Let ‘Em In: The Immigration Controversy

During the EU Referendum, some controversial issues formed part of the debate over whether the UK should vote Leave. One such issue was immigration. The Leave campaign’s slogan, promising that the UK would ‘take back control’, was understood to refer at least in part to some inability to control borders and decide as an autonomous country who to let in. The campaign poster ‘breaking point’, which depicted large crowds supposedly flooding into the UK, summed up Leave’s position and spoke to those who felt that change had come too fast and was leaving them disempowered.
Opposing this view was the belief that the free movement of people and goods had been beneficial overall. Somehow, though, sensible debates over the ability and desirability to control immigration in a global age invariably seems to turn into an argument over extreme positions tinged with xenophobia. Control over borders and limiting migration is criticised as though it were promoting a fortress mentality in which the drawbridge is raised never to be lowered again, and the UK becomes ‘little Britain’, isolated from the world and viewing all foreigners with suspicion and intolerance.
In order to understand why debates over immigration get pushed to extremes, we need to go back in history. Now, immigration has been happening for hundreds of thousands of years, ever since humanity left its place of origin (Africa) in search of new lands to settle. I don’t intend to give a complete history of this phenomenon, but instead want to focus on a period in postwar Britain that lead to an infamous speech that would become an accusation levelled at anyone raising the issue of immigration.
At the end of World War 2, Britain was in need of extra manpower in order to help rebuild the country. So, the 1948 British Nationality Act came into being. This act declared that all the King’s subjects had British citizenship, which meant that around 800 million people had the right to enter the UK. This act, by the way, was never given any mandate by the People; it was, instead, a political decision. But it was not particularly controversial. For one thing, transportation was much more costly back then, so not many of the 800 million actually moved. Also, the fact that the country needed rebuilding, coupled with the fact that it was growing economically, meant that the half million who did arrive were easily absorbed.
In 1962, however, the Commonwealth and Immigrants Acts came into being, which was a quota system designed to place restrictions on immigration. Just prior to the introduction of this act, there had been a large influx of Pakistanis and Indians from the Muslim province around Kashmir. Like the Caribbean immigrants who had migrated following the British Nationality Act, these were hard-working men who brought some much-needed labour to textile mills in Bradford and surrounding towns, and to manufacturing towns like Leister. But there were also some notable differences. The Pakistani and Indian immigrants were far more likely to send for their families, and they were much less interested in any integration with their communities. As Andrew Marr explained, this group was:
“more religiously divided from the whites around them and cut off from the main form of male white working-class entertainment, the consumption of alcohol. Muslim women were kept inside the house and ancient habits of brides being chosen to cement family connections at home meant there was almost no sexual mixing, either. To many whites, the ‘Pakis’ were no less threatening than the self-confident young Caribbean men, but also more alien”.
A year later, in 1963, Kenya won its independence and gave its 185,000 Asians a choice between surrendering their British passports and becoming full Kenyan nationals, or becoming effectively foreigners requiring work permits. Many decided to emigrate, to the point where some 2000 Asians a month were arriving in the UK by 1968. An amendment to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act that tried to impose an annual quota was rushed through by the then Home Secretary, Jim Callaghan (labour). Also, a Race Relations Bill was brought forward so that cases of discrimination in employment and housing could be tried in courts.
Although the Asian immigrants were well-educated, being as they were mostly civil servants, doctors and businesspeople, their arrival was cause for concern among the British public, noting once again that communities were changing without the electorate giving a mandate for it. This disquiet came to the attention of a member of the Conservative shadow cabinet, one Enoch Powell. Powell had seen how concerns over immigration had lead to a 7.5 percent swing to Peter Griffiths, who had gone on to defeat Labour’s Patrick Gordon Walker in Smethwick during the 1964 election. The campaign Griffiths had run was a shockingly racist one. Its slogan was ‘if you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote labour’. Two years later, Griffiths would lose his seat, having been denounced by Prime Minister Harold Wilson as a ‘parliamentary lepper’. But Powell saw some merit in Griffiths’ position, particularly the accusation that the political class was turning a blind eye to the effects of immigration.
So it was that on the 20th April 1968, Powell gave a speech in Birmingham’s Midland hotel. It opened with an anecdote about a constituent who was considering leaving the country because “in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man”, and went on to say that this was a view shared by hundreds of thousands. Did Powell not have a duty to voice the concerns of these people? “We must be mad, literally mad”, he told the small crowd, “as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependents” Powell warned that if this immigration wasn’t stopped, the result would be unrest and riot:
“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the Tiber foaming with much blood”’.
