The Net Positives of Migration

This is somewhat off-topic, but it is important. Migration Watch UK, chaired by retired diplomat Sir Andrew Green, a self-styled independent think-tank but more accurately a single-issue pressure group, has been vocal in bringing to public attention what it perceives to be the dangers of “mass immigration”. It has been very successful in getting air-time on the Today Progamme, still the most influential current affairs publication in any medium in the UK; and its views are seldom challenged.

This raises several issues, not least the question of the BBC’s famed impartiality, which is  required by its Charter.

Sir Andrew presents the “problem” of immigration almost entirely negatively. The BBC seldom has anyone up against him, and when it does it tends to choose well-informed academics who give a neutral, balanced case in reply.  No one, it seems, is willing to be as vocal about the benefits of mass immigration as Sir Andrew is about the downsides. Or rather, the BBC seems unable to find them, because such people do exist.

Immigration has always been immensely beneficial to this country. That’s my opinion, and it’s at least as valid as Sir Andrew’s contrary one. In fact, I challenge Sir Andrew to explain why he thinks immigration is bad. Does he think that immigration is always bad  – in which case, perhaps he’d feel confident explaining this to the large part of the population with immigrant heritage – or does he think that past immgration is good, or ok, but future immigration is bad? And why, in that case, choose now as the cutoff point?

No one can deny that the waves of immigration over the last sixty or so years and longer have changed the face of the country; and future immigration will continue to change it. The question is whether those changes have been positive, and it does not take much reflection to conclude that on  balance, they have. Our country is a far better one than it was sixty-four years ago, on the 22nd June 1948 when the Empire  Windrush docked at Tilbury with 493 Jamaicans on board. Those people, and the people who came after them from the Caribbean, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and all over the world changed Britain and British culture, mostly for the better. Immigration does that. New ideas and new blood and the energy that migrants bring to an economy shake up society. Our cuisine, for example, was shaken out of its bland mediocrity at least as much by the Bengali and Hong Kong migrants who set up restaurants and take-aways across the country as it was by the middle-class cookery writers like Elizabeth David and Marguerite Patten. The Ugandan Asians, expelled by Idi Amin and welcomed by Edward Heath’s Conservative government in 1972, transformed our retail sector – amongst others.

Every time there have been waves of “mass immigration” there have been naysayers like Sir Andrew. Enoch Powell predicted “rivers of blood”. They never flowed. Opposition to the Heath government’s principled position over the Ugandan Asians was most vocal from his own back benches;  had Sir Andrew been active then, he would no doubt have been leading that opposition.There was opposition, too, to the arrival of  Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe fleeing pogroms and worse in the first half of the last century. Their heirs are now amongst the pillars of society, and society is richer for it.

There have been difficulties; it would be surprising if there had not been. The disturbances in northern England in 2001 were unfortunate, but were due as much to the particularly segregated nature of the populations in those former mill towns as to migration itself.

I live in Brixton, and I am proud to run my business in Brixton Market. I am proud because Brixton Market, with all its different traders from the Caribbean, Africa, South America, Asia,  Europe selling to Brixtonians, Londoners and visitors, represents the best of Brixton, a district that has been made and transformed by different waves of migrants for more than a century, and Brixton represents the best of London, the greatest city on the planet because of its wonderfully diverse, welcoming and beautiful people – and it’s that, above all, that makes me proud to be British.

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