Pandaemonium

THE FACTS, THE MYTHS AND THE FRAMING OF IMMIGRATION

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At the heart of the current debate about immigration are two issues: the first is about the facts of immigration, the second about public perception of immigration.

The facts are relatively straightforward. Immigration is a good and the idea that immigrants come to Britain to live off benefits laughable. Immigrants put more money into the economy than they take out and have negligible impact on jobs or wages. An independent report on the impact of immigration commissioned by the Home Office in 2003, looked at numerous international surveys and conducted its own study in Britain. ‘The perception that immigrants take away jobs from the existing population, or that immigrants depress the wages of existing workers’, it concluded, ‘do not find confirmation in the analysis of the data laid out in this report.’ More recent studies have suggested that immigration helps raise wages except at the bottom of the jobs ladder where it has a slight negative impact. That impact on low paid workers matters hugely, of course, but is arguably more an issue of labour organization than of immigration.

Immigrants are less likely to claim benefits than British citizens. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, of the roughly 1.8 million non-British EU citizens of working age in this country, about 90,000, or around 5%, claim an ‘out of work benefit’, compared with around 13% of Britons. Migrants from outside the EU are also much less likely to claim benefits.

The most comprehensive study to date of East European migrants to Britain concluded that ‘A8 immigrants who arrived after EU enlargement in 2004… are 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58% less likely to live in social housing’.  The study also discovered that ‘in each fiscal year since enlargement in 2004, A8 immigrants made a positive contribution to public finance despite the fact that the UK has been running a budget deficit over the last years’. This was because ‘they have a higher labour force participation rate, pay proportionately more in indirect taxes, and make much lower use of benefits and public services’. They paid around 30 per cent more in taxes than they cost our public services.

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Whatever the truth about immigration, it is clear that there exists widespread popular hostility to immigrants. For some, often on the right, the hostility makes sense because, irrespective of its economic benefits, the social impact of immigration is destructive. For others, often on the left, such hostility exists because people are irrational and take little notice of facts and figures. Both arguments have little merit.

Immigrants, the critics insist, disrupt communities, undermine traditional identities, and promote unrestrained change.  David Goodhart, director of Demos, whose book on immigration, The British Dream, is published on Monday, claimed last week that ‘Large-scale immigration has created an England that is increasingly full of mysterious and unfamiliar worlds’. As a result, ‘for many of the white people… the disappearance of familiar mental and physical landmarks has happened too fast’. He quotes one man from Merton in south London: ‘We’ve lost this place to other cultures. It’s not English any more.’

Had Arthur Balfour been able to read that, he would undoubtedly have nodded in agreement. Balfour was the Prime Minister in 1905 when Britain introduced its first immigration controls, aimed primarily at European Jews. Without such a law, Balfour claimed, ‘though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution… nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come.’ Two years earlier, the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration (an ‘alien’ was, in the early twentieth century, both a description of a foreigner and a euphemism for a Jew) had expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live ‘according to their traditions, usages and customs’ and that there might be ‘grafted onto the English stock… the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe’.

The sense that Jewish immigration was uncontrolled and that ‘We’ve lost this place to other cultures. It’s not English any more’, was palpable in the discussions. ‘There is no end to them in Whitechapel and Mile End’, claimed one witness giving evidence to 1903 Royal Commission.  ‘These areas of London might be called Jerusalem’. The Conservative MP Major Sir William Eden Evans-Gordon expressed the same sentiment through a quite extraordinary metaphor. ‘Ten grains of arsenic in a thousand loaves would be unnoticeable and perfectly harmless’, he told Parliament, ‘but the same amount put into one loaf would kill the whole family that partook of it.’

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By the 1950s, the Jewish community had come to be seen as part of the British cultural landscape.  The same arguments used against Jews half a century earlier were now deployed against a new wave of immigrants from South Asia and the Caribbean. A Colonial Office report of 1955 echoed Arthur Balfour, fearing that ‘a large coloured community as a noticeable feature of our social life would weaken… the concept of England or Britain to which people of British stock throughout the Commonwealth are attached’. There were worries, too, about the uncontrolled nature of immigration. ‘The question of numbers and of the increase in numbers’, Enoch Powell insisted, lie at ‘the very heart of the problem’. ‘Whole areas, towns and parts of England’, he claimed, were being ‘occupied by different sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population’. A decade later Margaret Thatcher gave a notorious TV interview in which she claimed that there were in Britain ‘an awful lot’ of black and Asian immigrants and that ‘people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture.’ The echoes are unmistakable both of the debate about Jews before and of the contemporary immigration debate.

Just as Jews became an accepted part of the cultural landscape, so did postwar immigrants from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, though the acceptance was more grudging, and often not extended to Muslims.  Today, the same arguments that were once used against Jews, and then against South Asian and Caribbean immigrants, are now raised against Muslims and East Europeans.

The idea that immigration is disruptive of culture, identity and social cohesion is, in other words, as old as immigration itself.  Whether it is Irish or Jews coming to Britain, Italians or North Africans to France, Catholics  or Chinese to America, every wave of immigration is met fear and hostility and a sense being overwhelmed.

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Immigration has clearly brought major changes, in the physical character of British cities, in the rhythm of social life and in the sense of what it is to be British. But immigration is not alone in driving social changes, nor is it even the most important driver of social change. Had not a single immigrant come to Britain, Britons today would still be living in a vastly different nation from that of half a century ago. Feminism, consumerism, increased social mobility, the growth of youth culture, the explosion of mass culture, the acceptance of free market economic policies, the destruction of trade unions, the decimation of manufacturing industries, the rise of the finance and service sectors, greater individual freedom, the atomisation of society, the decline of traditional institutions such as the Church – all have helped transform Britain, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.  But it is immigrants who primarily have become symbolic of change, and of change for the worse. Why? Because of the way that the immigration debate has been  framed. From the beginning, immigration has been viewed as a problem, even as a threat.   This is true even of liberals and multiculturalists, who might welcome diversity but think it has to be policed, by enforcing speech codes for instance, to minimise the clashes and conflicts and frictions that it brings in its wake. Inevitably, therefore, immigration comes to be seen at best with suspicion, at worst with hostility.

Consider, for instance, an image that David Goodhart uses as a symbol of unpalatable change – that of a newly built mosque in Merton, south London. The ‘mega mosque’, Goodhart writes, ‘replaced an Express Dairies bottling plant which provided a few hundred jobs for local people and lots of milk bottles — an icon of an earlier, more homogenised age’. In fact, a local blogger pointed out, ‘the dairy closed in 1992 and the mosque was inaugurated in 2003’. There was a seven-year gap between the dairy closing and building work beginning on the mosque. In those seven years the abandoned dairy was, according to local accounts, turned into a crack den. So, one story we could tell is that of economic forces closing down an unprofitable dairy, with the loss of a several hundred jobs, and of Muslims subsequently rescuing the abandoned, crime-infested site, creating new jobs, both in the construction and in the running of the mosque, and in the process transforming Merton for the better. Critics of immigration want, however, to tell a different story. The mosque, in their eyes, is symbolic not of the rescue of a site from abandonment and crime, but of the original closure of the dairy and of the transformation of Merton’s old way of life.

All this takes us to the second kind of argument as to why immigration continues to be such a fraught political issue. Many, often on the left, accept that immigration is a good but worry that people are too irrational to understand. Hitting people with facts and figures, they suggest, will not help. We need to accept people’s emotional opposition to immigration. If we do not engage with people’s anxieties, they argue, the left’s project will get shouted down by rightwing and populist anti-immigration voices.

It is true that simply presenting facts and figures will change few minds. This is not, however, because people are irrational or because they are indifferent to facts, but because facts are always understood within a particular political, social or philosophical framework. Since the issue of immigration has been framed in such a way that both sides accept immigrants as a problem, so it is inevitable that people will understand facts and figures within that context. That is why the Merton mosque, for instance, is seen only as a threat and as a metaphor of loss. That is why the economic and social changes that truly disrupted the old way of life in Merton become elided with the building of the mosque, and the mosque becomes symbolic of change for worse.immigration

If we want the facts and figures to have an impact we need first to reframe the immigration debate. There is not much point in showing that immigrants do not come to sponge off the welfare state, or that they benefit the economy, if we have already accepted that immigrants are a problem. We need rather to view immigration from an entirely different perspective. We need to acknowledge the movement of peoples as neither an aberration, nor as an evil to be tolerated, but as an inherent part of human life. We need to view the social changes that immigration brings not as a loss of something precious, but also as the gain of something valuable, the creation of a more open, vibrant, cosmopolitan society. We should regard the clashes and conflicts in ideas and values that immigration often creates not as something to be feared and minimised but as something to be prized, the basis of social engagement, the means by which we can break out of our narrow cultural boxes and create possibility of a common language of citizenship.

