Where are the politicians who will speak up for Britain’s hard-working immigrants?

July 24, 2013 10:55 am

In 1940, Ralph Miliband fled occupied Europe for the relative safety of Britain. He learned English and served for three years in the Royal Navy. Following the war he went on to be one of the most widely respected political theorists of his generation. Whatever you might think about his academic work and political outlook, it’s impossible to argue that Miliband didn’t contribute to British life. He gave more than he received, and was certainly not a “constant drain” on the UK.

In the 1950s his future wife Marion Kozak came to the UK – again after a terrifying wartime experience – and went on to become an academic and campaigner. She hosted Joe Slovo, the future South African Housing Minister, during the apartheid years. She remains something of a campaigning force today.

That Britain took in Jewish refugees at a time when anti-semitic innuendo was rife in the press – and budgets were incredibly constrained – shows how brave the politicians of that period were.

Together they raised two sons, both of whom have gone on to play an important role in British public life and who – I hope – will go on to achieve greater things in future. The Milibands are British, and their story is that of British immigration. It is repeated across the country in all different shapes and forms, with immigrants hailing from all of the different nations of the world. And while few families will produce a Foreign Secretary or a party leader (nevermind both), all contribute, in their own way, to what makes Britain great today.

Indeed it’s not even a year since the country rejoiced at the successes of Mo Farah, his Somali-born face beaming from the front pages of even the most xenophobic newspaper. Joy too came from the sustained success of Sir Bradley Wiggins (born in Belgium) and has been followed by his teammate and fellow Tour de France winner Chris Froome (born in Kenya).

But if you thought we’d turned the corner, think again.

Whether it’s government funded vans telling immigrants to “Go Home” or the Prime Minister agreeing that immigrants are a “constant drain” on Britain, the anti-immigrant rhetoric is slowly but surely being ramped up again. The media gleefully join in too. Some classic recent examples include

- The Sun saying that “foreigners” will be the majority of Londoners by 2031. By “foreigner” they mean anyone born abroad, so that’s several of our sporting greats – oh – and the Duke of Edinburgh

- The Mail claimed that “Second and third generation migrants struggle to understand even basic instructions in English“. Read that headline again. It doesn’t say “some”, it appears to suggest – ludicrously – that a lack of English is a widespread problem amongst people who were born and schooled here, which is spectacularly untrue. That piece was written by “Daily Mail Reporter” – no surprise then that no-one was willing to put their name to such garbage.

- The Sun claimed that the EU is deluged with “fake gay” claims from Africa. Again, this is hardly evidenced, based on unnamed quotes and innuendo. The very work kind of fear-mongering scare journalism. Again, no-one put their name to it.

And over the coming years, this kind of thing is going to get worse. Lynton Crosby has largely been attracting attention for his extensive range of clients, his campaigning in Australia – where he made his name – has been largely overlooked. The Australian Liberal Party under John Howard was responsible for some of the deeply reprehensible anti-immigrant smears in recent political history, including claiming that asylum seekers had threatened to throw their children into the sea in 2001. As the Guardian reports:

Australian authorities intercepted a boatload of distressed people bound for the northern shores. Howard and two of his senior ministers inflamed already high emotions within the electorate by claiming that, on this boat, asylum seekers had threatened to throw their children overboard. A subsequent Senate inquiry found that this was not true, but in the meantime, Howard snatched the election from a hopeful Labor’s grasp.

Lynton Crosby was the director of the 2001 Liberal Party election effort. His methods are clearly having an impact on the Prime Minister’s approach to immigration already, but perhaps they always have done. In 2005 Crosby ran the Tory election campaign and Cameron wrote their manifesto. Their slogan was “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” - an over-riding campaign theme was immigration.

So in this climate of rising political and media attacks on immigrants, where is the politician that will step forward and extol the benefits of immigration? Who will stand up for the hard working immigrants who come from abroad, become British and work for the betterment of themselves and their new nation? Because at the moment British politics seems utterly bereft of such a figure. Ed Miliband is doing his best, but for a party leader to swim against the tide on his own would be electoral suicide.

So who will step up? Because someone must be brave enough.

  • RogerMcC

    Except that for every Ralph Miliband there were probably several other Jews who were denied entry to Britain or Palestine (where we were still refusing to accept Jewish refugee ships as late as 1942 when Auschwitz was in full operation and hundreds of thousands of Jews were already known to have died) and perished in the charnel houses of occupied Europe,

    Read the story of the MV Struma – a true Voyage of the Damned:


    And as David Cesarani exhaustively documented in his Justice Delayed: How Britain Became a Refuge for Nazi War Criminals (1992) under the Attlee government we showed far greater latitude when it came to accepting former Quisling East Europeans – including an entire Waffen-SS division – than we did for Jews before, during and even after the war.