That speech has since become known as the ‘rivers of blood’ speech. It lead to Powell being sacked by shadow leader Edward Heath, who called the speech “racialist in tone and liable to exacerbate racial tensions”. It would also come to have an effect on the ability to hold a sensible discussion over controlling immigration. As Jason Farell and Paul Goldsmith, authors of “How to Lose a Referendum” explained:
“he provided a bogeyman that could be used as a quick, lazy comparison to cut off as quickly as possible any debate about one of the key background policies of New Labour’s time in power. Becoming compared to Enoch Powell was what happened if you questioned the benefits of multiculturalism and immigration”.
We will investigate New Labour’s role in turning immigration into a politically-correct forbidden subject in an upcoming essay.
“How to Lose a Referendum” by Jason Farrell and Paul Goldsmith
In the 1960s, responding to a perceived public dissatisfaction over immigration, Enoch Powell delivered his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech, and in so doing created “a bogeyman that could be used as a quick, lazy comparison to cut off” any debate over multiculturalism or immigration. In the same decade, future politicians were children growing up amidst struggles for racial equality that reached their peak during the 60s and the following decade. Growing into adulthood, many at the top of New Labour, as well as many of its activists, had a metropolitan cultural liberal outlook that considered immigration to be an inherently good thing. In the eyes of this metropolitan mindset, there was little difference between wanting tight controls over immigration, and being racist.
Indeed, some have made the case that New Labour deliberately encouraged immigration because they wanted to remake the country in their own liberal image. For example, Andrew Neather, a former adviser to Number 10 and the Home Office, reckoned “the policy was intended- even if this wasn’t its main purpose- to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date”. Others, though, have denied such claims. One such person was Barbara Roach, who was Labour’s Immigration minister from 1999 to 2001. She attributed rising immigration levels to the fact that the previous Conservative government had not only installed a failed computer system but also made cutbacks that left just 50 officials to make asylum decisions on a backlog of 50,000 cases.
It could be argued that any government at the time would have had to respond to a rapidly changing world. In the previous essay, we saw how the British Nationality Act theoretically opened the borders to 800 million people, but the expense of travel at the time imposed a practical limit on the numbers that actually did migrate. But, by the time New Labour came to power, forces of globalisation such as lower-cost air travel and mass communication, as well as numerous conflicts in Africa and the Balkans, had lead to more rapid population movements. When increasing numbers of a asylum seekers arrived from the Balkans, the pressure was on to move them away from the costs and dependency of the Asylum system and toward the work permit route, and there was also pressure from business sectors to increase work permits in response to a booming economy and low unemployment. Meanwhile, higher education was being internationalised at a rapid pace, and that meant New Labour could finance their policy of expanding university education in the UK by encouraging foreign students into the country.
From 1997 onwards the decisions taken by New Labour added up to around 500,000 people arriving in the UK each year. By 2010, the UK population was increased by 2.2 million migrants, a population size equivalent to a city twice as large as Birmingham. It was, at the time, the largest peacetime migration in the country’s history.
As a result, many places in the country that had previously been untouched by immigration suddenly found themselves host to significant migrant communities, while at the same time many British communities saw their livelihoods disappearing overseas as the winds of globalist change swept over them. If those people thought that a Labour government with a 179 majority would speak up for the working classes the party traditionally represented, they were in for a rude awakening.
In 2005, Tony Blair achieved a third electoral victory but with a massively-reduced majority. At the customary acceptance speech at the steps of 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister radiated humility and insisted he had heard the concerns of rising numbers of people concerned over immigration and the the forces of globalisation. But within five months, Blair gave a speech at his twelfth annual conference as Party Leader that dispensed with the concerned socialist act and went with full-on free market liberalism instead:
“I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalisation. You might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer … The character of this changing world is indifferent to tradition. Unforgiving of frailty. No respecter of past reputations. It has no custom and practice. It is replete with opportunities, but they only go to those swift to adapt, slow to complain, open, willing and able to change”.
In other words, capitalism was sweeping across the world, bringing opportunity but also insecurity and inequality, and the only assurance the Prime Minister could give his electorate was to say nothing could be done for them and they just had to accept they were in a Darwinian market struggle for survival. Guardian Journalist John Harris, upon hearing that speech, commented, “Swift to adapt, slow to complain, open, willing and able to change.” And I wondered that if these were the qualities now demanded of millions of Britons, what would happen if they failed the test?’.
It became increasingly obvious what would happen to such people. They would be left behind, largely unrepresented by the two major political parties. Worse still, these losers in the globalist race not only found themselves ignored and unrepresented by the political elite, they found their voices were actively repressed when they tried to focus attention on the most visible manifestation of the changes globalism and the free market had wrought: Immigration.