Adopting such an approach is difficult because it runs counter to so much of what is regarded as social wisdom. That is why it is all the more important to view immigration in this fashion. To do so requires, however, conviction and courage. And those are two virtues noticeable by their absence in contemporary politics.

Update: I have taken out a line on the number of A8 migrants claiming Job Seekers Allowance after @olihawkins suggested on Twitter that the Guardian source was wrong. I will check.

39 comments

  1. I’m in accord with all you say, and you say it well. But it occurs to me to mention that “the creation of a more open, vibrant, cosmopolitan society” is exactly what the more conservative members of a society do not want. “Rootless cosmopolitan Jew,” for example, has been an anti-Semitic epithet in continental Europe for more than a century.

  2. The noble immigrant (to be), after a hard life selflessly devoting himself to the well-being of all those living in his native land, looks around him and is pleased. He sees a rich society where all share its wealth, he sees a society where all are able to reach their maximum potential and he sees a society devoted to delivering knowledge to enable society to improve without limit.
    But he looks around him. And what does he see beyond the borders of his native land? He sees societies impoverished in all these aspects of , individual achievement, wealth and knowledge. So he resolves to put these injustices to rights. The immigrant (to be) now emigrates to the most disadvantaged land where he can put his abilities and capabilities to most effect. He then selflessly devotes himself to the well-being of the inhabitants. Further still, he is always wary never to do anything which would be to the detriment to the original inhabitants – all due to his inherent nobility of character which is the very essence of the immigrant’s personality.
    But of course, the myth doesn’t end there. After having brought – at huge personal cost to himself – his adopted country to the same level as the one he left behind, he sees there are other societies which are in need of enrichment. So, he emigrates yet again to another country where he can continue his life of selfless devotion to the well being of mankind.

  3. tamimisledus

    Still labouring under your delusions of the true nature of islam, I see. (no, I did not expect any different)
    Here is a reference to the true nature of mosques by the Prime Minister of Turkey (OIC member who wants to criminalise criticism of islam) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2270642.stm. “The mosques are our barracks ,…”
    Of course, the *ever so wonderful* Merton mosque will continue to practise the traditional islamic segregation of the sexes, which in any other context would have those responsible criminalised. Do you really see that as a fine way to celebrate “the rescue of a site …”?

    • Shock, horror! Many Muslims are not secular liberals and have all manner of reactionary ideas. Well, thanks for letting me know. But, given your various rants so far, they are clearly not alone in holding reactionary views. Unlike you, I am quite capable of being critical both of Islam and of xenophobic hostility to Islam.

    • tamimisledus

      try answering these questions
      1. Are you, or are you not, implying that the thrice democratically elected Prime Minister of Turkey (currently negotiating to join the EU) has reactionary ideas?
      2. Do you criticise the merton mosque for its policy of gender segregation?

      • I am the local blogger cited in the article. On April 12, I will be visiting the mosque. I have been invited by a woman who worships there and I look forward to learning more about Islam from the perspective of the women involved with the mosque. As Kenan said earlier, it is indeed possible to be critical of aspects of Islam and of xenophobia.

        Do those who criticise the segregation in UK mosques and declare that Britain is a “Christian country”, speak out loudly about the refusal of the Church of England to allow women to become bishops?

  4. Ralph

    You don’t need a PhD to understand that when the number of unemployed people vastly outnumber the number of job vacancies, and public housing stock is under huge strain, it’s a very bad idea not to radically restrict immigration. This isn’t rocket science.

    • No, you don’t need a PhD, but it might help to look at the facts. I’ve already linked to papers that show little connection between immigration and unemployment. To quote again from the Home Office survey: ‘The perception that immigrants take away jobs from the existing population… do not find confirmation in the analysis of the data laid out in this report.’ As for the impact on housing stock, this might help. The evidence, as you might expect, is complex but as the report observes, there is evidence that ‘suggests that the housing shortage in the UK would continue even with zero net-migration’. The point is that immigrants have become scapegoats for a lack of resources which would have been lacking even without immigration.

    • Kenan “immigration is good” Malik has in his hands the perfect solution to making the world a better place, and incidentally solving the UK’s immigration problems. He can invite the world’s 7 billion+ to immigrate into his kitchen. He will obviously welcome the overwhelmingly positive change to his economic and social conditions and the huge benefit to him of cultural diversity. He will also be glad of the opportunity show us the true extent of his courage and conviction when he himself has to bear all the costs – personal, financial, social – of immigration, even though currently it seems he does not understand what they are.

      • tamimisledus

        the 7 billion plus will include 1.2 billion muslims (or is it 2 billion, or 3 billion or maybe even 10 billion – muslims do seem to have trouble with basic arithmetic, as well as any other rational behaviour). Then, while giving them anything they “feel” they should have, Mr Malik will have the task of finding segregated areas for all the inferior women as identified by islam, and having to adopt wholesale muslim customs, created in seventh century arabia for whole time. Non-muslims will have to accept a total lack of freedom to express any view or to perform any action which is not approved by allah, on pain of death or worse. At the same time, non-muslims will also have the opportunity of getting a taste in the ovens of what it means to burn in allah’s hell for eternity. Then the sunnis and shias can get their focus back on their internecine squabble on who should be running this “brave new world”. And by the time they have finished, the whole of his kitchen will have become completely unfit for human habitation.

  5. fortunaresistere

    Hi Kenan,

    Thanks for your article, I found it most interesting to read and gained some new insights into this controversial topic.

    I just wanted to let you know that although your article is exceedingly well written and has an interesting proposition and conclusion, from a scientific viewpoint, some of the arguments you have raised are based on weak evidence:

    – You claim that “The facts are relatively straightforward. Immigration is a good and the idea that immigrants come to Britain to live off benefits laughable.”. In the rest of your article, you proceed in showing that *certain types* of immigration, from specific countries can have positive or negative effects on the receiving society. Most researchers on the topic would probably agree with you that immigration is indeed beneficial, but only specific kinds of immigration, under specific kinds of conditions (as the papers you are citing are indeed suggesting).

    – All but one study you are citing are either commissioned work (and as a researcher I can assure you that there is no such thing as independent commissioned work, especially when it comes from someone holding political office).

    – The other studies you are citing are either conference or working papers. In general, only peer-reviewed journal articles are accepted as rigorous enough in method and balanced enough in judgement to make a genuine contribution to the academic base of knowledge.

    – There seems to be a certain misunderstanding about what you can claim from the (commissioned and not peer-reviewed) report of the Home Office: ‘The perception that immigrants take away jobs from the existing population… do not find confirmation in the analysis of the data laid out in this report.’ – This can either mean that there is no association, or that the data was not strong enough to support the assertion that there is such an association. Again, as a researcher I can tell you how tricky it is to establish causal links between two extremely complex phenomena that underly a myriad of confounding factors. From a scientific viewpoint, these results give a hint that there might be no such association, but they don’t prove it.

    The same counts for the report’s conclusion which ‘suggests that the housing shortage in the UK would continue even with zero net-migration’.

    Overall, nothing of what I mentioned undermines your general argument that immigration is a topic where fact and reason don’t matter so much – sadly enough. I hope my critique was not too technical and that you will find these comments helpful and continue to write on this topic.

    Cheers

    • Thanks for this. It is true that I did not cite all the relevant literature, and used a mixed bag of sources. This, after all, is a blog post, not an academic paper. If you want to discuss the research that proves my argument wrong, I am happy for you to do so. If you wish to challenge either the empirical data or the interpretation or conclusion in any paper I cited, again do so. But don’t imply that just because certain research has been ‘commissioned’, so its data or conclusions may be dodgy. That is not a particularly scientific attitude.

