One of the best things about the recent election – in my humble opinion – is that lots of people have been talking about politics and actually getting really interested in what is going on. The worst thing about the recent election – again, in my humble opinion – is that so many of these discussions are reliant almost entirely on dishonest tabloid narratives. Almost exclusively, these narratives are based around one topic: immigration. I have heard people talk about immigration increasing the deficit problem, causing a depression in wages, shrinking the available jobs for ‘British workers’ and so on. Immigration must be reduced, they proclaim, as a matter of extreme importance: immigration is in their minds intricately linked to all the social and economic problems that they care to list.
So I respond. I point out that immigrants are a net contributor to the economy and that without them the deficit would be a little bit worse. I point out that the idea that there are a fixed amount of jobs is a fallacy, and that studies have shown that increased immigration does not lower wages. Evidence suggests if anything that it actually causes a small rise in the average wage. Whether they like it or not, immigration has played a big part in economic growth, growth that has enabled Britain to carry the burden of its debt better than many expected.
With each tabloid narrative countered you face another one, and the longer this rally continues the more likely it is that you arrive at the final argument against immigration: ‘Ah’, says the tabloid debater, ‘But what about social cohesion?’. This is the trump card, this is the point where if the debater has accepted that immigrants are a financial benefit to the economy, they have to bring up a deeper problem, one that makes any economic benefit just not worth it.
Social cohesion. It sounds good, it sounds considered, it sounds intelligent and it sounds like a really important thing; for who could not want social cohesion? Yet when you sit back and consider what ‘social cohesion’ actually means it becomes a hollow phrase, one that serves only to highlight the inherent problems of modernity, not immigration. I tried to put this argument into words a while ago when discussing Richard Littlejohn’s assertion that he wasn’t against immigrants per se, he wast just against immigrants that did not ‘integrate’ into British society.
As I said at the time: ‘Integration is such a woolly, indefinable idea that of course it is an easy stick to beat immigrants with’, and I believe that the same can be said of ‘social cohesion’. We live in a society that still has strong class barriers, so should an immigrant integrate with all social classes, or identify the social class that best suits their wealth? Is social cohesion damaged by immigration, but not by the massive difference between the wealthiest people in this country and the poorest, and the rigid political and social structure that ensures the gap between the two widens with each passing year?
To pretend that ‘social cohesion’ is anything other than a ethereal ideal says a lot about the core dishonesty that defines so much of the dialogue about immigration. Social cohesion has never existed in the UK, a society that more than most always defines itself in terms of class and wealth. Does the fact that we have the traditionally working class Labour Party winning the majority of seats and hearts in Northern England, Scotland and Wales, whilst the elitist Conservative Party win seats and votes almost exclusively in the wealthier Southern parts of England suggest that social cohesion has more pressing enemies than immigration?
As a recent study suggested, the BNP are not buoyed by the votes of people living in areas of high immigration, rather they consistently win the votes of the poorest, least-educated citizens in the UK. People can feel disenfranchised by society and vote BNP without having any social or economic interaction with immigrants. They are told by the tabloid press that the reason they have no job, no money, poor social housing and worst of all no hope, is that immigration is ‘unchecked’ and ‘uncontrolled’; whilst those ‘flocking / flooding / swamping’ here are ‘showered / hosed / gifted’ with masses of benefits at their expense. They are explicitly told that the immigrants are responsible for their woes, by a tabloid press that has a huge amount invested in maintaining the wealthy elite who really cause the majority of social problems.
The irony is that one of the key issues tearing apart social cohesion is not immigration, but rather the tabloid narrative that has been so carefully constructed to frame the immigration debate. The narrative has created a huge number of citizens that feel like they have lost out because of immigration, that somehow their suffering – real or imagined – is a direct result of immigration. The narrative hasn’t just altered the perception of the working classes, it has infiltrated every aspect of society. During the election quiet middle-England villages found their greens stabbed by UKIP signs, villages that to all intents and purposes remained physically untouched by immigration were nevertheless keen to support a party that was ‘tough’ on immigration and almost exclusively xenophobic in its outlook.
People up and down the country – irrespective of local realities – all had the same discussions, based on the same tabloid narratives and the same tabloid lies. When participating in these discussions I’m always reminded that everyone is ‘entitled to their own opinions’. I could not agree more. I just wish, sometimes, the people I argued with actually had their own opinions.