Of all the anecdotes that highlight the way a portion of the British electorate were treated with contempt, there is perhaps no better example than the case of Gillian Duffy. A 65 year old widow from Rochdale, she came across Prime Minister Gordon Brown who was on walkabout for the 2010 election. She wasted no time in voicing her concerns, which included the national debt, the difficulty vulnerable people were having in claiming benefits, and the costs of higher education. Oh, she also voiced concerns over immigration:
“All these Eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?”.
Face to face with Mrs Duffy, Gordon Brown was pleasant and persuasive enough to mend the pensioners faltering support for the Labour Party. She herself later said how she had been happy with the answers he gave. But when Brown entered what he thought was the privacy of his car, a wholly different side to his character surfaced. The world became privy to this other side to Brown, because he inaverdently left his Sky News mic on, and broadcast to the world:
‘That was a disaster. Should never have put me with that woman … whose idea was that?…she’s just a sort of bigoted woman, said she used to be Labour. It’s just ridiculous.’ 
This, then, was the attitude of the political elite who held the reigns of power during New Labour’s time in office. The very personification of charm in public, but totally contemptuous of even the mildest concerns over immigration in private. A whole class of politicians who had grown up amidst the 60s and 70s struggles for racial equality had come to adopt such a strong metropolitan mindset that they equated controls on immigration with racism and dismissed concerns over the movement of people as the ravings of bigots.
Mrs Duffey’s question was a reference to decisions made by the EU and Britain to open up the country to immigration from Eastern Europe. We’ll look at that next.
“How to Lose a Referendum” by Jason Farrell and Paul Goldsmith
In 2010, a labour supporting ex-councilwoman from Rochdale called Gillian Duffy confronted the then Prime Minister (Gordon Brown). She asked a bunch of questions, one of which- “all of these Eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?”- resulted in her being dismissed as a bigot when Brown thought he was out of earshot.
Anyone seeking a proper answer to Mrs Duffey’s question would have to look back to May 2004. That was when the EU was due to undergo its largest expansion in terms of territory, population levels and number of states. The reason why was because former communist countries of central and Eastern Europe were set to join. Those newcomers were Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. The most important thing to note about these countries is that their economic output was much lower compared to that of the existing member states. Acceptance into the EU therefore presented a golden opportunity for the people of these countries, for it meant they would have the right to move anywhere in the EU whether there was a job offer waiting for them or not, and be entitled to the same rights and privileges as national citizens. It was also good news for business because, since those job-seekers were coming from countries whose per capita GDP was less than half the EU average, they were willing to offer cheaper labour.
It was not good news for everyone, however. For those nationals who were already at the lower end of the labour market, the arrival of an even cheaper workforce put their jobs under threat. Most of the existing member states recognised this problem, and therefore decided to implement transitional controls that delayed the process of full membership into the EU seven years. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, for instance, told the German people in 2000:
“Many of you are concerned about expansion of the EU … The German government will not abandon you with your concerns … We still have 3.8 million unemployed, the capacity of the German labour market to accept more people will remain seriously limited for a long time. We need transitional arrangements with flexibility for the benefit of both the old and the new member states”.
Accordingly, Germany initially maintained transition controls like bilateral quotas on the number of immigrants and work permits. All of the big European countries decided to take up transitional controls with one exception, and that was the UK.
The reason why New Labour decided not to implement transitional controls had to do with the findings of a research team, lead by Professor Christian Dustman, that had been commissioned by the Home Office. That research suggested that only 13,000 immigrants were expected to arrive each year. The economy was booming at the time, and the Performance and Innovation Unit at No 10 had produced a 73-page report that claimed the foreign-born population in the UK contributed ten percent more to government revenue than it received in State handouts.
It could also be said that, even if the Home office wanted strict controls on immigration, they would have come under pressure from other departments. These included the foreign office, who had diplomatic reasons for being pro-immigration, the department of education, who looked forward to extra revenue from foreign students, and, perhaps most important of all, the Business department, who certainly weren’t going to turn their nose up at an influx of cheap and willing labour. Finally, as we have seen in a previous essay, New Labour’s cabinet were children of the 60s and 70s, had grown up during the struggles for racial equality, and became adults with a metropolitan liberal mindset that was very much pro-multiculturalism. For all those reasons, New Labour decided not to apply transitional controls.
There was, however, an important caveat to the Dustman report’s claim that the number of immigrants coming to the UK would be 13,000 per year. The report actually said that the numbers would be a great deal higher if the other member states decided to impose transitional controls. As we have seen, that is indeed what they decided to do.