      If you are going to be picky about whether or not certain arguments are valid, it would help to get the character of the argument right in the first place. I never claimed that ‘immigration is a topic where fact and reason don’t matter so much’. What I actually wrote was that by themselves ‘facts and figures will change few minds… not… because people are irrational or because they are indifferent to facts, but because facts are always understood within a particular political, social or philosophical framework.’ That is true in discussions not just of immigration but of just about any topic. Hence my key point was that ‘If we want the facts and figures to have an impact we need first to reframe the immigration debate.’

      Finally, you might want to think about the tone of your comments. You might be a shit-hot researcher for all I know (and I don’t know since you have chosen to write this anonymously), but even if you are, there is no need to treat the rest of us as if we were dunces. So, no, your critique is not too ‘technical’, it just seemed to miss the point of this post.

      • fortunaresistere

        Dear Kenan,

        Well, beyond speculating whether I am a “shit-hot researcher” it might have indeed been more helpful if you weren’t so defensive about my remarks. I have not said that what you are saying is wrong, I only said the evidence you are using doesn’t allow for the claims you are making. If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m trying to help you improve your work – I’m sure you don’t think you need help but some people might beg to differ.

        When I saw your article, I did believe that it had some merit, despite your selective citing of mostly non-peer reviewed and commissioned work, and despite your grand generalisations about the topic of immigration that are not supported by a body of hundreds of scientific articles.

        What you are doing is simply what many bloggers are doing: picking out some studies, selecting some quotes, propositions and results from these studies, and then making claims that are in no way warranted by that or other available evidence.

        Again, that is not saying that your ideas are not without merit – but you are presenting them to your audience with the air scientific fact, and that is a bit ludicrous, given your way of dealing with evidence.

        So, I’m sorry if I have made you feel like a dunce, which was not my intention. However, your condescending answer does confirm my suspicion that you are actually a little insecure about your own ability to analyse and discuss complex social phenomena.

        What I don’t quite understand is that given your own scientific education, I know that you easily understand the importance of all the points I have raised – the fact that you are trying to discount them emotionally makes me wonder whether you are really interested in understanding the topic of immigration, or whether you are trying to push an agenda.

        Best of luck with your upcoming book!

      • Oh my, thanks for this (and for the deep psychological insights). I was not being defensive, merely pointing out that your comment missed the point of my post, not to mention misread my article, perceptions that this reply does nothing to dispel. As for being ‘condescending’, let’s just say that we seem spectacularly to disagree over what it is to be condescending and about who exactly is being condescending here.

    • jswagner

      Hi – just wanted to give you a second response, hoping that your apparent goodwill was genuine, as you seemed unable to hear Mr. Malik well. There were several dimensions to your notes I might’ve reacted to poorly as well- not really your tone, just actual things you said and, more importantly, things you didn’t say.

      Questioning the validity of research, commissioned or otherwise, is quite reasonable, but I’d submit the best way to do that is to show contrasting work, or to make a logical case. You did neither. Then, despite Mr. Malik’s invite for you to do so in his response, you demurred again, without explaining why you felt the need to restrict yourself to high-level argument concerning “weak” research sources, and interpretation of research. As with many other busy bloggers, Mr. Malik likes to address the subject at hand, in good faith. Instead, you gave him a general, very strong critique of his sources, and either assumed he didn’t value peer-reviewed work as much as he should (and that he needed a lesson), or that he was unaware how bad it was to depend on commissioned work (and that he needed a lesson). This is the condescension that he noted. I’m hoping you can recognize it as reasonable to read your comments as such, in the context of you responding to a blogger who is soon to publish a book in which immigration issues are central.

      You made a very nice general point about the blogger style of research; it helped me to remember to not be selective with studies to further my points. You seem to assume you have Mr. Malik’s number with that statement, when he only touched on but a little of the research he’s used during his long absorption with this topic.

      I also wanted to defend the somewhat combative style that blogging takes occasionally, here and elsewhere. It’s efficient sometimes to be direct and even rude in those cases when several gaffes seem to have been committed in one response. Many bloggers don’t have time to attempt to tease out reasonable logic or interaction with random responders on the internet; there’s poor odds in the effort. Though I probably wouldn’t have used the tack Mr. Malik did with you, I see his as a quite reasonable version of a plea to stick to responses on points made, instead of: providing vague talk, however politely and reasonably, that: questions method or sources; instructs on proper sourcing of research; and claims that many key contingencies to the conclusions (addressed by you in the most vague terms possible) must be denoted for the conclusions to be valid. None of these points are germane to the argument, at least not at the high level at which you’ve chosen to engage the topic. I’ve been left intrigued about your potential thoughts, as has Mr. Malik, yet left with but a seque lesson that neither of us needed about the value of peer-reviewed research, and your general assessments about report logic. On second reading, your note reads eerily similar to some clever spam I get on my web site, where an admixture of foamy general compliments and vague intimations at disagreement are designed to engage me.

      I, too, occasionally sense vicious personal flaw in Mr. Malik, while reading certain posts. I imagine his wife relying extensively on pharmacological buttressing to endure him, his mother glad to have passed him on.. Significant physical flaws and lifestyle irregularities wouldn’t surprise me. Fortunately for you and I both, his wife alone need endure him, leaving you and I free to engage solely with his thoughts. You are, of course, welcome to pass judgement in the public forum on personal characteristics of any blogger you choose, but I ask you to consider whether levels of analyst insecurity, say. are truly relevant when evaluating their contentions.

      Finally, you mixed very strong, extra-subject critique with a careful, prize-winningly vague appreciation for Mr. Malik’s addressal of immigration, in an extremely curious fashion. I take your comment as well-meaning and sincere, while Mr. Malik seems to have not. I’d ask you to consider that this wide variation in our responses is eminently reasonable, and that such a perceptual range doesn’t reflect well on your effort at communication. It seems difficult for you to see how inappropriate your notes could be taken; maybe you assume that heartfelt courtesy is an appropriate counterweight and social lubricant for the rest of the message. Please try to see that it’s inappropriate to assume politeness can make up for perceived temerity, and your quite assumptive holding forth regarding what constitutes proper research and research interpretation. I’m hoping you can consider that, even now, a substantive attention to either the issue of immigration or Mr. Malik’s contentions would be welcomed and addressed without prejudice, in an effort at clarity and knowledge. I’ve seen Mr. Malik make such a switch before.

      You seem like a nice person. Would you be so kind as to address the thesis or its particulars directly, or a pertinent aspect of your own thoughts regarding immigration? Thanks for your attentions.

  6. Synonymous

    Kenan,

    As you know, immigration is a complex phenomenon. Different types of people move for different reasons: to study, work, join family or find refuge. Some settle, others stay for a short time and leave. Many work hard and obey the law, a few have criminal intent or want to take advantage of our public services. Some are virtually invisible in British society, others self-segregate or are actively hostile to Britain. My point is that we can’t easily discuss immigration, or make a case for or against it, by reference to generalities.

    You’re right that immigration isn’t the only factor driving social (and even demographic) change. You’re also right to point out that the unemployment amongst the low-skilled or the housing problem cannot be entirely blamed on immigration. However, your depiction of immigration as an unalloyed social and economic good is a bit one-eyed, and your analogy between a previous – rather modest and localised – wave of Jewish immigration and the mass influx of recent years, which has affected a wide swathe of the country, isn’t a particularly good one.

    Few people, beyond the extreme right, object to manageable inflows of the brightest and best. But whether we need mass immigration on the unprecedented scale we’ve had since the late 90s is a moot point. The long-run economic effect is mainly an increase in population and hence an increase in GDP. But what matters for national welfare is not GDP, but GDP per head (and how that GDP per head is distributed). Whether immigration has a positive impact on national welfare depends crucially on the characteristics of the immigrants themselves – do they complement or compete with natives for jobs and other economic resources? The costs and benefits are not always easy to compute.

    More generally, I find that many people on the cosmopolitan left or the neo-liberal right discount – or even actively disdain – people’s attachment to a sense of community, identity and historical continuity. These are threatened by mass migrations which can change the whole demographic basis and cultural identity of a community or country. I recognise that taking ‘identity politics’ too far often leads to chauvinism and exclusion. But for many (most?) people, the feeling of belonging to a group or community, even the ‘imagined community’ of a nation, associated with a particular geography, seems to be an inherent part of the modern human condition. Many people find meaning and security in this, and it helps to generate social trust.

