I want the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson to look me in the eye and tell me that it was a big mistake to let my people – the Ugandan Asians – into this country. A big mistake because the majority of Brits resented us coming, believed the “influx” would put intolerable pressure on jobs, housing, the NHS and education, and corrupt the national identity. Local authorities paid for full-page adverts in Ugandan newspapers asking Asians to keep out of their areas. Most of the media was maniacally opposed, just as they were when Jews arrived before the Second World War and in the centuries previously.
Mr Robinson is presenting a programme on BBC2 this week showing the scale of public concern about immigration. Instead of being an objective conduit, he has, in a jingoistic, right-wing newspaper, slammed the BBC for censoring anti-immigrant opinions – a big lie. These are the only views now dominating the papers and airwaves. Robinson was once an ardent chairman of the Young Conservatives. Possibly deeply-held political positions don’t just wash away when you get a top broadcasting job. If that feels like a slur, forgive me. But as an immigrant I feel slandered by the caustic populism now flaunted by respectable intellectuals and politicians.
Roger Mosey, previously a BBC executive, now the Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, made similar observations late last year. Others are on the same warpath. They seem not, or care not, to know the history of this eternal crisis. Here are a few of the facts which have gone missing in this so-called debate: In 1903, Cathcart Wason, the Liberal MP for Orkney and Shetland – no migrants there, even now – asked in Parliament: “What is the use of spending thousands of pounds on building beautiful workman’s dwellings if the places of our own workpeople, the backbone of the country, are to be taken over by the refuse and scum of other nations”? In the Sixties the people and many of their leaders complained bitterly about “aliens” living off benefits. Patrick Gordon Walker, a Midlands Labour MP, said in 1962: “This is a British country with British standards of behaviour. The British must come first”.
Not only David Cameron, and Theresa May, but Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper too are repeating that mantra. Remember the hysterics over migration from Hong Kong when it was handed back? The way Afghan refugees were treated when they came here? Migrant hatred is part of the complicated story of this country. And so is hard-won migrant love. The media surely has a duty to ensure social trust and tell the whole story.
The BBC and other journalists have not excitedly prioritised the majority view that the death penalty should be brought back or that paedophiles should be put away on some remote island forever. Ministers too have been leaders not followers on these issues.
Until a decade back, most Brits did not support real equality for gays. Leading media outlets presented sane arguments and aired persuasive voices, felt morally compelled to argue the case. By not pandering to democratic tyranny, they enabled the population to shed prejudices. But on immigration the BBC and others are led by right-wing trendsetters on social media and encourage the tyranny. I do understand that in recession people fear the foreigner. And that Islamicism has increased those fears. But those can’t be the excuses for the pervasive nastiness directed at migrants and refugees.
Robinson is disdainful of senior BBC figures who feared a free-for-all immigration debate “would unleash some terrible side of the British public”. They were right. When doors are opened to objectors and neo-jingoists, responsible broadcasters must ensure fairness. They don’t. For balance, programmes should cover the concerns of immigrants too. How the current discourse leaves us feeling vulnerable and devalued. Call me Tony Hall. Let’s talk. It’s time.
According to received wisdom, those opposing migration are not racist. But if verified data is ignored, if immigrants’ voices are silenced, if the bullish majority freely maligns incomers, it is xenophobia. The economic downturn was caused by irresponsible bankers and a dysfunctional economic model, not by migration. Housing shortages and the misery of the poor, for whom I feel deeply, is the result of government policy, not the Polish carpenter or Punjabi waiter. We came, settled and became productive citizens. As did most of those who came before us. Researchers at Manchester university have found the most mixed UK neighbourhoods are the most healthy and that it is deprivation, not diversity, that adversely affects the quality of life in some urban areas. In 2012, The National Institute of Economic and Social Research found “no association” between higher immigration and joblessness, and that immigration was an economic stimulant.
All Britons should keep a diary for one week and note the interactions with “outsiders”. It’s what we all do, have to. So why this relentless hostility?
Beautiful sounds that wafted on the East African breeze
Phil, the younger of the Everly brothers, has died aged 74. They probably never knew just how much their melodic yet plangent songs changed an entire generation of East African Asians. As did Elvis.
We were turned into romantics by these men with pompadour hairstyles and stirring voices. Until then we were innocents when it came to passion, possessive love or heartbreak. We enjoyed Bollywood films, read English novels and performed plays with all these emotions, but that was art, not life.
Asian children were brought up to be good and obedient, go to school, uni perhaps, work hard, marry men with good prospects from within the community, have children, repeat cycle. In the late Fifties, songs like “Bye Bye Love” by the Everlys and Elvis’s “Anyway You Want Me” floated in on the crosswinds and the cycle was broken forever.
Our parents were shocked by the suddenness of it all. They tried to get back the old order but were beaten back by the forces of modernity. Youngsters started dating secretly, had parties in locked garages, sat in the back of cinemas holding hands and kissing. No sex before marriage. That was still a total taboo. No drugs either. But rock’n’roll, the most potent drug of all, took hold. No more arranged marriages we said. We would marry for love. And have our hearts broken.
These musical missionaries of love themselves failed to find and keep love too. Was romance ever really worth it?