Between 2004 and 2012, 423,000 migrants came to the UK. As the noughties progressed, the effects of global conflicts and financial crises resulted in an even greater swelling of numbers. A combination of people fleeing middle-east conflict and expansion of the EU (many members of which were suffering crippling austerity due to the financial mess that was the Euro) meant that the UK’s population was increasing by 2.2 million, equivalent to a city twice the size of Birmingham.
Given that they were coming from countries that were either more economically poor or suffering from conflicts, this influx consisted of people who were prepared to offer much cheaper labour, and the effects of this were becoming apparent and were spoken about by people not afraid to defy political correctness that equated any concern over uncontrolled immigration with xenophobia. People like Nigel Farage:
“‘By 2005, it was obvious that something quite fundamental was going on. People were saying, “We’re being seriously undercut here'”.
In the next essay, we’ll look at who benefits from uncontrolled immigration- and who doesn’t.
“How to Lose a Referendum” by Jason Farrell and Paul Goldsmith
Toward the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st, the UK was governed by a party with a decidedly globalist outlook and metropolitan ideology. There is perhaps no better explanation for why debates over controlling immigration degenerate into accusations of xenophobia. It’s a vestige of a time when any such debate was pretty much a forbidden subject. In 2005, when Conservative leader Michael Howard said “it’s not racist to impose limits on immigration”, he was met with outrage from New Labour. Now, more than ten years later, it is possible to at least suggest that uncontrolled movement of people is not always and everywhere a good thing without being angrily shouted down. But the attitude that you might be xenophobic lingers on. Invariably, suggestions that immigration needs to be controlled is criticised as though it were a call to stop it altogether and become isolationist. Whoever suggests there is any problem with mass migration can be expect to be lectured on the many genuine benefits the free movement of people has delivered.
But one can acknowledge the benefits immigrants bring while recognising that mass migration has not been good for everyone. This was highlighted by a chart created by economist Brank Milanovich and his colleague Cristophe Lakner. Known as the ‘elephant curve’, it lines up the people of the world in order of income and shows how the percentage of their real income changed from 1988 to 2008. One group- the 77th to 85th percentile- experienced an inflation-adjusted fall in income over the past 30 years. These people are the lower-skilled, working classes of developed countries like the UK. Something like 80 percent of the world has an income lower than that of this group, so given how financially difficult it can be for the working class you can appreciate just how poor most of the world is, and just how intense competition for a better life could become, absent of any control over the movement of people.
To illustrate why the working classes in developed nations are made worse off by uncontrolled immigration, let’s turn to a simplified example. Imagine workers in a factory. The production line does not have sufficient numbers of employees to run properly. Such a situation is not good either for the business itself or the employees. If it were to continue, the plant would close and the employees would lose their jobs.
Now, let’s suppose the plant has to recruit from overseas in order to fill the labour shortage. From the perspective of the employees, what would be the ideal immigration system? It would be a highly controlled system that only let in as many qualified people as are required to make up the shortage.
The owners of the plant might see things rather differently, however. For them, the ideal is to have no control over the movement of people and to tempt as many people into the country as possible. Now, given that these people have no vacancies to fill, what use are they, economically speaking? The answer is that they put pressure on the existing workers, who feel they can’t raise issues about current standards or even falling standards, for fear of being replaced. “There are plenty who would agree to these conditions”, we can imagine any dissenters being told. This pressure to drive down both wages and investment to improve or maintain working conditions is good for the owners, since they get to appropriate more of the wealth that their workforce produces. Surprise, surprise, the top 1 percent on the elephant curve have a line that’s almost vertical.
In case this sounds like a mere hypothetical, let’s look to some real examples. In 2006, Southhampton’s Labour MP, John Denham, noted that the daily rate of a builder in the city had fallen by 50 percent in 18 months. Or consider the findings of Guardian Journalist John Harris, who produced a series called ‘Anywhere but Westminster’, which included a Peterborough agency advertised rates and working conditions that only migrants would take.
But perhaps the most striking example would be the MD of a recruitment firm who admitted to the authors of ‘How To Lose a Referendum’ that if it were not for uncontrolled immigration, pay and working conditions might have to improve. All these examples point to the same thing, which is an increase in the supply of labour irrespective of an increase in demand resulting in a reduction of bargaining power, which the monied take advantage of to appropriate even more wealth from those who actually do the work. 
It should be noted that such outcomes are not usually entirely due to mass immigration. In April 2007, the Economist published a study of those areas of the UK that had seen the sharpest increase of new migrants over the ten year period from 2005 to 2015. In those areas- dubbed ‘migrant land’ by the magazine- real wages fell by a tenth, which was faster than the national average, and there was also a decline in health and educational services. But there were other factors impacting these areas too. They suffered cuts to public services following the Coalition’s move to austerity in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and they were disproportionately affected by the decline of the manufacturing sector.