    • Thanks for this.

      your analogy between a previous – rather modest and localised – wave of Jewish immigration and the mass influx of recent years, which has affected a wide swathe of the country, isn’t a particularly good one.

      My point in dragging up the history was to show that hostility to every wave of immigration is based the claim that ‘this wave of immigration is exceptional’. In that context the contrast you draw between ‘a previous – rather modest and localised – wave of Jewish immigration’ and ‘the mass influx of recent years, which has affected a wide swathe of the country’ is in keeping with that history.

      Whether immigration has a positive impact on national welfare depends crucially on the characteristics of the immigrants themselves – do they complement or compete with natives for jobs and other economic resources? The costs and benefits are not always easy to compute.

      Well, then, make the argument that recent immigration has not been good.

      More generally, I find that many people on the cosmopolitan left or the neo-liberal right discount – or even actively disdain – people’s attachment to a sense of community, identity and historical continuity.

      I have long been critical of liberal views of individualism. I have many times made the point that humans are not individuals who become social but social beings whose individuality emerges through the bonds they create with each other.

      I am, however, equally critical of communitarian views of community that often underlie anti-immigration rhetoric. There are many ways one can understand the relationship between the individual and the community of which he or she is a part. I have made the point (albeit very briefly) in criticizing Alasdair MacIntyre’s philosophy that to reject the Hobbesian view of the isolated individual and to understand the individual as a social being does not mean that one also has to adopt a Burkean view of community and the ‘continuity of history’.

      I write in my forthcoming book on the history of moral thought that a Burkean or MacIntyrean notion of tradition is as

      a collective bound primarily by its past, and whose social relationships are enforced through authority. But we can think of social embdeddness in a different way, in terms not of tradition but of transformation. Movements for social transformation are defined less by a sense of a shared past (though most draw upon history traditions) than by dreams of a common future. They represent a social journey shaped not by the demands of the point of departure but by the hopes invested in the destination.

      I make the point, too, that ‘The problems faced by communitarians and by the liberal individualists of whom they are often so critical are mirror images of each other. The one is apparently incapable of acknowledging the social roots of moral agency, the other seemingly unable to explain how individual agency emerges out of social grounding.’

      I will, if I have time, develop these ideas into a proper essay. All I would say here is that one does not have to be a Hobbesian individualist to reject a Burkean or communitarian vision of history and community, or to oppose hostility to immigration based on such a vision.

      • FPPeterson

        “Well, then, make the argument that recent immigration has not been good.”

        Brings to mind the Brimelow Question, to wit:

        “…I reject the notion that those of us who question this policy [of mass third-world immigration] have to show what’s wrong with it. Instead, I believe it is incumbent upon those who favour this extraordinary [demographic] transformation to explain what’s right with it – and what makes them think it will work.”

        If you don’t know who Brimelow is, you should.

  7. Jack Hazeldine

    This is a very interesting article, which has led me to reassess my own perspectives on immigration. Although it is a blog post, I can’t help but feel that it would be desirable for the author to more thoroughly check the grammar of such a piece before posting it; I stumbled in reading more than once because of typographical/grammatical errors.

    However, I think Mr. Malik himself actually frames the issue of contemporary reactions to immigration in a rather simplified and excessively ‘historical’ manner; he seems to take the typical Daily Express/Mail’s hysterical and irrational responses to immigration as representative of the totality of ordinary people’s (ie. not politicians’ or the media’s) concerns on the issue, and ignore the possibility of concerns based on our specific contemporary context.

    Some people in Britain today are concerned about the net level of migration because of cuts to public services and even the most minute impact that it might have in this area; others are aware that previous waves of immigration appear to have created in certain areas geographical (on the scale of the town) divides between people of different ethnicities (I do not maintain that there is no change on this question); others are concerned about the proportion of recent immigrants who have not been able to acquire a working proficiency in English, and the difficulties of social/societal relations that this can entail within communities and within public debate. These are just a few examples of concerns which I have come across in public discourse (within my community and in wider debate), and not necessarily my own, which are largely ignored by Mr. Malik and which, in the case of the latter two examples, some have claimed to have been ignored in the discourse/policy of the previous Labour governments.

    Jack Hazeldine

    • Jack, thanks for this. I’m not sure, however, in what way I take ‘the typical Daily Express/Mail’s hysterical and irrational responses to immigration as representative of the totality of ordinary people’s… concerns on the issue’. The only article that I quoted from either the Express or the Mail was one from David Goodhart, which happened to be an extract from his book. Goodhart is director of the centre left thinktank Demos and a former editor of Prospect magazine. Whatever you think of his argument, Goodhart is hardly your typical Mail hysteric.

      Among the issues that you say I ignore is that people ‘are concerned about the net level of migration because of cuts to public services’. Immigration is clearly not responsible for cuts in services; government economic policies are to blame for those. Perhaps you meant that immigration places a greater strain upon public services? Far from ignoring that issue, I linked to papers that questioned aspects of that assumption. Immigrants use such services to a lesser degree than British nationals, and, as I pointed out, pay ‘around 30 per cent more in taxes than they cost our public services’. Indeed, a report this week suggested that ‘Halting immigration would cost Britain £18bn in five years’ – and hence would definitely cause cuts in public services. I am sorry if, in stumbling through my poor grammar, you missed the links.

      You suggest, too, that I ignore, concerns about immigration creating ‘divides between people of different ethnicities’. I agree I did not mention that in this post. However, far from ignoring the issue, I seem to have written obsessively about it over the past decade. My argument, though, is that the problem lies not with immigration as such but with multicultural policies designed to manage that immigration. See, for instance, this and this and this and this and this and this and this

      • Jack Hazeldine

        Thank you for your links to articles on issues surrounding multiculturalism, Kenan, I will definitely look at them.

        In invoking the Express and Mail, I was merely trying to question the predominancy of your concern with a “widespread popular hostility to immigrants” and “emotional opposition” to immigration, where you appeared to place far more emphasis on the influence of a historic xenophobia, rather than specific contemporary concerns about immigration (and wider anxieties generated by the current economic circumstances). I do not by any means deny that you responded to some of these specific concerns, but I was more concerned with the broad narrative of the article and the way in which you cast public opinion.

        Although I fully accept that it is vital to combat the stigmatisation of immigration per se, I actually think the promotion of more facts and figures in the media in relation to immigrant benefit claims, public service usage, and economic benefits of immigration – such as those you quote – would be extremely effective in beginning to shift the attitudes of many people at a time when attention is so heavily focused on the the state of the economy and the viability of the welfare state.

        If you have discussed issues relating to separation of some immigrant communities, then I will of course look into what you have written on this. As a new reader of your blog, though, it would be great if you could make a small reference to important issues like this (or indeed questions surrounding English language proficiency…), which you may well have mentioned in previous posts, when discussing attitudes to immigration in such broad terms; I came to this article through a link from a friend, and so was unaware of any of your previous work.

        Thanks a lot for your response,

        Jack Hazeldine

  8. Synonymous

    [i]”My point in dragging up the history was to show that hostility to every wave of immigration is based the claim that ‘this wave of immigration is exceptional’. In that context the contrast you draw between ‘a previous – rather modest and localised – wave of Jewish immigration’ and ‘the mass influx of recent years, which has affected a wide swathe of the country’ is in keeping with that history.”[/i]

    I simply made a factually accurate statement Kenan. Until the 1980s, Britain was a country of net *emigration*. Then from the early 90s to the turn of the millennium, immigration rose by more than 100,000 per annum to levels never seen before in our history. What’s more, earlier generations of immigrants tended to concentrate in London, other ports and large cities; recent A8 migrants have landed up in rural counties such as Lincolnshire and Carmarthenshire, and since the late 90s asylum seekers have been dispersed to towns such as Plymouth, Sunderland and Wrexham, none of which have much prior history of immigration. These developments are surely ‘exceptional’.

    [i]”Well, then, make the argument that recent immigration has not been good.”[/i]

    That wasn’t really my intention Kenan. I’ve read a couple of studies – a report from the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee in 2008, and a 2010 paper from LSE’s Migration Studies Unit – plus assorted articles in the ‘serious press’. They generally seem to conclude that, on balance, immigration has had a fairly neutral economic impact on the British population. A small negative effect on the wages of the lowest-paid cancelled out by a small positive effect on the wages of the higher-paid. There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut impact, one way or the other, on employment or house prices.

