Immigration Hatred

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

 I want the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson to look me in the eye and tell me that it was a big mistake to let my people- the Ugandan Asians- into this country. A big mistake because the majority of Brits resented us coming, believed the ‘influx’ would put intolerable pressure on jobs, housing, NHS and education and corrupt the national identity. Local authorities paid for full page adverts in Ugandan newspapers asking Asians to keep out of their areas. Most of the media was maniacally opposed, same as when Jews were coming over before World War 11 and in the centuries previously. Mr Robinson is presenting a programme on BBC2 this week showing the scale of public concern about immigration. Instead of being an objective conduit, he has, in a jingoistic, right wing newspaper, slammed the Corporation for censoring anti-immigrant opinions. A big lie. These are the only views now dominating the papers and airwaves. Robinson was once an ardent Chairman of the Young Conservatives. Possibly deeply held political positions don’t just wash away when you get a top broadcasting job. If that feels like a slur, forgive me. But as an immigrant I feel slandered by the caustic populism now flaunted by respectable intellectuals and politicians.

Roger Mosey, previously a BBC executive, now Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge,  made similar observations late last year. Others are on the same warpath. They seem or care not to know the history of this eternal crisis. Here are a few of the facts gone missing in this so called debate: In 1903, Cathcart Wason, Liberal MP for Orkney and Shetland- no migrants there, even now-  asked in parliament: ‘What is the use of spending thousands of pounds on building beautiful workman’s dwellings if the places of our own workpeople, the backbone of the country, are to be taken over by the refuse and scum of other nations’? In the sixties the people and many of their leaders complained bitterly about ‘aliens’ living off benefits. Patrick Gordon Walker, Midlands Labour MP said in 1962: ‘This is a British country with British standards of behaviour. The British must come first’. Not only Cameron, and May, but Ed Milliband and Yvette Cooper too are repeating that mantra. Remember the hysterics over migration from Hong Kong when it was handed back? The way Afghani refugees were treated when they came here? Migrant hatred is part of the complicated story of this country. And so is hard won migrant love. The media surely has a duty to ensure social trust and tell the whole story.  

BBC and other journalists  have not excitedly prioritised  the majority view that the death penalty should be brought back or that paedophiles should be put away on some remote island forever. Ministers too have been leaders not followers on these issues.

Until a decade back, most Brits did not support real equality for gays. Leading media outlets presented sane arguments and aired persuasive voices, felt morally compelled to argue the case. By not pandering to democratic tyranny, they enabled the population to shed prejudices.  On immigration the BBC and others are led by right wing trendsetters on social media and encourage the tyranny. I do understand that in recession people fear the foreigner. And that Islamicism has increased those fears. But those can’t be the excuses for the pervasive nastiness directed at migrants and refugees.

Robinson is disdainful of senior BBC figures who feared a free-for-all immigration debates ‘would unleash some terrible side of the British public’. They were right. When doors are opened to objectors and neo- jingoists, responsible broadcasters must ensure fairness. They don’t. For balance, programmes should cover the concerns of immigrants too. How it leaves us feeling vulnerable and devalued. Call me Tony Hall. Let’s talk. It’s time.

According to received wisdom, those opposing migration are not racist . But if verified data is ignored, if immigrants’ voices are silenced, if the bullish majority freely maligns incomers, it is  xenophobia. The economic downturn was caused by irresponsible bankers and a dysfunctional economic model not by migration. Housing shortages and the misery of the poor, for whom I feel deeply,  is the result of government policy not the Polish carpenter or Punjabi waiter. We came, settled and became productive citizens. As did most of those who came before us. Researchers at Manchester University have found the most mixed UK neighbourhoods are the most healthy and that it is deprivation, not diversity, that adversely affects the quality of life in some urban areas. In 2012, The National Institute of Economic and Social Research found ‘no association’ between higher immigration and joblessness and that immigration was an economic stimulant.

All Britons should keep a diary for one week and note the interactions with ‘outsiders’. It’s what we all do, have to. So why this relentless hostility?

 The independent, 6th January 2014