On Question Time, an Asian man slams the Government for failing to stem migration, and damns migrants as “benefits tourists”.
He speaks broken English and is clearly a migrant himself. Yet he smears all recent incomers and presumes to know their motives for trying to enter Britain.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, one of the panellists in last week’s edition of the programme, does the same.
Meanwhile, David Cameron tries to explain the latest immigration figures – the highest for a decade. He impugns Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats, accuses people-traffickers and migrants themselves.
These are now the established, unopposed narratives. After years of ferocious migrant-bashing, the national psyche has been successfully reprogrammed: millions of our citizens truly believe that humans from the old Soviet Union, Africa, Asia and the Middle East are flocking to get at those gorgeous council flats and big, fat, state handouts.
So easy isn’t it? Just blame those who can’t answer back. Don’t think too deeply about why there is this movement of peoples and how they feel before, during and after they leave their homelands.
The Battersea Arts Centre is currently showcasing The Siege, a raw, theatrical enactment of tense months in 2002 when the Israeli army besieged the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church had given sanctuary to Palestinian fighters.
In the end, a deal was negotiated by European Union leaders. The Israelis pulled back and the Palestinians were sent into permanent exile. The most moving moment comes when they talk about banishment. They live in the West, have security and life chances. But the aching pain of displacement goes on and they cannot be happy.
Most migrants carry that sense of loss, even those who went off voluntarily to seek better fortune. Those who have never felt the need or pressure to emigrate can’t empathise with them, for that would be a chink in their fortress mentality. Fear is a terrible thing. It depletes compassion.
10 things immigration has done for Britain
10 things immigration has done for Britain
1/10 The Mini
The 1959 classic, that is, perhaps our greatest piece of industrial design, a miracle of packaging and revolution in motoring. Its genius designer was Sir Alec Issigonis, who was an asylum seeker. His family, Greek, fled Smyrna when Turks invaded this borderland in around 1920, and he wound up studying engineering at Battersea Polytechnic. He went on to create that most English of motor cars, the Morris Minor, as well as the Austin-Morris 1100, all much loved products of his fertile imagination.
2/10 Marks and Spencer
Once upon a time there was no M&S in Britain, difficult as that may be to believe. We have one Michael Marks to thank for our most famous retailer, and he was a refugee from Belarus, arriving in England in about 1882, and soon after set off to flog stuff around Yorkshire. He eventually teamed with Thomas Spencer to create the vast business we know today.
And many other TV shows created, funded and otherwise produced by that largest of larger-than-life characters, Lew Grade (also a world class tap dancer). The man who dominated commercial television gave us memorable entertainment such as The Prisoner, the Saint and brought the Muppets to Britain (a sort of fuzzy felt wave of immigration), as well as puppet shows where you could see the strings. All this from a penniless Jew from Ukraine, born Lev Winogradsky, who escaped the pogroms in Ukraine with his family in the 1890s. His nephew Michael Grade has also done his bit for British television.
4/10 The House of Windsor
Or the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha until George V prudently rebranded the family during the First World War. Well, our royals are a pretty German bunch, as well as having various types of French and other alien blue blood coursing around their veins. ‘Twas ever thus. There was William the Conqueror, Norman French, who certainly broke the immigration rules; William of Orange, a direct import from Holland; the Hanoverian King Georges, the first barely able to speak English; Queen Victoria, who married a German, Edward VII, who couldn’t stay faithful to his wife, a Danish princess; George V wed another German princess; Edward VIII married an American (though she hardly visited England and prompted his emigration and exile); and the Queen is married to man born in Corfu. The embodiment of the British nation, to many, but one thinks of them as quite multicultural really.
5/10 I Vow To Thee My Country
Our most patriotic hymn was the product of a man named Gustav Holst (pictured), born in Cheltenham, but of varied Swedish, Latvian and German ancestry, who adapted part of his suite The Planets to put a particularly stirring and beautiful poem to music, just after the Great War. As the second verse has it, “there's another country/I've heard of long ago/Most dear to them that love her/most great to them that know”. Imagine if the Holst family had been kept out because the quota on musical European types had been reached.
6/10 Curry and Cobra
Chicken Tikka Masala is, so they say, a dish which not only the most popular in Britain but specifically designed to cater for European tastes. For that we probably have to thank an Indian migrant, Sake Dean Mahomed, who came from Bengal to open the first recognisable Indian restaurant, the magnificently named “Hindoostanee Coffee House”. History does not record if a plate of poppadoms and accompanying selection of pickles and yoghurts were routinely placed on the table for new diners, but we do know that we had to wait until 1989 to taste the ideal lager for a curry - Cobra. That brew was brought to us by Karan (now Lord) Bilimoria, a Cambridge law graduate who hailed from Hyderabad.