    [i]”Movements for social transformation are defined less by a sense of a shared past (though most draw upon history traditions) than by dreams of a common future.”[/i]

    A possible way forward for mutual understanding in ‘super-diverse’ Britain, but I wonder whether it can serve as a real alternative to traditional national, ethnic or religious affiliations? I’m also wary of attempts to ‘impose’ identity in a top-down manner. You probably remember that Gordon Brown talked a lot about ‘Britishness’ and the shared values it entails, but there’s a long-term decline in the proportions of people calling themselves ‘British’ as opposed to English, Scottish or Welsh…

    • Thanks for the response. I think, however, you miss my point:

      1. I never said that the scale of immigration has been the same throughout history. What I suggested was that whatever the scale, the arguments against immigration remained much the same. Contemporary immigration is seen as exceptional and unmanageable in comparison to immigration in the past. In the past, however, what we now consider to be small-scale migration was itself viewed as exceptional and unmanageable, and the same language used to condemn it as is now used to decry what today is claimed to be an unmanageable influx.

      So, today, we can say that Jewish immigration at the turn of the twentieth century was tiny and nothing to worry about. Then, however, it was regarded as an invasion that would undermine British (or rather English) culture and identity. This is even more true of the postwar immigration from South Asia and the Caribbean. Historical amnesia leads us to forget how those, what we now consider manageable influxes, were actually viewed. No doubt, in half a century there will be another panic about a new wave of exceptional immigration, and a contrast drawn between that new wave and the manageable proportions of the immigration in the first decae of the twenty-first century. My argument, in other words, is not about scale but about perception.

      2. I have always argued against the top-down creation of national identity, including Gordon Brown’s little project. My point is that throughout the modern world there have always been two kinds of collective identities, one that is broadly progressive and shaped by a vision of the future – from the Levellers and labour movements to anti-imperialist movements and national liberal struggles – and one that is essentially conservative and shaped by the past. These are not, of course clearcut distinctions, and historic attachments have played an important role in shaping progressive and transformative movements. Nevertheless, the distinction is important particularly as, over the past few decades, the possibilities of social transformation have seemingly eroded. This has transformed the meaning of ‘community’. Social solidarity has become increasingly defined not in political terms – as collective action in pursuit of certain political ideals – but in terms of ethnicity or culture. The question people ask themselves are not so much ‘What kind of society do I want to live in?’ as ‘Who are we?’. The first question looks forward for answers and defines them in terms of the commonality of values necessary for establishing the good life. The second generally looks back and seeks answers – and defines identity – in terms of history and heritage. The politics of ideology, in other words, has given way to the politics of identity. It is striking in that context that the only identities you mention are ‘traditional national, ethnic or religious’.

      • Synonymous

        “In the past, however, what we now consider to be small-scale migration was itself viewed as exceptional and unmanageable, and the same language used to condemn it as is now used to decry what today is claimed to be an unmanageable influx […] My argument, in other words, is not about scale but about perception.”

        I take your point, but I believe that the present wave of immigration *is* genuinely different to anything we’ve seen before, and thus poses entirely new challenges for our society.

        Let’s put this into context: after 40 years of New Commonwealth immigration, the 1991 census still recorded the population of England and Wales as more than 94 per cent white. But in just the last ten years, the White British share of the population has fallen by six percentage points and the Christian share has declined by 13 percentage points (granted, the latter change is not solely because of immigration). There are now 1.2m households where no adult speaks English, and London is now a ‘minority majority’ city in the American parlance.

        Projections are fraught with difficulty, but these changes in the ethnic and cultural map of the country will doubtless continue for at least the next couple of decades, and they will make existential questions about English / British identity, culture and social cohesion increasingly vital.

        “Social solidarity has become increasingly defined not in political terms – as collective action in pursuit of certain political ideals – but in terms of ethnicity or culture. The question people ask themselves are not so much ‘What kind of society do I want to live in?’ as ‘Who are we?’.”

        I think that interest in identity is happening sometimes as a response to globalisation, sometimes because of demographic change – e.g. Samuel Huntingdon’s book about the US, coincidentally entitled ‘Who Are We?’ – but also as a response to crises of confidence in various states, especially the British, Belgian and Spanish ones. If you haven’t come across him you might be interested in the work of Christopher Harvie, historian and SNP politician, who has written on the apex of British national feeling (in his view, 1939 to the early 70s) and how it began to fade.

        I’ve just been looking at an old report from a British Council conference in the late 90s, ‘Looking into England’, where participants discussed English identity – as you know, often elided with Britishness – against the backdrop of devolution and the resurgence of Scottish and Welsh national sentiment. Speaking of which, Eric Kaufmann and Demos have been doing some interesting work recently on the re-emergence of Englishness and how if differs across the regions and between different ethnic groups.

      • I keep acknowledging that the scale of recent immigration has indeed been different. What you have not done is explained why this should be a problem, even an ‘existential crisis’. Why should it matter that in ‘the last ten years, the White British share of the population has fallen by six percentage points’? Unless, of course, you think that Britishness equates with whiteness?

    • A significant part of of the original blog, simply put, argues that in the past there were many instances of crying “beware wolf”. In the opinion of the blog’s author, though this is far from certain, the metaphorical “wolf” did not appear. Therefore (when the cries of wolf are even louder than ever before, and the wolf seems to be much larger than ever) he writes we should just ignore the cries.
      His having perpetrated such fallacies, noone should have confidence in his analysis and understanding of the facts and the issues involved, as can be seen by other comments on this blog.

      • Michael Fugate

        Which parts of the original post are fallacies? You have yet to cite a single source for your stance. You have yet to offer a single solution for what you are “crying wolf”.

        I always ask those who appear to believe the situation is dire today when exactly it was better? Can you go back in time and demonstrate when it was better for women? minorities – whether ethnic or religious? the lower classes? small business? What would you be willing to give up to go back in time? which technologies? which freedoms?

  9. Synonymous

    “I keep acknowledging that the scale of recent immigration has indeed been different. What you have not done is explained why this should be a problem, even an ‘existential crisis’. Why should it matter that in ‘the last ten years, the White British share of the population has fallen by six percentage points’? Unless, of course, you think that Britishness equates with whiteness?”

    Kenan, this demographic change is a problem because most European nations can be said to be based on what Anthony D. Smith called an ‘ethnie’: a core ethnocultural group with a real or mythical common ancestry, a shared history and culture, a sense of solidarity and an association with a given territory.

    In the case of Britain, this is slightly complicated by the multi-national nature of the United Kingdom, but nevertheless the White British ethnic group (or perhaps, if you’re a Celtic nationalist, the narrower White English group) has to be regarded as the core ethnie. After all, this is essentially the ‘indigenous’ population, a category that could historically embrace almost everyone living here, and it still accounts for four out of five people in England and Wales.

    I acknowledge that the concept of Britishness has proven to be malleable, arguably more so than Englishness, Scottishness and Welshness. Many people from ethnic minorities identify as British – the results of the Understanding Society longitudinal study demonstrate that – and this must be a good thing for continued national cohesion.

    Nevertheless, more rapid demographic change, with new ethnic groups replacing the indigenous population in London and some other cities, means that it’s surely only common sense to wonder at the long-term consequences for the continuance of British/English identity, culture and cohesion. Essentially this is an echo of David Goodhart’s worries about ‘absorptive capacity’, or at the extreme Christopher Caldwell’s question “can Europe (read Britain, or England) be the same with different people in it?”

    You may argue that Britain and Britishness can survive as an ever-more fluid, totally civic concept. But the greater the relative decline of the core ethnie, the more I’m tempted to agree with those historians – such as Raphael Samuel, Richard Weight, Laurence Brockliss, David Eastwood, Christopher Harvie and Linda Colley – who see British national identity as being weak and/or in (terminal) decline. Millions of people from Poland, India, Bangladesh or Nigeria may all reside here – either permanently or temporarily – but beyond that accident of geography what common bonds unite them, either with each other or as members of a nation-state alongside ‘Essex man’, ‘Winchester woman’ or a Welsh-speaking hill farmer? How relevant to them is the British/English ‘national story’ – 1066 and all that, Magna Carta, the Battle of Britain etc etc? Whither the ‘nation’ in the nation-state?

