I best start by declaring an interest: I’m an irish immigrant. Although I’ve lived here in the UK since 1957 I’ve never acquired UK citizenship. You will note I do note use the phrase ‘British citizenship’ as, as far as I’m aware, Britain in the largest of the Islands in the archipelago called British Isles but Ireland is a kingdom in its own right and its citizens have always been Irish rather than British. Even the die-hards of Ulster who constantly refer to the British Crown misrepresent the political and geographical entity in which they live. By dint of residence they’re Irish – if Irish of a very particular sort….
England came to inherit the islands of the archipelago by ruthless conquest. Indeed the ‘British Empire’s, first and second, were acquired by the same means, although it has to be admitted that the Normans in their turn conquered the English before they got around half a millennia on to conquering most everyone else. It is therefore no small irony that in the dawn of the twenty-first century it is the English (predominantly) who are most obsessed about the subject of immigration.
That said it is certain that at least since E. Powell’s chilling speech to his Woverhampton constituency in 1968 that the subject of immigration has played a big part in the poltical life of the UK. In 1970 Labour lost the election to Mr Heath largely by the huge swings against Mr Wilson in the midlands – where there were a disproportionate number of marginal constituencies. Powell’s racist rhetoric was classically window-dressed in the poetry of Virgil – ‘like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”’ Powell was no fool; he knew what he was saying. and he spoke for a very disgruntled element of working class voters who felt threatened by the influx of immigrants after the war.
This fear was never rational or reasonable – the fact that our Hospitals and schools might never been cleaned without migrant workers has never stopped there being easy mileage in ‘immigrants stealing our jobs.’ but at least since the glory days of Elizabeth I when the Spanish were put in their place by a few English gentlemen – pirates (or terrorists) by another name – taking time off a decent game of bowls, the English have been know for their irrational xenophobia.
All the main political parties have ever since found this either a potato too hot to handle or a tide to be swum with…most notoriously Mrs Thatcher used the phrase ‘swamped’ in 1978 as a dog-whistle to call to heel her right wing followers. Mr Blair rose effortlessly above the subject in 1997 – buoyed by the visceral loathing of the conservative Party and all its works and pomps – but once in power arrogance took its toll – and not just in foreign policy. Mr Ed Milliband saw how hopelessly mired New labour had become in the issue of immigration – long before Gordon Brown’s mishap in the 2010 election. Mr Ed made it a part of his re-positioning of Labour and it was part of his leadership campaign. He got it – the huge influx of polish migrants from the EU had caused resentment. Once more, whether or not it was rational one thing was certain the government was not prepared for the scale of what it casually permitted. It wasn’t merely the fact that Eastern Europeans took our jobs – though that never seems to have presented anyone using a Polish builder – but there was pressure in housing and in school places particularly certain areas where- as always – the new migrants had clustered.Interestingly in areas like Slough the Moslem community – with its roots in Pakistan or Uganda or Kenya – were just as resentful as the indigenous White community – which itself of course included any number of working class Catholic Irish who had come to places like Slough in the 1950’s.
The rise of UKIP is very much borne by the hot air generated by this hot subject. I see Mr Nigel Farage was at it again tonight – no one should be allowed to enter in the UK for at least five years….I am assuming this will include nice Canadians, Australians and US citizens in addition to the southern Irish. Personally, I’m sure Madame le Pen is waiting in the wings, a new French Joan of Arc with a similar policy to clear the Brits from Provence. Heaven only knows what the Spanish will do on the Costas with all those retired Brits taking up their beach space….and Gibraltar bubbles away with resentments of its own. where will this all end – no one knows. As in the 1930’s it may blow itself out or it may blow us all up….
Those who live in this strange world where immigrants hiding behind every European directive – all of them part of a giant conspiracy to get free benefits in the casino welfare state that’s the UK – are spoon fed rhetoric by those who ought to know better and who ought to argue better. Politicians are drawn to power as demagogues to rhetoric and either will say anything for Media attention. The reality of history is that peoples move when economic circumstances demand – like the barbarian hordes into the Roman Empire whom it turned out were very happy to settle down and marry Romans once they got their share of the loot. I always think it somewhat ironic that those most in favour of the market economy are often most opposed to migrants – though often not opposed to hiring a few of them to do odd jobs around the house – cash in hand…
Will all this sound and fury signify nothing – no sadly not…it plays upon the insecurities of those in our society with least from whom much has now been taken by this government. Mr Cameron will rattle the immigrant tin hoping to drown out common sense with fear. Mr Ed will seek to ride the tiger into 10 Downing St and Mr Clegg or Mr cable will do a deal with either of them for the sake of power. Mr Farage – he will not be allowed to spoil the party – at least they all hope he won’t.
This European elections this year stand proxy for this dirty fight. They take place on 22nd May. If UKIP do well – then they may llso do well in the local elections on the same day – the Conservative Party will do what it does best: panic. Headless chickens often elect Tory leaders. If I were Mr Cameron I’d keep my eye on the back(benchers). As Labour had already learned in Scotland there is nothing to keep modern voters loyal to their party allegiance and there’s nothing more ungrateful than an insecure voter.
The first polls of this New Year still show Labour in the high thirties and the Conservatives in the low thirties. They’ve not been hugely different since early 2011. It remains to be seen whether the churn underneath those stable figures will up-end all predictions and cast the coalition out of power without quite putting Labour into power. If Mr Cameron thinks there’s no other way to win than being to the right of UKIP on immigration – he’ll do what it takes. There’s no political thug like an old Etonian – ask Boris Jonson.