Liz Jones and Immigrants

Liz Jones is an odd writer in that even when she is saying something that you in the whole agree with, you still can’t help but be annoyed with the way that she says it. Liz Jones sometimes tries to make a reasonable point, but her snobbery and addiction to what she pays for things always seems to cloud the point and make you want to stop reading. Take today’s column for example: ‘Try moving down here – then tell me we’re a tolerant society‘. I can kind of sympathise with Liz because she lives in Somerset and I spent the first 18 years of my life growing up in a small town in Devon, I have a fair grasp of the small-town mentality.

Yet immediately Liz – as usual – is trying to put me off with her details. The very first anecdote of Liz shopping at a local supermarket doesn’t even make it past the first paragraph without the needless: ‘I went to pay for my cats’ sustainably caught fish’. What is this adding to your point, exactly?

Liz’s general argument: that a lot of people are intolerant of outsiders in general and immigrants worse, seems broadly to match my experience of small towns where traditionally outsiders are rare. But, as Liz acknowledges, she has hardly been a positive force for interaction, I can also understand local frustration at local property prices increasing because rich Londoners like to buy second homes in nice parts of Devon / Somerset / Cornwall only to leave them empty all year round. Furthermore, the intolerance of foreigners / immigrants is largely created by newspapers like her employers, who whip up a frenzied panic about ‘tides’ and ‘uncontrolled immigration’.

What always struck me about people living in quite sheltered communities (in all my years of primary schooling I only knew of one black student, and recall none from any other ethnic minorities) is that even though the town was clearly not overrun by immigrants or other ethnicities, the population as a whole maintained a very negative stance towards immigrants and outsiders. Obviously these views were not held from experience, because we lived in an almost exclusively white, British town surrounded by other towns with almost exactly the same ethnic make-up. The views were taken from reading the papers, and with no experience that contradicted the almost entirely hostile press output, people feared something that had never even been a fleeting issue in their lives.

But I don’t want to be too negative about Liz Jones today, because some of her points are admirable:

Labour wants an Australian-style points system where the only people allowed in are those with skills and a job to go to that has been advertised for at least four weeks.

But what about the poor and desperate but woefully unskilled? I’d have thought anyone who had the get-up-and-go, the drive and the bravery to leave their home and set off in search of a better life was already pretty amazing.

Isn’t it the people who never leave the place where they were born who show no ambition at all?

This is an interesting point, as a society we generally value ambition and do look down upon people who have lived in the same town / area their whole lives as unworldly and un-ambitious. Yet, if a foreigner shows ambition and drive by moving to the UK they are to be regarded as the complete opposite: a ‘sponger’ merely taking the easy way out by coming to live on benefits in Britain. Of course, the reality is very different, they are moving to a country which probably speaks a different language and a country that they will find increasingly hostile to their presence.

But Liz needs to consider just what kind of ambition for immigrants she is talking about. Does she really want them to be ambitious and successful, or does she merely want them to be hard-working in menial tasks? Given that she makes references largely to unskilled workers it seems as if she values immigrants purely as a dedicated working class to replace our own underclass of non-workers:

maybe with a few more ‘foreigners’ running local shops, I might be able to buy a newspaper past midday on a Sunday…

I admit the quiet girls in headscarves who manned the checkouts at my local Sainsbury’s used to drive me insane when they didn’t understand what I meant by, ‘Where’s the fizzy water?’ But give me their benign stares any day over venom.

‘It’s about how we answer the concerns of care workers, people in the building trade, cleaners and janitors, people who work in shops,’ Gordon Brown said in a speech on immigration last week.

He’s missing an important point: how many white British nurses live full-time in their patients’ homes? I’ve never met one. My mum’s nurse is an African woman with a PhD who leaves her children with their grandmother so that she can do her job.

I miss my Turkish cleaner – a hard-working woman who always brought me halloumi and flat bread and olives – with an ache that can’t be filled, literally: my ad for a cleaner in this very rural area, where jobs are hard to come by, has gone unanswered for almost two years.

A danger with this viewpoint is that we are literally viewing these people as a handy commodity, rather than human beings. Is Liz really arguing for more tolerance of immigration in general, or just for the kind of stereotypical immigrant that works hard in menial jobs? What about the immigrant doctor or lawyer, are they socially acceptable?

It troubles me that Liz uses example of the African nurse with a PHD working as a live-in carer, is this really a positive image? Does it not suggest just how de-valued such immigrant workers are, if even with a PHD they still perform a role that most less qualified British nurses would not? It seems to be implying that the real value of immigrants is what tremendous value they are: rather than a standard, reluctant live-in British nurse, why not get an imported African, they have far superior qualifications to a British nurse and are grateful for any job, unlike these picky British ones.

This seems to say more about thwarted ambitions than the fair chance of achieving in foreign lands. The trouble with this argument is that it is more appealing than other pro-immigration arguments because it is backed up by a Western creation: the free market. If you want to argue with someone who is anti-immigration it is far easier to dehumanise immigrants as merely a commodity brought to Britain by market forces, and therefore all is well because the Free Market rules supreme, than to actually argue that human beings should have a right to free movement. The argument is valid, immigration is necessary in the free market as human beings are essentially a commodity that is needed in different places to serve different needs at different times.

However, in a world where we’re becoming increasingly referred to as a commodity (have you met your ‘Human Resources’ manager recently) is it a sad reflection of how dehumanised we have become when the best argument for immigration is purely an economic one? What Liz tries to get across (I’ll give her the benefit of doubt here) is that people leaving one country to seek a better or different life in another are extremely brave and show a certain ambition. As human beings we should understand that some people will happily live in one place their entire life, whereas others never want to settle anywhere. We reserve the right to move freely, and on the whole we are received with open arms in a number of countries. How about we fight for the right for others to move as they please, to have the same ambitions are ourselves, and not merely fight for their right to come and empty bed-pans for the NHS or become Liz Jones’ cleaner.

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