    • Good, I’m glad we have finally got to the core of the problem for you, which is that of race and ethnicity. You seem to believe that you need a predominantly white Britain for British identity to have purchase. Leaving aside the issue of racism, there are two fundamental problems with your argument.

      The first is that the claim, implicit in your argument, that Britain used to be homogenous but is now plural because of immigration, is historically false. You imagine that ‘the White British ethnic group’, is important to national identity because it possesses, in your words, ‘a real or mythical common ancestry, a shared history and culture, a sense of solidarity’. That is not how it was seen, even in the ninetheenth century. As I have observed before, in Victorian England the elite viewed the working class and the rural poor as the racial Other. For instance, according to an 1864 article in the Saturday Review, a well-read liberal magazine of the era:

      The Bethnal Green poor… are a caste apart, a race of whom we know nothing, whose lives are of a quite different complexion from ours, persons with whom we have no point of contact… Slaves are separated from whites by more glaring marks of distinction; but still distinctions and separations, like those of English classes which always endure, which last from the cradle to the grave, which prevent anything like association or companionship, produce a general effect on the life of the extreme poor, and subject them to isolation, which offer a very fair parallel to the separation of the slaves from the whites.

      This was a typical nineteenth century view, and not just in Britain. The Bethnal Green poor of the nineteenth century became the ‘Essex Man’ of today, as the East End white working class moved to the suburbs and beyond. Far from there being any sense of a shared ancestry and culture, that white working class was in the nineteenth century seen as the ‘Other’ in the same way as many now view the Bangladeshis who have become today’s ‘Bethnal Green poor’.

      Most European nations are in fact less plural now than they were 150 years ago. The reason we imagine otherwise is because of historical amnesia and because we have come to adopt a highly selective standard for defining what it is to be plural. Certain differences (culture, ethnicity, faith) have come to be regarded as important and others (such as class, say, or generational), which used to be perceived as important in the past, have come to be seen as less relevant.

      The second problem with you argument is the claim that 1066 or the Magna Carta is more relevant to ‘Essex man’ or ‘Winchester woman’ than they are to settlers from Poland, India, Bangladesh or Nigeria. Really? How many Essex Men do you know who say, ‘If only my Nigerian neighbour could understand the Magna Carta as I do, then Britain would be a more cohesive nation. But unfortunately he’s black and so, unlike me, has no connection to the Magna Carta. And that’s why Britain is falling apart’?

      It is not that immigration has caused the fragmentation of national identity. It is that immigrants have become the scapegoats for that fragmentation.

      • Synonymous

        – “You seem to believe that you need a predominantly white Britain for British identity to have purchase.”

        A misreading of my position Kenan. According to the last census, the fastest-growing ethnic group is White Other. Let’s imagine that the population in a few decades is 50 per cent White British, 30 per cent White Other, and 20 per cent Black and Asian. Britain would still be predominantly white, but the demographic transformation would have a profound impact on national identity and culture.

        Ignoring Britain for a moment, if you take any notional territory where the core ethnie, or dominant ethnic group if you prefer, has historically accounted for 95 per cent plus of the population, then falls to 80, 70 or even less than 50 per cent in a few decades, it will experience transformative social and cultural change. As the old saying goes, demography is destiny.

        – “Leaving aside the issue of racism”

        Notice that I never said that members of ethnic minorities cannot be British. What I did was to argue, as per Anthony D. Smith, that European nations generally derive from a core ‘ethnie’ – you quote my summary of his definition. I’ve further stated that, assuming that there *is* a British nation (I’ve been scrupulous in acknowledging that many, especially in the Celtic fringe, regard this as a fiction or an imposition), then the White British census classification must represent the ‘ethnie’ (or be a good proxy for it).

        – “the claim, implicit in your argument, that Britain used to be homogenous but is now plural because of immigration, is historically false.”

        On the contrary, I’ve been at pains to recognise the multi-national character of Britain and the problematic nature of British identity. But I agree with the many historians who argue that there was strong sense of Britishness in the mid-20th century that is increasingly in decline, for various reasons – and this is supported by evidence from numerous social surveys.

        – “You imagine that ‘the White British ethnic group’, is important to national identity because it possesses, in your words, ‘a real or mythical common ancestry, a shared history and culture, a sense of solidarity’. That is not how it was seen, even in the nineteenth century.”

        No ethnic group is a monolith and I accept that there were many historic social fractures in Britain along class, regional and cultural fault lines. However, historians such as Linda Colley and Keith Robbins have shown that in 18th and 19th century Britain, there was sufficient ‘unity in diversity’ – whether created by conflict with a French Catholic ‘other’ (Colley) or through the blending of English, Welsh and Scottish cultures via communication, education and politics (Robbins), to make the concept of a cohesive Britishness real enough.

        If we leave the complexities of Britishness to one side and simply focus on England, the roots of national identity go back much further. Eleventh century church documents talk about ‘the English nation’. Nigel Saul writes that “a homogenous nation” was being forged by the middle of the 12th century, even though nobles and peasants were still divided by language at this time.

        – “Most European nations are in fact less plural now than they were 150 years ago. The reason we imagine otherwise is because of historical amnesia and because we have come to adopt a highly selective standard for defining what it is to be plural.”

        One-hundred and fifty years ago, most European states were still either multi-ethnic empires or minor dynastic principalities and city-states. And questions of national identity or ethnic pluralism usually had little relevance for people who generally didn’t move far from where they were born, were poorly educated and politically disenfranchised. However, since the Second World War – if not before – most developed countries have had a national mass culture and mass market. Current demographic trends, including the growth of immigration, are pulling that apart.

        – “The second problem with you argument is the claim that 1066 or the Magna Carta is more relevant to ‘Essex man’ or ‘Winchester woman’ than they are to settlers from Poland, India, Bangladesh or Nigeria. Really?”

        My point is that most people typically learn about and identify with their own national story, either through their families, folk memory and heritage, or through formal education. Most school history courses around the world emphasise national history. Nicholas Tate, former chief exec of the Qualifications and Assessment Authority, wrote a newspaper article about history teaching entitled “A society which is not passionate about its past is in danger of losing its identity”. In a more diverse society, where ever-more people were born, raised, or have their origins overseas, that national story is of declining relevance and it’s harder to promote a shared sense of belonging.

        -“It is not that immigration has caused the fragmentation of national identity. It is that immigrants have become the scapegoats for that fragmentation.”

        Movements of people are usually socially and culturally transformative – the Ostsiedlung, the European settlement of the Americas, the Great Migration of African Americans from the south to northern cities.

        Problematically, the current wave of immigration to Europe is not akin to the 19th c. settlement of ’empty spaces’ in the American West or Australia. It’s mass movement to densely-populated nation-states, usually ‘ethnic nations’ rather than ‘civic’ ones, bringing a new diversity of language, culture and religion to societies that, as I mentioned above, have had (at least recently) a single mass culture. Hence the inevitable tensions…

      • As I am away, I will have to make this (relatively) brief.

        1. I am sorry if I misread your position. You did, however, worry in your previous reply that ‘in just the last ten years, the White British share of the population has fallen by six percentage points’ and that ‘these changes in the ethnic and cultural map of the country will doubtless continue for at least the next couple of decades, and they will make existential questions about English / British identity, culture and social cohesion increasingly vital’. And this is because, in your view, ‘the White British ethnic group (or perhaps, if you’re a Celtic nationalist, the narrower White English group) has to be regarded as the core ethnie’. You can’t have it both ways: you cannot suggest both that the change in the racial make-up of the British population matters, and also that this is not an argument about race.

        2. You seem to think that your acceptance of Britishness as ‘multinational’ because of the presence of the Scots and the Welsh, and your suggestion that the fact that ‘One-hundred and fifty years ago, most European states were still either multi-ethnic empires or minor dynastic principalities and city-states’ addresses my point that ‘Most European nations are in fact less plural now’. It does not.

