During its holy festivities, this Christian country remembers its Saviour and his holy lessons. Mary and Joseph sought asylum, needed the kindness of strangers. Ever year, I hope that Britons will learn from that story to embrace the needy wanderers of our times. It is a forlorn hope. For every year Britain becomes more virulently hostile towards most incomers and the same big lie is repeated- that this tolerant nation has always welcomed people until now, when there are simply too many coming in and sinking the island nation. They said that when Huguenots in the 17th century and later Jews needed a sanctuary, when Caribbeans took up essential public service jobs, when factories invited Pakistani and Indian workers, when we East African Asians were forced out of our homelands and again when Vietnamese boat people came to stay. The singers pass on but the song never changes.
Through those centuries there were always public figures who bravely stood up for immigrants for moral and economic reasons. Some were even Tories. During the debate on the Nationality Act of 1948, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, Conservative spokesman on home affairs said: ‘We are proud we impose no colour bar restrictions…we must maintain our great metropolitan tradition to everyone from every part of the Empire’. Ted Heath took on Enoch Powell and allowed British Ugandan Asians to settle in the UK and though a little Englander, Margaret Thatcher welcomed in the Vietnamese. Labour MPs championed immigrants, and won their trust but in government the party was often cowardly and surrendered to base instincts. Its 1968 Immigration Act which discriminated against non-white Commonwealth British citizens was described by Auberon Waugh in the Spectator as ‘ the most immoral legislation’ ever to emerge from any British parliament. Almost as an apology, the party pushed through race relations laws for which we are grateful. The LibDems always spoke up for immigrants and internationalism. They even elected as their President, Lord Dholakia, an Asian from East Africa.
Today’s leaders are, in contrast, spineless, contradictory, deceitful, and outdoing each other on ferocious anti-immigration rhetoric and policies, mainly because they are spooked by that grinning maverick Nigel Farageof UKIP. Clegg, whose principles are as dispensable as chewing gum, now spits out the policy of amnesty for undocumented, low paid migrants. He once mustered the passion of Mark Anthony to argue for their rights. Furthermore he wants a £1,000 bond on visitors from non-white nations. Not Australians and New Zealanders and all those kith and kin who stay forever. By the way, did you know there are more Americans living in the UK than Jamaicans and Somalis put together? Meanwhile Ed Milliband is busy saying sorry for Labour’s immigration policies, instead of reminding Britons about the high living standards they enjoyed between 1992 and 2007, partly because of the high productivity of EU migrants. Cameron is trying to face both ways on immigration- his neck must hurt. In India he magnanimously invites them over to study and work while back home he makes speeches that make Norman Tebbit look like a cuddly toy.
The Tory threats to restrict medical services, housing and education to new migrants ( even if they are working) have been lauded by the French National Front. These politicians are influenced by public intellectuals like David Goodhart who burble on about national solidarity being weakened by migrants. Yes, sure. What deep common bonds there are between Ian Duncan Smith and the poor he is systematically destroying.
David Walker, Bishop of Dudley has attacked the way all our political leaders are encouraging popular fury against migrants and refugees, exaggerating the ‘problems’ which often have ‘little relationship to the actual reality’. The Council of Europe is alarmed by the extremely hostile public debate on Romanian and Bulgarian would-be migrants to Britain. The European Commission has attacked the ‘knee jerk xenophobia’ in the UK led by those entrusted with responsible leadership.
The consequences of the latest anti-immigration mood are barely considered. There has been an 11% fall in Indian investments between 2011 and 2012, according to the new, much needed Migration Matters Trust, set up by the Tory Gavin Barwell and Ex-Labour minister Barbara Roche. And then there are the ‘ethnic minority’ constituents. Some oppose immigration but most don’t. They have traditionally voted for Labour. LibDems, still disgracefully white, needs their support to survive. Lord Ashcroft and other Tory grandees know the ethnic vote will determine results in key constituencies. In the next election these voters and white Britons who support immigration will have no democratic choice because all the parties are lining with UKIP now.
On Easter Friday, we went to the V&A, and nearly every member of staff there was from somewhere else, working hard and with a smile. I go to radio and TV stations early in the mornings and late at night- the cleaners are ghosts, doing a job, unseen by the journos around them. Delivering a speech at a City bank, again the service staff were almost all black or Arab. The street cleaners in my borough are ‘outsiders’. They, we, still have to endure ceaseless attacks on us, day after day. And those elected to hold the country together and protect the vulnerable now use persecution as a political weapon. So, tell me, Cameron, Clegg and Milliband, why should we who don’t fear and loathe migrants and refugees, vote for you?
The Independent 1st April 2013