Saturday, March 27, 2010
Turning immigration into a tool of social engineering
...In recent months there have been many interesting revelations about New Labour’s immigration policy, but in keeping with our era of dumbed-down political debate the revelations have either been downplayed or have been used to fuel conspiracy theories.
At the end of last year, a former government adviser revealed that ministers frequently discussed ‘open[ing] up the UK to mass migration’. But their aims were as much political and social as they were economic. Indeed there was a ‘driving political purpose’: ministers’ belief that bringing in more immigrants would make manifest their ideal of a ‘truly multicultural society’ and allow them to ‘rub the right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date’ (4). Here, we can see how ‘diversity’ is looked upon by New Labour as more than a fluffy value – it is also considered an explicitly political tool that might be used to boost Labour’s fortunes and denigrate its critics.
At the start of this year, government documents released under a Freedom of Information claim confirmed what the government adviser said. In one, written in 2000, officials discussed their desire to ‘maximise the contribution’ of migrants to achieving the government’s ‘social objectives’. The document makes clear that New Labour, unlike previous governments, is keen to exploit the ‘social benefits’ of increased immigration. It argues that it is ‘clearly correct that the government has both economic and social objectives for migration policy’, and lists the ‘social impacts’ of immigration as including ‘a widening of consumer choice and significant cultural contributions’. ‘Migration policy has both social and economic impacts and should be designed to contribute to the government’s overall objectives on both counts’, the document proposed, describing this as ‘a considerable advance on the previously existing situation [where immigrants were allowed in primarily for economic reasons]’ (5).
Strikingly, these discussions were kept as far away from the public as possible. The government adviser says there was ‘an unusual air of… secrecy’ in government discussions about immigration, and the internal document of 2000 was passed between ministers with ‘extreme reluctance’: ‘there was a paranoia about it reaching the media’ and causing concern amongst Labour’s ‘core white working-class vote’ (6). Indeed, when the 2000 document was published as a consultation paper in 2001, it was heavily edited: all mentions of the ‘social objectives’ of increased immigration were removed (7). This provides a glimpse into the elitism that drives the ‘pro-immigration’ stance today, where migrants are considered socially beneficial while the white working classes are looked upon as volatile, potentially racist, and best kept in the dark....
...Those who claim that New Labour relaxed immigration controls in order to remake Britain in its own image are missing the main point: that New Labour’s instinctive attraction to immigration is a product precisely of its lack of real values, of its cultural and political disorientation and uncertainty about what to make Britain into. What the elite likes most about the immigrant is the idea that his arrival and his presence constantly remakes Britain, so that the absence of core British political and moral values can be glossed over with the positive-sounding notion that ours is a nation of forever-changing values, reflecting, in the words of one government minister, ‘the influences of the many different communities who have made their home here’ (10). Indeed, there has been an important shift over the past 30 years from emphasising the assimilation of immigrants into the values of British society to celebrating British society’s assimilation of the immigrants’ values.
For the contemporary elite, taking a ‘pro-immigration’ stance is a way of creating a distance between itself and ‘Old Britain’, a way of disavowing elements of the past, whether it is imperial values, outdated ideas of ‘Great’ Britain, the old-style education system, or aspects of British culture. As the former government adviser said at the end of last year, one of the reasons ministers wanted to increase immigration was to ‘render [the old right’s] arguments out of date’ (11). In a speech and report published in 2001, New Labour argued that there was little fixed about ‘British identity’ and that the ‘changing ethnic composition of the British people themselves [through immigration]’ can only ‘strengthen and renew British identity’ (12). Behind the PC-sounding language, it is a profound discomfort with the ‘identity’ of Old Britain – fixed, homogenous, nationalistic – which leads the elite to celebrate the impact of immigration on British identity today....
...In the political elite’s view, the real ‘foreigners’ in Britain are the white working classes. It looks upon them as an inscrutable, incomprehensible mass, relating to them as an anthropologist does to a tribe rather than as democrats should to the demos. At the end of last year, the New Labour communities secretary, John Denham, drew up a list of the top 100 ‘extremism hotspots’ in the UK where social deprivation threatens to ‘fuel far-right extremism’. They were mostly poor working-class communities, of course, and Denham promised to try to rescue them by pumping in millions of pounds for social improvements and awareness-raising projects on immigration and other issues. ‘[I]f we fail’, he said, ‘the danger is that extremists will try to exploit dissatisfaction and insecurity in ways which will pull communities apart’ (24). This is a modern-day version of writing off certain communities as ‘beyond the pale’, as moral no-go zones, socially warped areas in need of re-education in the values of their elite superiors....
...The truth is that celebrating immigration as a ‘social good’ is no more progressive than treating it as a narrow ‘economic good’: in both instances, the needs and desires of individual migrants and their families are subordinated to an abstract, external measurement. The only ‘good’ in this debate should be the argument that it is good for individuals to have full, unfettered freedom of movement with no interference from the state. And if we want to win that argument, we will need to challenge New Labour’s transformation of immigration into an elite weapon, and take the debate to the mass of the population.