        You claim that whatever the ‘complications’, nevertheless ‘the White British ethnic group… has to be regarded as the core ethnie’. My point is that the very concept of ethnie that you rely on is flawed. What constitutes the ethnie is historically contingent. The perception of who is one of ‘us’ in ethnic or racial terms, or who is ‘English’ or ‘French’, has constantly changed. You made, in your previous reply, the contrast between Essex Man’s essential Englishness, and the ‘millions of people from Poland, India, Bangladesh or Nigeria’ whose relationship to that identity derives only from an ‘accident of geography’. The nineteenth century English elite thought the same way about the forebears of Essex Man. So, when you suggest that ‘In a more diverse society, where ever-more people were born, raised, or have their origins overseas, that national story is of declining relevance and it’s harder to promote a shared sense of belonging’, what you’re missing is that the question of how, and even whether, the working class and the rural poor fitted into the national story was as fraught a debate in the nineteenth century as the contemporary controversy about how and whether Poles or Bangladeshis fit in.

        3.What you are confusing is the idea of peoples and of values. That confusion is at the heart of the Christopher Caldwell question that you approvingly quote: ‘Can Europe be the same with different people in it?’ What should matter is not the colour or ethnicity of Europeans, but the values to which they adhere. The only way that Caldwell’s question, and your argument, makes sense is if race, ethnicity and values are somehow parceled up together. And that is an argument that, in my eyes, is both historically illiterate and morally suspect.

        4. ‘As the old saying goes, demography is destiny.’ All that goes to show is that old sayings can be crap.

  10. Synonymous

    – “1. You can’t have it both ways: you cannot suggest both that the change in the racial make-up of the British population matters, and also that this is not an argument about race.”

    My argument concerns the ethnic/national, rather than the racial, make-up of the population – as I said in my last post, we can imagine an (admittedly unlikely) hypothetical scenario of a Britain that remains predominantly white, but where a minority consider themselves British.

    More generally, my view is that the composition of any population does matter, for national identity, culture, politics and social solidarity. Most British commentators seem to agree, whether on the left and welcoming recent demographic changes (Jonathan Freedland) on the right and disapproving of them (Peter Hitchens). Equally, many political scientists and sociologists are studying the causes and consequences of the decline of ‘dominant ethnicities’ in various societies across the world at different points in history (Eric Kaufmann, Anthony Smith and Steve Bruce here in the UK, Theodore Wright in the US, Danielle Juteau in Canada, and Oren Yiftachel in Israel, to name just a few). If ethnic change is so disinteresting and consequence-free, why does it provoke such interest in academia and amongst the commentariat?

    – “2. You seem to think that your acceptance of Britishness as ‘multinational’ because of the presence of the Scots and the Welsh, and your suggestion that the fact that ‘One-hundred and fifty years ago, most European states were still either multi-ethnic empires or minor dynastic principalities and city-states’ addresses my point that ‘Most European nations are in fact less plural now’. It does not.”

    I’m not sure what you’re driving at Kenan; in my last post I acknowledged the existence of historic fault lines of class, culture and geography across Britain, and I’m happy to recognise that the same held true for most European societies. But as I also said, by the early / mid 20th c. developed countries generally had a single national mass culture and mass market, both of which will fragment as diversity increases. If you’re saying that current demographic trends are merely a reversion to a historic plurality, that’s fine, but I think there are important differences between, say, the Italy or France of the 1860s, where central governments were homogenising indigenous regional identities through compulsory mass schooling, military conscription and railway construction, compared to Europe today, where nation-states without a historic immigration tradition are working out how to accommodate and integrate various new exogenous communities.

    – “3. My point is that the very concept of ethnie that you rely on is flawed. What constitutes the ethnie is historically contingent. The perception of who is one of ‘us’ in ethnic or racial terms, or who is ‘English’ or ‘French’, has constantly changed.”

    I agree to some extent – most academics in this field suggest that an ethnie may be enduring, but certainly not permanent. Eric Kaufmann has written about the ‘decline of the WASP’ (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) in the US and Canada: as late as 1900 an absolute majority in both countries, then a ‘dominant minority’ in public life, and now simply one of a number of minorities – and not always easy to identify (few white Americans claim single ethnic ancestry).

    However, I do think there has been relative stability in the historic core conception of Englishness. I’ve given you the reference from medieval historian Nigel Saul, who argues that most people *from most backgrounds* were identifying as English as early as the 12th c. Another historian of the period, M.T. Clanchy, describes how contemporary chroniclers commented on the suffering of the ‘English people’ through incursions by the “belligerent French”, “black Scots” and “feckless Welsh”. The ‘Song of Lewes’ of 1264 alleges that the king intended to replace the ‘native people’ of England with aliens. Matthew Paris cast numerous ethnic slurs at the French, Welsh, Flemings, Greeks and others. There clearly was a sense of England and the English, and their opposition to ‘others’, at a stage of history when states were based on feudal dynasties, national identities were still vague and most lives and loyalties were local.

    Jumping ahead several centuries, if we bring the analysis of Englishness bang up-to-date, there are some interesting insights from the recent census – the first to allow people to record their ethnic (question 15) and national (question 16) identity as English. Eric Kaufmann has blogged about this over at the Demos website, and detects a resurgent sense of Englishness, particularly outside London. Two key themes emerge – first, to quote Kaufmann, “most ethnic minorities and whites who lack British ancestry don’t feel very English” but in contradiction “some minorities have embraced English identity”. That’s why multicultural London is less English than the rest of the country, but there are slightly more English people in highly-diverse London Borough of Newham than there are White British (21 per cent versus 17 per cent).

    A research question: I wonder if the non-white English are mainly Black Caribbean and/or mixed race? A 2010 study of the Labour Force Survey found that only a minority of ‘Caribbean’ children in the UK have two Caribbean parents; an article in The Guardian around the same time wondered if the Black Caribbean ethnic group would eventually ‘disappear’ into the mixed race category.

    – “what you’re missing is that the question of how, and even whether, the working class and the rural poor fitted into the national story was as fraught a debate in the nineteenth century as the contemporary controversy about how and whether Poles or Bangladeshis fit in.”

    It’s true that many Victorian authors used ‘racial’ language to discuss class. But the urban poor of the 19th c. would almost certainly have thought of themselves as English or British (unless they were Irish immigrants, as Engels encountered in Manchester). I think we need to differentiate between elite consideration of whether or not the poor were physically inferior or should have political rights – if that’s what you mean by “fitting into the national story” – versus the self-perception and objective ethnic characteristics of the poor themselves.

    As you’ll know, the Victorian literature on ‘race’ in Britain used the r-word with abandon, sometimes metaphorically, usually without defining terms, often in place of what we would today call a nation or an ethnic group. Internal ‘race’ prejudice was usually directed against the Irish and Celts in general. I don’t know if you’ve come across Robert Knox’s 1850 work ‘The Races of Men’, essentially a paen of praise to the virtues of the industrious Saxon and a condemnation of the lazy Celt, which concludes by effectively suggesting the ethnic cleansing of England!

    – “3.What you are confusing is the idea of peoples and of values. That confusion is at the heart of the Christopher Caldwell question that you approvingly quote: ‘Can Europe be the same with different people in it?’ What should matter is not the colour or ethnicity of Europeans, but the values to which they adhere.”

    I’m not concerned about values in an abstract sense. What concerns me is the persistence of a traditional sense of place, local cultures and identities in an era of rapid demographic change, and the maintenance of a cohesive society that isn’t fractured by deep new ethnic and religious cleavages. Have you seen the research by Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser, two Harvard economists who have looked at the correlation between redistributive welfare systems and racial / ethnic fractionalisation? Their conclusions ought to worry anyone on the centre left.

    4. ‘As the old saying goes, demography is destiny.’ All that goes to show is that old sayings can be crap.

    But what will determine the future of the European social model? What is arguably the biggest factor in explaining Japan’s protracted economic malaise? And what is probably the major threat to China’s emergence as a new superpower? You guessed it.

    • I appreciate your persistence in pursuing this discussion, but we seem to be talking at cross purposes, largely I fear because you seem to address one question by giving the answer to another. As I don’t have the time to respond to all the issues you raise, let me just take up three, which I see as the most important, though, to be honest, I don’t see much point in continuing with this thread.

      ‘My argument concerns the ethnic/national, rather than the racial, make-up of the population’

      I know you want to talk of ‘ethnic’ rather than of ‘racial’ make-up. That’s precisely why I suggested that you wanted it both ways. Ethnicity has long been seen as a term vague enough and neutral enough to do the work of ‘race’ but without the connotations that come with the use of racial categories. However, your insistence that ‘the White British ethnic group… has to be regarded as the core ethnie’ leaves you little wriggle room. And when you say that ‘we can imagine an (admittedly unlikely) hypothetical scenario of a Britain that remains predominantly white, but where a minority consider themselves British’, you are not adopting a non-racial view of the composition of the British ethnie, but merely rearranging the categories.