    Even amongst those Jews and other anti-fascist refugees we did grudgingly accept there are still some living who resent their treatment during World War II when they were generally defined as enemy aliens and many spent much of the war in internment camps on the Isle of Man and elsewhere.

    But radical politics is an act of imagination.

    Alasdair Gray has a lovely line about how we (although being a Nat he’s really only talking about Scots) must pretend that we are living in the early days of a better nation – but our history and our present being what they are we have no choice but to invert that and pretend that we are the degenerated ones…..

  • RogerMcC

    And ‘hard working immigrants’ – even here we accept the enemy’s division between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’.

    So how do you fit asylum seekers who are categorically denied the right to work into this schema? – or the many professionals who wait long months and years for their credentials to be accepted by the BMA or whoever and cannot use their skills legally at all?

  • Guest

    Hard working immigrants themselves are probably becoming increasingly frustrated with newer waves of immigrants. E.g. first generation Indian migrants from the Subcontinent and East Africa and their children and children’s children are one of the highest achieving and economically successful ethnic minority communities in this country. They’ve overwhelmingly integrated into Britain. Just look at the contributions of Leicester’s Ugandan Asian population to see this in action. They’re a vibrant, enterprising community.

    The difference is that the immigrants of previous decades contributed to Britain. How are recent waves of immigrants (e.g. from the last decade) doing the same?

  • markfergusonuk

    Before attacking people for not speaking English, I’d learn to use basic punctuation. Also, if you’re Australian, are you an immigrant to the UK?

    • RogerMcC

      Well said,

      Really Labourlist should move to registered commenters (why not verified Labour Party members only?) as clearly there is some UKIP or BNP website somewhere that links to every immigration story and sends out the illiterate morons who infest these comment threads.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        Do you not notice the – well, “hypocrisy” is too ungenerous a a word, so perhaps “sub-conscious dissonance” – in your comment above, and your other reply to Quiet Sceptic?

        In your reply to him, you argue eloquently of the power of millions of micro-decisions, and decry the role of a monolithic state making decisions.

        And yet, moments earlier, you award to yourself the power to declare that LabourList “should move to registered commenters”.

        I am a LabourList commenter, presumably registered, and disagree with you on both of your contentions. And so even at this micro-level of two people commenting, we see a spectrum of opinion. That spectrum only becomes more nuanced as the numbers having an opinion increases.

        As a general point, we are all of us capable of forming the opinion that we are right, and others wrong. Matters seem simple if we see them clearly, and yet unfair if we disagree with a majority. This deliberate contrast of Simple and Good against Unfair and Complex is a fundamental of psychology.

        • RogerMcC

          One of my micro-decisions is not to engage with people who have declared their complete emnity to the Labour Party and everything it stands for but still insist on trolling sites called labourlist.

    • brianbarder

      And spelling!

  • Quiet_Sceptic

    The Left cherry picks examples of immigrants who made exceptional contributions and extrapolates that immigration is great, the Right cherry picks examples of immigrants who are criminals/benefit-cheats/idle/exploiting the system and extrapolates all immigrants are bad. Of course both a wrong.

    How about assuming that people truly are equal and that immigrants are actually, on average, the same as the existing population; some great, some good, some average, some bad and a few downright criminal.

    Then it changes the focus to the real issue, the long term issue; population size.

    Do we want a bigger population? A stable population? A falling population? Are we willing to build the homes necessary to accommodate a rising population? To tolerate the loss of countryside to grow our towns and cities? To fund the increased demands on infrastructure and services?

    • RogerMcC

      Who is this we?

      We are not a totalitarian state with a single general will and a dictator to express it.

      Population growth or decline is driven by millions of micro-decisions taken every day by every adult as to whether they want children or not as well as by those of businesses to either pay decent wages or those that only the most impoverished and desperate of new immigrants will accept.

      Even those infrastructure decisions now have less to do with any form of collective plan but are driven by the market.

      It has been for instance decades since housing was meaningfully planned with government now only being able to vaguely indicate to the private sector where they would like homes to be built if only a private developer can find a way to make serious money from doing so.

      And yet we continue to talk as if it were the 1950s and governments had power.

      • Quiet_Sceptic

        Population growth has multiple components though – the decisions of existing UK citizens on whether to have children and how many are quite rightly a private matter, however decisions about immigration policy are a matter of public policy and a legitimate subject for political discussion.

        As for this idea that infrastructure is determined by the private sector, well if the private sector is free to develop and build houses as it chooses then why is there such a huge price premium on land with planning permission? Why is farm land worth a few thousand pounds an acre and land with planning permission, a few millions pounds an acre?

        That price premium, paid by families buying homes, is a direct result of the restrictions on land supply imposed by the planning system.

