Digging through old shoe boxes of hoarded tickets, birthday cards and travel memorabilia this weekend, I found my Editor’s Note for a special mini-issue of the uni student journal. The mini-issue, Perspectives on Immigration, was produced to accompany an on-campus photography exhibition, but its publication was also timely because of the subject matter’s relevance to the 2010 general election. It’s no big secret that economic migrants experience more resentment during economic downturns; what was perhaps surprising at the time was the extent to which politicians across the political spectrum seemed to jump on the bandwagon, arguing for greater controls and doing little to sell the benefits of immigration.
Fast forward to 2015. The third of the televised leaders’ debates was heartening viewing, insofar as the nationalist, more left-leaning party leaders united against Nigel Farage in highlighting the net contribution made by immigrants to British social and economic life. They also didn’t overlook the advantages of EU open borders to Brits searching for a warmer climate or job opportunities elsewhere. Yet arguably, Sturgeon and co. were preaching to the converted. Shaping the immigration discourse in this country will take a much larger and more concerted effort. The Con-Lib coalition government entirely shied away from delivering this, despite the importance of foreign talent and investment in maintaining the UK’s status as a global financial hub.
In light of political intransigence regarding the issue of immigration, I thought it worthwhile re-publishing part of my Editor’s Note. The following comments are just as relevant today as they were five years ago, and I suspect will still feel current in 2020. I wanted to put forth these views to remind people before they go to the polls that issues of tax and debt are not the only ones that matter. Community, society and culture receive little airtime unless UKIP raises these – that’s to our detriment. I hope that others with a positive view of multi-cultural Britain agree and cast their vote with issues other than cuts and business interests in mind.
The 21st century has seen opposition to the influx of economic migrants in the UK become a central issue in the public sphere. The tabloid media sits firmly in the anti-immigration camp, with sensationalist headlines beckoning the British public to share in their stance. Even on the left of the political spectrum, politicians have pandered to the public and media on the issue. Anti-immigration sentiment has even permeated popular culture; the infamous Morrissey interview conducted by the NME – in which The Smiths singer lamented the loss of a distinctive British identity – is the example that springs to mind.
Perhaps most troubling is that references made to the “immigration explosion” and “flooded gates” are almost reminiscent of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech. Political correctness has prevented the overt racism that characterised the immigration debates of previous generations in this country, but comparisons can still be drawn. It’s true that many people today are merely expressing legitimate concerns regarding the rate of immigration, but there are members of the ‘indigenous’ population spewing the xenophobic prejudices of old. National identity is still frequently viewed as a fixed entity, and thus as something that is destroyed with change. This notion is overly conservative, and entirely untrue; growing heterogeneity in our society marks transformation of British culture, rather than disintegration. Unity in diversity is not an uncommon fact of collective human existence, nor does it amount to a death sentence for national identity.