Brendan O'Neill will look at why the political establishment promotes both immigration and 'tough' controls.
For the past 40 years or more, there was a fairly clear dividing line on the issue of immigration. If you favoured equality, opportunity and liberty, then you generally supported migrants’ rights. If, however, your key concern was to preserve British traditions and protect “social cohesion”, then you looked upon immigration as a potentially destabilising force. The British authorities were at the forefront of problematising immigration (letting in controlled numbers of migrants while at the same time ratcheting up fear about these unpredictable outsiders), and it was mainly left to radical campaign groups to defend migrants’ freedom of movement. You could tell a lot about a person’s attitude to politics and freedom by their views on immigration.
Today, however, there seems to have been a shift in the way immigration is discussed. Immigration is problematised nowadays not on the basis that migrants themselves are dangerous, but on the grounds that they might evoke anger or envy in what is now considered the most dangerous community of all: native working-class Britons. Both the opponents of immigration and its supporters justify their arguments in these terms: the opponents argue that “too much immigration” will agitate less well-off Brits and possibly turn them violent, while the supporters of controlled immigration argue that we must not pander to the prejudices of these less well-off Brits and must let immigrants in and protect them from harm. The authorities now pose as “pro-migration” (while maintaining strict border controls) and seem almost unconsciously to be constructing a new view of Britain as multicultural and migrant-friendly as a way of undermining the traditions and fears and alleged backwardness of British-born working-class communities.
How do we account for these changes? And in such a climate, when “pro-immigration” is frequently a codeword for “anti-working-class”, how do those of us who support full freedom of movement put forward our case?
Not all migrants are scruffy, dirty victims, by Natalie Rothschild in spiked online 01 October 2009.
The racism that dare not speak its name, by Chris Gilligan in spiked review of books 30 December 2009.
Migration, sovereignty and agency in an anxious age: trafficking as a case study, by Chris Gilligan December 2009.
MP Plans Immigrant Benefit Ban to Battle BNP, Julia Reid, Sky News Online 04 February 2010.
Did immigration transform Britain by accident?, David Goodhart, BBC Online 08 February 2010.
Turning immigration into a tool of social engineering, by Brendan O'Neill, Spiked-Online, 23 March 2010.
Brown tell migrants: "You're not welcome", BBC Online, 31 March 2010.
Due to popular demand to have out this discussion as a challenge to the orthodoxy in the election period, the Leeds Salon are hosting a discussion with Brendan O'Neill on Monday 26 April, click on the Immigration Debate for full details.