Some have argued that these other factors are the real issue and that pointing the finger of blame at migrants is just scapegoating. Consider the words of Justin Schlosberg, media lecturer at Birbeck University:
“The working-class people have had an acute sense that their interests were not being represented by the banks and Westminster. What the right-wing press seeks to do is –rather than identify the true source of the concerns, which is inequality, concentrated wealth and power and the rise of huge multinational corporations that dominate the state. All of that is an abstract, complex story to tell. The story they told which more suits their interests is: the problem is immigrants. The problem is the person who lives down your street who works in your factory, who looks different and has different customs. It plays on those instinctive fears”.
Now, in some ways you could say he makes a fair point. Immigrants are not bad people, they are just ordinary folk doing what they can to improve their circumstances. But the fact is that mass immigration is part of the ‘abstract, complex story’ that is globalism.
So what is globalism, anyway? Is it the brotherhood of humanity, people of all races, creeds and religions holding hands and united under common bonds? If that is indeed what it is, then it would surely be welcomed by the vast majority of us. After all the latest estimates are that only 7 percent of the UK are racist.
But there is another way to look at globalism, and that is to see it as the commodification of the world, its resources and its people. It’s a global network of banking and financial systems that seems always ready to blow up and spread systemic risk, the fallout landing on the working classes while the one percenters get government bailouts. It’s a global transport and communication system that enables corporations to move manufacturing and other sectors to wherever rules and regulations are more relaxed and people more exploitable. Most damningly of all, it is the commodification of people, sometimes to the point where they are reduced to the status of disposable commodities. The tragic reality of that was vividly illustrated by the sight of greedy traffickers dangerously overfilling barely seaworthy boats with people desperate to escape dire situations, lured by false promises of some other place where opportunities are boundless and nobody slips through the social safety net. 
What really awaits these people is sometimes not just low-paid work but actual slavery. Incredibly, when their status as slaves is pointed out, such people often deny that’s what they are, because the conditions they came from were so bad their current situation feels like a step up. While one has to feel for people as downtrodden as that, one must also acknowledge what a negative effect it has on the working classes of developed nations. From the point of view of this group, the whole point of a job is to earn a living. To achieve that aim you need to earn sufficiently high wages to alleviate financial anxiety, you need to have a sense of stability and security in your working life, and you need sufficient free time with which to develop a more well-rounded existence. But all that is hard to achieve when you are competing for jobs with people who consider slavery to be an improvement and when jobs are disappearing to places where pressure from unions and environmental groups is either weak or nonexistent and therefore unable to place regulations on exploitation of people or the natural world.
At the same time the globalist commodification of everything suits the wealthy elite. Selling arms to warring nations, offering huge loans to corrupt leaders and supporting coups to overthrow more egalitarian governments and throwing regions into chaos so precious resources can be extracted on the cheap amidst the anarchy are all money-making opportunities. And the consequences offer money-making opportunities too, as people flee from countries ravaged by war and economic weapons of mass destruction with so little bargaining power their numbers put serious downward pressure on wages and working conditions (more profit for the owners) and also increases competition for housing (which forces up land prices, thereby increasing the paper profits of the owner classes).
One has to wonder how things would have turned out if globalism had continued amidst a complete intolerance for debating the issue of uncontrolled immigration. For decades, the working classes of the UK were underrepresented by the political establishment. New Labour’s mindset was a mixture of metropolitanism and free-market ideology that imposed a Darwinian struggle for survival on the lives of people, followed by a Coalition that responded to the near-collapse of the world financial system after deregulation led to insane risk-taking with austerity, essentially making the working classes pay for excessive risk-taking and greed at the top. Meanwhile, with even the mildest objections to uncontrolled immigration shouted down as xenophobia, only the extremists were prepared to speak up. People like Nick Griffin of the BNP, or Marine LePen of Front Nationale. More recently, Chancellor Merkle’s decision to open Germany’s borders to a million mainly Middle-Eastern migrants is seen by some as a reason why the far right Alternative Fur Deutschland won 50 percent of the vote in more depressed areas. That, as in other cases, was the result of simmering dissatisfaction over what globalism had wrought and what intolerant liberalism had deemed inadmissible for reasoned debate.
To quote the words of the Leave’s campaign poster, the rise of extremist groups is a sign that people’s tolerance for what globalism has done is at breaking point.
“How to Lose a Referendum” by Jason Farrell and Paul Goldsmith

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