        You dislike the use of ‘we’ but when it comes to matters like population growth, as a Labour party, it should be ‘we’ because when we have a mis-match, as we have, between population growth and the willingness of communities to accommodate that growth then everyone suffers, competition for housing increases, prices rises and people suffer.

        Our policies on immigration, population growth and urban development need to be aligned, otherwise those at the bottom of society suffer.

    • Brumanuensis

      “How about assuming that people truly are equal and that immigrants are actually, on average, the same as the existing population”

      (Late comment, I know)

      Because statistically that’s not correct. Immigrants are statistically less likely to claim benefits, less likely to be in social-housing and consistently pay more in tax then they claim upon public services. So from an economic and fiscal perspective, they are not the same as the existing population.

  • RogerMcC

    Presume you mean ‘flawed’ and not actually floored….

    And while I doubt that Lynton Crosby has ever read Goebbels he and the Tories media flunkies (or is it the other way around?) are instinctive students of the man who said that repetition is the lynchpin of all propaganda.

    When people are told every single day by their government, by the newspapers, by even the BBC, that immigration is a problem and that something is being done about it of course most of them will eventually come to believe it.

    We live in a new dark age and it can only get much worse.

  • novascotianboy

    As an immigrant myself who came to this country in 1999 and since then have worked continuously (often working in care – where there remains a chronic shortage of labour) I find the whole idea that immigrants come to this country to scrounge off the NHS and the benefits system absolutely ridiculous. It’s a falsehood. DWP’s own figures demonstrate that immigrants are less likely to claim benefits that the average UK citizen.
    The reason our NHS is overstretched is because it is underfunded and has been the subject of far too much re-organisation by both Labour and Tory governments – likewise, the reason our schools are oversubscribed, our housing is increasingly crowded, far too expensive, and often substandard is because of a failure by successive governments to provide adequate social housing and to have the guts to burst the property bubble that continues (albeit more slowly) to inflate.
    Blaming immigrants for the problems and challenges our country faces is just plain lazy – but immigrants as scapegoats is nothing new.
    Of course, there must be sensible (and effective) controls over migration – but the current debate about immigration often paints an inaccurate picture of the what immigrants take from and contribute to UK society.

    • brianbarder

      Exactly right.

  • RogerMcC

    No they are living longer and having fewer babies.

    And peoples concerns while real are utterly misdirected – it is not ‘overpopulation’ but the abdication of the state’s power to the market which results in the massive misallocation of the resources which should serve communities.

  • NT86

    Agreed. I suppose this sentiment seeks to underline that genuine concern and criticism of immigration policy has very, very little to do with racism or xenophobia.

  • RogerMcC

    Which would be just fine if it were 1966 and you could actually have full employment again.

  • RogerMcC

    No its not.

    Your solution requires that we are in fact living in 1966 (which I didn’t pick at random but because its when Harold Wilson did introduce a contributory principle and began linking unemployment benefits to previous wages and secondly when employment in UK manufacturing peaked) with a heavily state managed economy (which you seem to regard as tantamount to Stalinism) which had sufficient control over markets to be able to deliver full employment.

    In addition we then had effective trade unions which could ensure that even unskilled jobs were properly paid rather than wretched exploitation at the minimum wage or less or bogus self-employment.

    That world is gone forever (indeed it is precisely because of globalisation that it is gone) so your ‘solution’ is an utter fantasy.

  • RogerMcC

    ‘Your’ not ‘you’re argument’….

    And that year 1966 clearly (to anywhere who knows the history of the British welfare state) points to the institution of the Earnings Related Supplement which as long as it lasted was the only truly contributory element of the UK welfare system – National Insurance being nothing more than a poorly camouflaged income tax.

    And France, Germany and other countries have truly contributory welfare systems because they implemented them many decades ago in an era of full employment when people generally didn’t survive to retirement age or be forced by advancements in medical science to endure long and ruinously expensive illnesses.

    Having read a lot of the history and attended actual Witness Seminars involving the likes of David Willetts there have indeed been multiple points since 1945 when both parties have seriously contemplated moving to a real contributory system and on every occasion the Treasury number crunchers have thrown up their hands in horror and blocked it because with modern demographics it would be hugely expensive to set up and administer.

    Please stop trying to score debating points and go away and do some actual reading on the subject.

    Nicholas Timmins The Five Giants and Peter Hennesy’s books on the postwar governments are good introductions.

    • RAnjeh

      I have done reading on this subject, Roger, as part as my coursework about a year ago. Maybe you want to get your facts straight before telling me what to do?
      Now here is the flaw in your argument. France, Germany and other European countries have contributory welfare which was set up under full employment. They do not have full employment right now but still have this welfare state. The premise of your argument is that contributory welfare can only work with full employment, when the evidence on the Continent (and kind of by your own admission) is that it is not true. Aside from the Earnings Related Scheme, the state could just increase benefits and create top-ups for people with longer employment histories or put a minimum whereby you’d have to have worked for a certain amount of time before claiming any state benefits. So clearly, yet again, your argument (like on other subjects) falls flat on the group and head first into the mud. Sorry.

