Time for a more liberal and 'racist' immigration policy
Who are these hooded hordes swarming/Over endless plains' asked Eliot. According to Mr Kenneth Baker, they are the people that want political asylum in this country who, most unreasonably, have multiplied their number by tenfold since 1988. According to numerous press reports, they are millions upon millions of North Africans and black Africans, and now of People from Eastern Europe, who want to get into this and other Western countries. They may, we are told, become the great new political issue of our time.
One can see that such people threaten the election or re-election of Western politicians. But it is less clear exactly how they threaten our civilisation.
They will not surely make us poorer. Immigrants look like an import, because they come in. But their effect on the bal- ance of trade is the opposite. They quickly add to the productive capacity of the nation. They could almost be said to be an invisible export. Look at Hong Kong. Forty years ago, it was a poor colony of about two million people. If it had been suggested that its eroded rocks could sustain a popu- lation of six million, and that those millions would make it far richer than it previously was, residents at the time would have laughed or cried, but that is exactly what has happened. Look at the United States. It has made itself the richest nation in history by letting people in, and even now new immigrants give it an economic vitality that Western Europe cannot match. One cannot think of any country which has got poorer because of admitting immigrants, and one can think of scores who have suffered because their people have left.
You will not, on the whole, read all that much in favour of the EEC in this column, but one lesson of membership is that immi- gration can be handled without much fuss. The trick is not to call it immigration. Sim- ply allow people to move freely to work and live within the Community, as the law now does, and you find that there is no terrible flood. If all EEC nationals who worked here were expressed as immigration fig- ures, Mr Baker would be lynched at the Conservative conference. As it is, no one seems to mind at all. This particularly applies to the Irish, allowed absolute free- dom of movement and even the right to vote. Traditionally, we hate the Irish and vice versa, but there is no serious political demand that they be kept out or sent back.
Or again, millions of Australians and New Zealanders have the right to come here because of their parentage. I have never heard anyone complain about them, except for their propensity to move around in dor- mobile vans. These immigrations produce alien wedges in our midst without the Tiber flowing with much blood.
So what is the problem about a new influx, assuming that one cannot take the airy liberal view that there is no problem except the ignorance of the masses and the cowardice of the politicians? I do not think the problem is, to use the famous phrase, a question of numbers, though numbers make it worse. It is a question of race. Con- servative politicians always make great play of the fact that their immigration policy is 'colour blind', but if this really is the policy it is mistaken. The things that make people fear immigration are language, religion and colour, colour being the most important because it is the most obvious.
Suppose, for example, that South Africa collapses after the ending of white rule. There would then be something like three quarters of a million white South Africans with a right to live in Britain. If they all came at once, there would certainly be dif- ficulties. There would be the emergency cost of finding them places to live. There would not be enough jobs: and the South Africans themselves would be disoriented by arriving from a society in which they had been on top to one in which they were near the bottom. But in a few years these prob- lems would disappear and the South Africans would take their place as welcome and productive members of the lower mid- dle class, disliked only by the more snooty of their social superiors.
The arrival of the same number of blacks or Arabs or Indians in the same short time would cause the breakdown of order and the fall of whatever government admitted them. The reason for this is that, to be con- tented with their country, people need to have an idea of it which is relatively con- stant. You can be British without speaking English or being Christian or being white, but nevertheless Britain is basically English-speaking, Christian and white, and if one starts to think that it might become basically urdu-speaking and Muslim and brown, one gets frightened and angry.
Next door to me live a large family of Muslims from the Indian subcontinent. We are friendly enough to one another and they have done us various small acts of kindness. During the Gulf war, however, I heard their morning prayers coming through the wall, and I felt a little uneasy. If such people had outnumbered whites in our square, I should have felt alarmed. Such feelings are not only natural, surely — they are right. You ought to have a sense of your identity, and part of that sense derives from your nation and your race.
So the foundation of any British immi- gration policy should be that immigration is a positive good, but only if it enhances, and does not undermine Britishness. We cannot accept the American-melting pot idea, because that is not the sort of nation we have ever been. But nor should we accept the German or Israeli notion of citizenship depending upon blood, for we are not racially pure either. We want foreigners, so long as their foreignness is not overwhelm- ing. Mr David Mellor, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, wants a Russian couple called the Smirnovs to be allowed to live here because he loves music and they are distinguished composers. This is the right attitude, but should not only be applied to those of exceptional gifts. We also want at least a few score thousand of your poor, your huddled masses from the Eastern bloc to do the jobs which we have become too rich or lazy to do ourselves. Irving Berlin turned out to be quite good at music, but the immigration authorities were not to know that when he arrived at the mouth of the Hudson river in the 1890s.
Since unrestricted immigration is a bad idea, the choice is simple. Either we contin- ue with a very restrictive immigration poli- cy, or we develop a more liberal one which is more 'racist'. Just as we want to bring Poles and Hungarians and Russians slowly into the EEC, and open markets for their goods, so we should try to open our doors to their people, in the hope that one day we could return to the situation before 1914 in which you could travel from Paris to St Petersburg without a passport. Muslims and blacks, on the other hand, should be kept out as strictly as at present.
No doubt this will not happen. Because of our obstinate refusal to have enough babies, Western European civilisation will start to die at the point when it could have revived with new blood. Then the hooded hordes will win, and the Koran will be taught, as Gibbon famously imagined, in the schools of Oxford.