Saturday 13 June 2009
Deborah Orr: The immigration debate is not a right-left issue
That long-running debate about whether the BNP should be given "the oxygen of publicity" seems finally to have resolved itself. Days after the group won two seats in the European Parliament, James W von Brunn, a US friend and supporter of the BNP, shot dead security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns at Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum. Tragic for Johns, but a winner for anti-fascism.
The BNP's leader, Nick Griffin, has been at pains to avoid gulping the publicity generated by his American fellow-traveller, by insisting that the Holocaust is "not relevant to modern politics in 2009". Goodness, no. That came about after a particular group was erroneously singled out as the architect of an entire nation's economic woes. Who would be rash enough to repeat such a calamitous strategy? I'm already fairly certain that the oxygen of publicity will choke the BNP.
Nevertheless, there has been much head-scratching over why it should be that the faltering of neo-liberalism has inspired people to move to the right, rather than the left, across Europe. In Britain, it is pointed out ruefully that only the BNP seems squarely to address the worries of the white working class, formerly Labour's core voters, and wonders quite how this could have come to pass. My own understanding is that it has happened because immigration is quite wrongly understood as a simple left-right issue.
The left is certainly vociferous in its defence of the equal rights of minorities once they have settled in Britain, and the mainstream right understands that it is impossible to demur too much from this democratic line. There is merely an emerging "sensible" consensus that if there are difficulties, these are caused merely by sheer numbers on a small island – logistics not racism.
Yet there is also a perception that Labour policy encouraged immigration for such a long time for ideological reasons. This is quite wrong, as can be seen in its ruthlessly authoritarian and inhumane policy towards asylum seekers. Labour was enthusiastic about handing out work permits largely because this was what its hard-won friends in the City had asked it to do. (And anyway, it kept down wage-inflation, which was in the retooled Government's back-from-the-wilderness interests, especially as it busied itself with expanding the degraded public sector.)
All this was because a limited workforce is one that has some bargaining power, while a workforce unable to complain about its pay or conditions, because it is easily replaceable, is much more "flexible". The fast growth offered by an aggressive globalised economy relies on attracting such workers, and such workers are in turn attracted by fast growth. It's a vicious or a virtuous circle, depending on how you look at it. If you're in the business of hiring, you'll look at it one way, and if you're in the business of being hired, you'll look at it another.
The problem for the left is that it feels obliged to criticise globalisation, while simultaneously defending the people who are at the sharp end of the temptations of its needs and consequences. The problem for the right is the same, but in reverse. That's what people really mean when they airily declare that the old left-right paradigm is finished. They mean that it doesn't make sense any more because both the left and the right are self-contradictory.
The situation is further complicated because, flawed as it may be, the European Union is the only international political institution on the planet that is overtly dedicated to delivering the open borders that globalised trading demands, but tempered with the annoying but crucial inconvenience of standardised basic rights for all of its workers.
The expanding Union provided lots of cheap workers when there was money to spend in Britain, and is providing far fewer now that there is less money. What is to be learned from this? It's not that Europe is bad because it stimulates immigration. It's that if you insist on concentrating a lot of wealth on a small landmass in a globalised economy, then you are bound to over-populate it, because people follow money, not allotment availability.
Only by turning your wealthy little patch into a highly militarised fortress, with a severely limited welfare state that controls those inside as harshly as it controls those outside, can you stop that movement of people, while still maintaining some of its economic advantages (in the short term). That's BNP Britain.
But is UKIP Britain much different? UKIP believes we can continue trading with our biggest partner, Europe, as we always have, even if we withdraw. Yet Europe, as it continues to expand, will be able to generate raw materials and produce goods at more competitive prices than Britain. It's hard to see how that cannot eventually end in economic isolation on this side of the Channel.
What does all this mean? It means political confusion. It means what most people understand it to mean – that there is not much in the way of mainstream choice. The only real choice is highly orchestrated globalisation, much more orchestrated than it has been in the last 30 years. More European.
BNP MEPs, unfortunately, are not the only people that the British, and other Europeans, sent off to sabotage this fragile, necessary project. A more enthusiastically anti-European European legislature is more damaging and more in need of rebuttal, than the opportunistic, unsustainable advance of two men from the BNP. Neither Brown nor Cameron is minded to deliver that vital argument.
*Nick Griffin's lectures in electoral strategy might seem less cynical had he himself not just spearheaded the Euro-election of Andrew Brons, whose political career we all know, thanks to the oxygen of publicity, started at the National Socialist Movement, founded in honour of Hitler, and responsible for anti-Semitic attacks on property in the 1960s.
Brons now explains that we all did silly things when we were 17, though in the early 1960s most of us managed to confine such activity to the ill-advised cutting of our own fringes.
Boys in blue put on a show of strength
There are often complaints about the length of time it takes for the police to respond to an emergency call. In the interest of balance and fairness, I must point out that such a miserable experience is by no means a universal one.
A cacophony of angry, shouting male voices, accompanied by the loud barking of dogs the other day, quite naturally drew me to the window, outside of which there was indeed a serious-looking altercation, half-obscured down an alley.
I'd barely taken a step towards the phone when a car carrying four armed police skidded to a halt, and the occupants waded into the fray. Impressive.
But it didn't stop there. Another armed response unit soon arrived on the scene, followed by three regular squad cars and five police vans, one little, four big. There were so many police it was impossible to count them all, and they were soon marching the small group of miscreants into some of the dizzying choice of available vehicles.
The alley in which the captured youths had congregated is notorious for its open drug dealing and its crude dogfights. Residents were amazed that such routine activity, long-since recognised as nothing we should trouble the police too much about, had finally attracted the undivided attention of the law.
Later, it emerged that two police on the beat had, unusually, challenged the assembled group, and that more than one had been moronic enough to take a swing at them. It's good to know that there are some crimes serious enough to be addressed with efficiency, passion and unlimited manpower. Sort of.
I cannot say that I am either surprised by, or disapproving of, Madonna's eventual victory in her fight to adopt another baby from Malawi. Little Mercy is sure to have quite a strange life, but at least it will be an interesting one.
The only worry is that it might prove to be a bit too interesting, as the lives of the children of celebrities sometimes can be. I'm more disapproving of the great clothes-horse's inability to reconcile her "Mummy" image and her "sex-goddess-at-50" image.
Madonna is perfectly at liberty to dress casually and look fresh-faced when she is getting on with looking after her children, just as she is perfectly at liberty to truss herself up like a lap-dancer when she wants to.
But I do wish she could understand that all those crotch shots advertising handbags just make observers suspect that she's an exhibitionist and a fantasist even when there's a baby in her arms, or even especially then.
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