  • Brumanuensis

    Statistically immigrants are more likely to be single and birth rates, even if initially higher, stabilise quickly. Most statements about immigration’s alleged negative impacts are complete myths, as Jonathan Portes detailed in his review of David Goodhart’s recent book ( http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n12/jonathan-portes/an-exercise-in-scapegoating ) ( http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/06/uk-benefits-eu-migrants-what-crisis ).

    • brianbarder

      Absolutely correct. Overall, immigrants contribute more to the economy and to government revenues than they take out, and their net positive contribution is on average greater than that of people born in Britain. The government’s own ‘Office of Budget Responsibility’ has recently pointed out that if the government succeeds in capping net immigration at a much lower level than we have seen in recent years, the effect on UK economic growth will be disastrous. We need immigrants: in the vast majority of cases, we don’t have to bear the costs of their education and health needs in childhood, they tend to be more adventurous and able-bodied than the avergae of native-born Brits (which is why they have taken the risks of uprooting themselves and starting a new life in a strange (very strange!) country, and their own needs as future parents and in old age are no greater than those of those born here.

      The notion that we can’t afford a bigger population and that immigrants take jobs away from British natives is nonsense. The huge increase in prosperity and living standards over the past 200 years or so has been accompanied by a massive increase in population: the more people making a net economic contribution, the bigger and better the economy. The economic activity of immigrants helps to sustain and increase aggregate demand in the economy and actually creates more jobs. The idea that there’s a fixed number of jobs in the economy so that every immigrant who gets a job throws a native Brit out of work — the zero sum game theory of immigration — is utter rubbish.

      If immigrants add to housing shortages and pressures on school places in some areas, the answer is for government and local authorities to build more houses and schools, not to stop people from coming here, and certainly not to subsidise mortgages (which further aggravates the imbalance between supply and demand and leads to yet another house price bubble, with the catastrophic consequences that we saw in 2008).

      Labour should be proclaiming the positive value of immigration from the housetops, not just promising to stop employers exploiting immigrants (which is of course worth doing, but essentially a side issue).

  • brianbarder

    I’m afraid this is all based on the (common) misconceptions (a) that there is a fixed and limited quantity of available resources (which is true of land but hardly anything else — and there is still plenty of land available in Britain for a bigger population): and (b) that a majority of the population, over their lifetimes in this country, take more out of the economy than they put into it, Both are totally mistaken. If increases in population on average represent a burden on the economy and therefore need to be prevented or limited, how do you explain the fact that the faster western economies grew and living standards rose in western economies in the last two centuries or so, the greater was the immense rise in their populations? And the same thing is occurring in the fast-growing economies of Asia and (believe it or not) Africa.

    As for immigrants imposing a burden on society after their economically active lives are over, this is obviously true of everyone in the country, immigrant or native: it obscures the significant difference that during their economically active lives immigrants on average contribute more net to the economy than native Brits do, because in most cases they don’t cost us anything during childhood, before they have migrated, and because in adulthood, after migrating, they consume less in social services than the average native Brit — contrary to the myths propagated by the Tories and their reactionary tabloids.

    Malthusian fear of population growth is simply contradicted by history and the facts. We need, and will benefit from, more immigration, not less, provided of course that we adopt appropriate policies in such fields as housing, health and education.

  • brianbarder

    Comments like yours and several others in this thread have been made over the centuries by people scared of the latest waves of immigrants, whether Jewish, Irish, West Indian, Polish, African, or various brands of Asian. All of them have eventually settled in, many have assimilated, and all in turn have made or will make a huge contribution to our national life. And we still haven’t run out of resources or become progressively more impoverished by each new group of immigrants. You can’t ‘cut out the economic argument’: it’s the heart of the matter. We need a steady flow of immigrants and should make them welcome.

  • brianbarder

    David, I accept of course that immigrant numbers now are greater than in the past, but so is the total population: I doubt if the ratio of immigrants to settled population is much different, or that the case for immigration is affected even if it is. Ease of travel and communications causes many immigrants to stay and work for a few years and then return to their countries of origin, whereas in the past many more stayed on permanently in their new countries. As for ghettos and failure to assimilate, these have always been problems of first and sometimes second generation immigrants: after that they generally assimilate well, and even when they preserve their original cultures (especially when religion-based) their communities still contribute value added, economically, culturally and in terms of variety and diversity. The argument from the greater-than-average net contribution of immigrants to the economy compared with natives holds good regardless of numbers; indeed, the more immigrants, the greater their collective net contribution. And biodiversity benefits countries as well as other organisms.


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