telegraph urges David Cameron to get tough on immigration and act quickly. He need have no fear on that front. Since Labour seemed to have decided - erroneously - that immigration cost them the election the Conservatives and Labour are racing one another to see who can be beastliest about and to folk born outside the United Kingdom. He writes:

It [immigration] fell [from 233,000] to 163,000 in 2008, but only because more people left the country. The number of people entering Britain that year actually rose, from 574,000 to 590,000. Even now, they keep on coming, drawn to a country that offers more opportunities (and even greater welfare support) than just about anywhere else.


Britain should be a country that offers fewer opportunities

It's unfortunate that Brogan seems to be a paid-up member of the Neather "conspiracy," and a shame too that he presents immigrants as some kind of invading horde. Nevertheless, he is right to mention welfare since one way to reduce immigration would be to provide more competition for the kinds of jobs immigrants often find themselves doing when they first arrive on these shores. 

You don't have to look far to find employers complaining that they struggle to find workers. This isn't necessarily because they're running a sweat-shop or offering poor wages. No, it's because immigrants are prepared to do hard but unglamorous jobs - in agriculture say-  and are likely, much of the time, to be more reliable than the "natives" who disdain this work while also complaining about the foreigners "stealing" it from them.

Brogan also frets that the British population is growing too quickly and that if current trends were to continue (he implies that projections are predictions but never mind that) we'll hit the dreaded 70 million mark in 20 years time. It's never been clear to me why 70m is such a terrifying number since, manifestly, it's an arbitrary figure.

Indeed, according to Brogan "Britain is full-up*" already so presumably, if this is the case, he and those who agree with this view should want zero population growth of any kind?

It's never obvious whether those who bang on about there being some population number beyond which Britain sinks into the north sea are concerned by numbers or types of people. Let's suppose it's the former: what's their ideal figure? 60m? How will they achieve this? No immigration ever again. Not even from the cousins or our friends in the Antipodes. As for having children, well only if you stick to one or, at most, two. The birthrate must be kept at replacement levels only.

Clearly this seems nonsensical but it's the obvious thing to ask the population-setters.

And if Britain is "full-up" now then what happens as the population ages? Who's going to do the work to pay for everything? The anti-immigration camp seem content to heap ever greater burdens on their children and grandchildren each of whom will have to support greater and increasing numbers of retired Britons that will, necessarily, make it harder for them to provide for their own retirement or even for the single child the population-controllers will permit them. Those poor kids, mind you, will have an even tougher time carrying the elderly on their backs.

In other words, one might argue that the patriotic view - if one has a care for "native" Britons - is to allow that burden to be shared. Which means letting foreigners into Britain. Which in turn means that this country needs to be a land of opportunity and that we should perhaps remember that immigration is a useful barometer of success.

*Sure, parts of England have a population density comparable to the Netherlands or Westphalia but so what? Brogan says immigration's effects have been seen most clearly in London. And to an extent he is right: London, when I visit it these days, seems one of the most astonishing cities on earth. That's at least in part because it is, now, as much a global city as it is a British one. Doubtless some things have been lost in this transitionbut very much has been gained too.

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.

Topics in this articlePoliticsimmigrationlondon