7/10 That big red swirly sculpture at the Olympic Park
Or Orbit, to give it its proper name, the work of Anish Kapoor, who arrived in 1973 from India and had the artistic imagination to fill a power station.
8/10 The Sun
Love it or hate it, and many do both, this has been a symbol of much that is successful and a lot that is awful in British journalism since its inception in 1969. In its turn it spawned the Page 3 Girl and some nastily xenophobic headlines. All the stranger when you consider its creator was, of course, Rupert Murdoch, born 11 March 1931 in Melbourne, Australia.
OK, Karl Marx’s philosophy was not much of a gift to the world, but for a while it seemed like a good idea. Though we might not dare admit it, Marxism still has a few insights to offer to anyone wanting to understand the workings of capitalism, though too few to excuse everything that was done in its name. Born in Germany spent much time in the British museum and the British pub, buried Highgate Cemetery. Oddly, his ideas never really caught on in his adopted homeland.
10/10 The NHS
They came from many, many backgrounds, including Ireland, the Philippines, east Europe, the Indian subcontinent, and Africa, as they still do, but the contribution of the black nurses who came to the UK from the Caribbean to heal and care for is a debt of honour that must be recognised. It so sometimes forgotten that it was Enoch Powell, then Minister of Health (1960-62), who campaigned to recruit their skilled nurses to come and work over here. One abiding legacy we can thank Enoch for.
To many Britons, the current crisis is disconnected from history, and from global geopolitics. Again, it is so much easier to think of “them” and “us”, and disregard Western culpabilities, past and present.
In 2011, David Cameron, on a visit to Pakistan, accepted that Britain was responsible for many of the world’s intractable problems. It was the first and only time I recall a British leader accepting that colonialism left fractures and stains which have led to discord and failed states. (Margaret Thatcher, as well as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, extolled the Empire and the subjugation of millions.) Mr Cameron was savaged by the right-wing press and Labour’s Tristram Hunt. Maybe that is why he never again spoke candidly about that history. Silence is the path of least resistance.
No, you can’t just blame white people for post-colonial chaos and failures. Since independence, leaders have almost all been incompetent, corrupt and callous. Dictatorships and one-party rule, profligacy and greed, have despoiled potentially productive nations, turning them into hopeless, dependent, unsustainable entities. But the case against old European imperialists is strong and indubitable.
Last week, one Drusilla Long had a letter in a newspaper about desperate and desperately unwanted migrants. She was raised in Ghana during British rule. “I believe [we should] return some of the immense wealth we all stole from these countries, such as gold, diamonds, etc, which we have long used to build up our own wealthy ‘fortress’ Europe,” she wrote.
Brave woman, saying the unsayable.
Then there is the continuing support this country gives to oppressive regimes, the arms we sell, and the wars we have launched in the past 20 years. Iraqis never chose to become resented refugees, nor did Afghans.
Libya is now the export depot for hungry, frightened, distressed people. The allies who bombed the place have gone and feel no obligation for the mess they left. Many Isis insurgents are from Saddam Hussein’s old Baathist army. True, we did not intervene in Syria, but for decades Bashar al-Assad was propped up by us, as was his equally heinous father. Many of the migrants trying to get into Europe come from these places. They are hated perhaps because they remind us of our bad policies and actions. Are these then our noble British values?
When bigots tell me to go back to where I came from, I remind them I am here because the British government supported Idi Amin’s bid for power. A million or more black Ugandans fled or were killed. Some fled to the UK. Has Britain ever admitted this was a big mistake? (Don’t, please, fire off letters accusing me of hating this country. Fair criticism is not hatred.)
Among the flotsam and jetsam of wandering humans are “economic migrants” who are seen as the biggest threat of all. They, too, are victims of Western games and unending austerity measures. We know how that affects the vulnerable and should understand why people die trying to escape poverty.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have driven down spending on health and education across Africa and elsewhere. Developing world debt is used by the West to cut the cost of raw materials and steal resources. Privatisation is the condition for borrowing money. It stinks.
Anup Shah is the editor of the excellent www.globalissues.org. He writes about the unjust trading system. The West protects its interests and pushes poorer countries to supply materials, labour and goods at the lowest costs. To be a dumping ground, too.
The EU, IMF and World Bank must transform the system; our leaders need to tell more truths about the dispossessed. Xenophobia, withdrawal of welfare and gunboats won’t stop the tide of humanity coming to our shores. They come because they have no choice. But the West does.Reuse content