Firstly, Balanced Migration is emphatically not an ‘all-party call’ for a cap on migration. One bigoted Tory colossus and his favourite Labour defector does not an all-party call make (Field was raised a Tory before jumping ship in the sixties.) There are, in fact, more than two political parties in this country, and one of the alternatives has commanded around 20% of the popular vote at the last two general elections. This is, in fact, a bipartisan proposal, limited in scope and not officially condoned by either represented political party. Good job this is a basic mistake that only the right-wing tabloids are making, then. Oh, wait.
In fact, both of these MPs have faced massive opposition within their own parties, not least on account of what has appeared to many as scantly-concealed racism. Far be it from me to suggest that Nicholas Soames is a racist. But barely a year ago there were calls from within his own party for him to resign after he quoted figures seemingly lifted from a BNP pamphlet as part of an anti-immigration speech to parliament. And far be it from me to suggest that Frank Field is a racist, but not two months ago the BBC had him all but endorsing Enoch Powell, saying in response to the racist rabble-rouser’s predictions that white people are fleeing the country because of the influx of ethnic minorities: ‘There is apprehension and people are leaving if they can – they don’t like what’s happening to this country.’
Now, I happen to have gotten my grubby little paws on a copy of the proposal, and I’ve read it through, after which I found myself chain-smoking and shaking with rage in the back garden. It’s a vile piece of xenophobic drivel. After the first few pages it doesn’t even try to be polite to ethnic minorities, openly lamenting the fact that fewer and fewer economic migrants are coming from ‘the EU and the Old Commonwealth – Australia, Canada’ and more and more coming from ‘Africa, India and ‘other foreign.’’ Pretty soon after this, its unsupported statistics start unashamedly talking about ‘white’ versus ‘black, asian and other non-white’ as opposed to ‘british-born’ versus ‘foreign-born’. Oh, and on about page three the nation ‘Britain’ apparently becomes interchangeable with a place called ‘England’, entirely omitting to mention that we have at least three other countries with their own devolved governments and proud ancient cultures within this nation state. But that doesn’t bother Field and Soames, neither of whom have, it seems, any particular inclination to even think about Glasgow – where, incidentally, the rate of immigrant cultural integration is commendably high.
In the ‘chapters’ (read: ten lines of ranting and a graph) on social cohesion and community integration, the Bradford riots are cited without detailing any causal relationship between immigration and social unrest. We’re merely invited to assume that there is one, and that a cap on migration is the best way to deal with it rather than, say, involving young people in community cohesion schemes and encouraging greater social dialogue. We’re also invited to assume that the increasing number of schools where English might not be spoken in the homes of the majority of pupils is intrinsically a bad thing. Actually, English was forbidden in some of the first schools ever established in this country, being the language of the servant classes: pupils at Rugby, Westminster and other ancient British establishment sausage factories were ordered to speak Latin or go back to the provinces. And again, ‘balanced migration’ – rather than extra language lessons for immigrant pupils and their families – is apparently the answer. The proposal is a racist striptease, tearing away veils of decency paragraph by paragraph to reveal the real sickness behind its slippery statistics: Field and Soames simply don’t like ethnic minorities, and they don’t want any more of them in their country.
As well as these staggering assumptions-by-omission, there are glaring, basic factual errors throughout the document. One of these is its much-touted claim that, by adding 7 million people to the population of the UK by 2030, immigrants would contribute an equivalent of ‘7 cities the size of Birmingham.’ Have Messrs Field and Soames ever, in fact, been to Birmingham? The West Midlands conurbation of Birmingham had a population of 2,284,093 according to the 2001 census, the largest metropolitan area in the EU. This is either some admirable feat of particular Tory perspective or these MPs and their flunkies simply haven’t done the social research which is, ostensibly, the point of the proposal.
All of this makes me spit. I’m proud to be British, and part of the reason I’m proud is that when my grandparents were driven out of Lithuania in the pogroms, they made a long, torturous journey across war-torn Europe to the UK, hoping for sanctuary, hoping for something better, and they found it. A country where they were allowed to work and worship as they pleased, where they established themselves in business and became leaders in their local synagogues, where their race and religion and country of birth didn’t prevent them and their children from becoming British citizens, and bloody useful ones too. I’m proud to be British, because in 1942 my grandmother was awarded the George Cross along with the rest of her nation in order to “bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people” after the battering Malta took from and on behalf of the British in WW2. The medal is in her drawer, some little semblance of recompense for the years of starvation and nightly bombing offensives. When this government decides to make a similar gesture to the people of Iraq, maybe I’ll reclaim that frisson of wonder I remember from when I was a little girl peering into Nanna’s jewellery box – until then, never.
My family came to England in a time before Field and Powell, in a time when skilled and unskilled workers were welcomed into the country from the commonwealth and elsewhere, and they flourished. Now the second generation is entering its fifties (happy birthday, mum) you wouldn’t know us from Adam. We’re Slavic, European, Celtic – in other words, we’re more or less white, and according to Soames and Field, we’re a part of the problem, but not the real problem. But if we’d arrived today, we’d still be told by crusty racist MPs and little-England bigots that we were a race apart, instead of representing what this nation is about at its best. We’d most likely have spent years struggling for work permits or languishing in detainment centres. We’d be reduced to numbers on a BNP chart, taking jobs away from good, honest, native-born Britons. It makes me fucking sick.
Because, actually, we are all immigrants, even British-born natives who can trace their families back centuries untold. Immigration is what Britain is all about: since records began it’s been the waves of Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes, Romans, Normans, Spaniards, Celts, Hibernians, Hugenots, German Protestants, Jews, French, Italians, Chinese, South-East Asians, Indians, Pakistanis, Africans, Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Eastern Europeans and Americans that have kept us vibrant, kept us whole and humble and constantly changing as a nation. It’s racists and recalcitrants in power who are the real scum muddying up the waters of change and vitality roaring around these islands, keeping the poor poor and the rich ignorant, holding us back. If the Home Office has any sense at all, it’ll drop this sickening tract in the shredder.
ETA: I’ve given the proposal to my nearest degenerate drug-fiends, and it’s being roached as we speak.