      ‘I acknowledged the existence of historic fault lines of class, culture and geography across Britain, and I’m happy to recognise that the same held true for most European societies’.

      My point is not about social fractures; it is about how what you call the ‘core ethnie’ of Britishness (or Frenchness, etc) is understood and constituted. You suggested that there is an ahistorical ethnie crucial to the formation and maintenance of British (and English) identity. I’m pointing that this is historically false.

      It is true, as you say, that ‘by the early / mid 20th c. developed countries generally had a single national mass culture and mass market’. You seem to think that this development addresses my questioning of the idea of ethnie. I cannot see how it does. More pertinent is your observation that in the nineteenth century, unlike now, ‘central governments were homogenising indigenous regional identities through compulsory mass schooling, military conscription and railway construction’. The nineteenth century process was, however, much more than simply ‘homogenising indigenous regional identities’. The long and traumatic process of ‘self-colonization’, as Eugene Weber has described the process in France, revealed the ‘otherness’ of large sections of what we now see as the indigenous population, particularly of the working class and the rural poor. It may be difficult to understand this perception now, but then the lower classes were as racially different as Africans or Asians. The ‘Other’ were not peoples who came from without; they lived within. Over time, that sense of ‘otherness’ was sublimated into the idea of nationhood, in part through the creation of the myth of an ahistorical ethnie, a concept that has its roots in the Romantic notion of volksgeist (see my book Strange Fruit if you want a discussion of the relationship between Romantic, racial and pluralist ideas). In part, the myth of a core ethnie, and the incorporation of the lower classes into that myth, was constructed through the creation of a new kind of ‘Other’ that lived beyond the borders and, it was claimed, could not be incorporated into the national myth.

      ‘I’m not concerned about values in an abstract sense. What concerns me is the persistence of a traditional sense of place, local cultures and identities.’

      Values are rarely abstract. The importance of values are that they embody claims about ways of living and flourishing. When we talk of traditions, we also talk implicitly of the values embodied in those traditions. Different traditions embody different values. That is why there is more than one tradition that represents Britain or England. Which Britain should we celebrate? That of Cromwell or of Richard Overy? Of Burke or Paine? Of Wellington or the Chartists? Of Rhodes or the Red Clydesiders? Of Rothermere or the defenders of Cable Street?

      To dismiss the debate about values as ‘abstract’, to accept traditions because they are traditions, to insist on a single set of traditions as expressive of what it is to be British or English is to impose a particular set of values in the name of ‘tradition’. Hence the distinction I made way back in this thread between the idea of a community bound by traditions merely because they happen to be traditions and collective movements for social transformation.

      • Synonymous

        – “your insistence that ‘the White British ethnic group… has to be regarded as the core ethnie’ leaves you little wriggle room.”

        I stressed the prominence of the White British group, because – although a census construct – this classification does capture almost the totality of the established population before post-war migration, and, if you believe Stephen Oppenheimer, that population was very self-contained for many centuries.

        I admit that focusing on this group doesn’t give due weight to the Britishness of, say, third generation non-white Britons of Caribbean or south Asian heritage. Sadly, it’s an artefact of the census form that we’re not able to differentiate these people very easily from recently-arrived immigrants; the ONS only put a tick box for ‘British’ ethnicity under the ‘White’ option (a mistake in my opinion). I say more about the census categories below.

        – “And when you say that ‘we can imagine an (admittedly unlikely) hypothetical scenario of a Britain that remains predominantly white, but where a minority consider themselves British’, you are not adopting a non-racial view of the composition of the British ethnie, but merely rearranging the categories.”

        Ethnicity and race are indeed slippery terms – to my mind (and I presume the majority of commentators) ethnicity is a matter of culture, language and other ‘behavioural’ elements, while race is a classification based on physical characteristics. Of course, these are somewhat mixed up in the messy and rather unsatisfactory census categories, but if we want to debate the changing composition of the population by reference to evidence, then the census classification is all we have.

        Speaking of which, the ONS themselves admit that their ethnicity questions don’t capture the whole complexity of identity in contemporary Britain. Their categories are simply designed to provide a manageable way of enabling most people to express an ethnic identity, and to facilitate time-series comparisons of the changing ethnic composition of the population.

        – “You suggested that there is an ahistorical ethnie crucial to the formation and maintenance of British (and English) identity. I’m pointing that this is historically false.”

        Not ahistorical, but deeply rooted – I provided references to support my point.

        – “It may be difficult to understand this perception now, but then the lower classes were as racially different as Africans or Asians.”

        I think you overplay this point Kenan. I acknowledged the ‘racialised’ language that some Victorian writers used to describe the urban poor. But – crucially – the urban poor were largely indigenous and identified themselves as English.* This is an important difference between the 19th c. proletariat and modern immigrants, who are (obviously) not indigenous and by and large do not identify as English or as members of their other host communities.

        (* If you read E.P. Thompson’s seminal ‘The Making of the English Working Class’ then race, with or without inverted commas, doesn’t really feature at all – however the notion of the “free-born Englishman” does, prominently.)

        – “Different traditions embody different values. That is why there is more than one tradition that represents Britain or England. Which Britain should we celebrate?”

        A fair point, and clearly the emphasis in school textbooks – in any country – changes over the decades with the prevailing political and socio-economic climate. However, that doesn’t invalidate the idea that particular places have their own histories, which of course include conflicting forces and competing traditions.

        – “To dismiss the debate about values as ‘abstract’, to accept traditions because they are traditions […] is to impose a particular set of values in the name of ‘tradition’.”

        I completely accept that my position embodies a particular set of values – so does yours. But any community will contain people with different values – my point is that ‘values’ are different to a common sense of national / cultural identity founded on the usual ethnic / national identifiers. Margaret Thatcher and Michael Foot were both British, despite their very different visions of the good society! That’s why I think your emphasis on ‘shared values’ as the basis for future identity is unlikely to provide much unifying potential, especially set against atavistic forces like culture, religion, and language.

  11. DirtyHarry

    Immigration is a good thing but probably only because it is managed (not very well as we all well know). And in managing immigration it gives the impression that it is bad. I unfortunately don’t think peoples view of it will ever change due to this. And this incorrect assumption is going to cause more problems because of our governments growing love of desperately trying to placate everyone who complains.

    Or something like that

  12. FPPeterson

    “The most comprehensive study to date of East European migrants to Britain concluded that ‘A8 immigrants who arrived after EU enlargement in 2004… are 60% less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58% less likely to live in social housing’. ” – Kenan Malik

    Of course the fly in this particular ointment is that the Cream study is not an apples-to-apples one.

    It compares the economic profile of an overwhelmingly young (and single) migrant group with ‘natives’, that is: a much larger cohort with entirely different demographic characteristics and correspondingly variegated need to call upon particular elements of the benefits system. The ‘native’ cohort also includes the offspring of other recent migrant groups whose overall fiscal contribution may or may not be congruent with that of the actual indigenous population. It would have been far more useful if Dustmann et al had used a ‘native’ cohort with comparable age and family status characteristics as their comparator. A further, perhaps, minor point that might have borne more emphasis is that, during the entire period under review (2004-2009) A8 entrants were denied benefits for their first twelve months, effectively reducing the pool of potential A8 claimants by 20% overall.

    The term ‘state benefits’ is not well-defined either. There is a entire panoply of ‘in work’ and ‘out of work’ benefits to which A8 workers were and are entitled. Most ‘natives’ will be unaware of the scope and scale of the system but A8 entrants might well be better-informed, with helpful websites like this one to guide them through the thicket.

    http://www.benefity.org.uk/

    The report makes copious reference to social housing and the (below average) call that A8 migrants make upon that resource, however there is only passing reference to housing benefit which is of course more readily available than housing itself.

    Since the report indicates that the overwhelming majority (80% per the Cream press release) are in low paid work and their median hourly wages are only around 2/3 those of ‘natives’ it seems somewhat counter-intuitive that so few of them would be accessing the benefit system in what form or another.

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