Nick Robinson is wrong. On immigration, the BBC has a duty to moderate our national conversation

When doors are opened to neo-jingoists, broadcasters must ensure fairness

Share

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?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Visitor Centre - Attraction Manager

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: For the first time in its 1,000...

Recruitment Genius: Air Conditioning Service and / or Installation Engineers

£27400 - £33500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time air conditioning, ven...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of web an...

Recruitment Genius: Class 1 Driver

£12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader in the events...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Australian cricketer Phil Hughes has died aged 25  

Phillip Hughes: A sensational man, both on and off the pitch

Angus Fraser
Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party  

If people voted for policies, the Green Party would win the next election

Lee Williams
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?