Britain should welcome immigrants: it needs them

Let us call a national strike of immigrants, and see what happens without dinner-ladies, nurses, teachers, newsagents...
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The Independent Online

Immigration today is as volatile an issue as it was in the bad old days of Powellism, only people in power then had mettle. They blocked any ambitions which Enoch may have had to determine the course of history.

Immigration today is as volatile an issue as it was in the bad old days of Powellism, only people in power then had mettle. They blocked any ambitions which Enoch may have had to determine the course of history.

Edward Heath was the unlikely braveheart who chose to sack the popular white nationalist. But Heath was no liberal anti-racist. When Asians were thrown out of Uganda in 1972, he dithered for weeks because he feared public opinion. However, in the end, he delivered us safely to our country (we had British passports) because he understood that most immigrants have hunger, zap, dash, manic ambitions, imagination, super-high expectations of their children, and a phenomenal capacity for hard work over long hours. We made good and gave Britain thousands of jobs.

Choose young asylum-seekers next time, Jamie Oliver, instead of those sullen young Brits who had to be dragged through their chance of a lifetime.

European politicians have never quite understood the dynamism that immigrants bring, as long as the state ensures they have freedom, equality and real opportunities. Blair, like them, is a retro, led by anti-immigration hysteria, ill-suited to facing the biggest challenge of our times – the unstoppable movement of peoples around the world.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt described such timid conservatives as people "with two perfectly good legs who, however, have never learned to walk forward". Such conservatives barely understand the implications of globalisation. Read Frances Cairncross's fiery essay on this in The Economist (2 November): "However much governments clamp down, both immigrants and immigration are here to stay. Powerful forces are at work. It is impossible to separate the globalisation of trade from the global movement of people... Immigrants bring new customs, new foods, new ideas, new ways of doing things." But all European Union governments want to be seen doing is condemning immigrants, treating them like battery chickens.

It is the stupidity of this which grates, even more than the injustice of it. Findings by the American National Research Council show that although first-generation migrants cost the US an average of $3,000 (£1,900), the second generation produces an $80,000 fiscal gain. A Home Office study last year found that immigrants paid 10 per cent more in taxes than they received in state expenditure. In Essen in Germany, a cost-benefit assessment reached similar conclusions. We grudgingly pay out aid money (much of which goes into the pockets of corrupt ministers and generals) instead of allowing Third World workers to come here, work, and send or take back the money they have earned with dignity.

Most migrants don't wish to die in foreign places even if they manage to acquire that semi in Harrow or a car they could only have dreamed of in Ethiopia or Malawi. I believe that, had we not had a series of lock-out immigration policies since 1968, many settled immigrants would have chosen to go back – as long as they had a safety net: the chance to return here for economic reasons. After the mammoth gains made by Britain through colonialism, they had that right. Hence the paradox: the immigration laws themselves have created a larger immigrant population. Ask the first generation of Pakistanis, Caribbeans, Bangladeshis and they will confirm this. Many immigrants would, of course, have settled for life, made new lives and helped in the eternal renewal that this country goes through. But we are forever treated as a problem.

Now we have to tolerate a new right-wing organisation, Migrationwatch UK, which is suddenly being treated with undue respect. This wants no more immigrants and warns that blacks and Asian Britons are having too many babies. Yes, I have bred a litter of future scroungers myself.

New Labour panders to such rubbish and carries on with the tradition of botched immigration laws, failing to understand the needs of modern Britain. The economist Nigel Harris believes that migration controls disable economies in the developed world, where serious labour shortages hold back growth, and in the poorer economies, where high unemployment pulls down incentives to succeed. We should allow a flow through, rather than build useless fortresses.

Business leaders across Europe understand this. Top British executives tell me they want all migrants and asylum-seekers to have a National Insurance number so they can be employed. They already are, but illicitly. Wander around London at dawn and you see them at all-night petrol stations and cleaning offices. The exploitation is awful but the workers tell me they cannot afford outrage. This gives them a way through an otherwise hopeless life.

"A" came to the door last year, bedraggled, a little scary. He was a farmer from Romania. Could he cut grass for £7 an hour? Fine. A year on, our garden is unbelievably beautiful. He is now legal, so has to charge £9 to pay taxes. Six other neighbours employ him: "After three years, I will have a house in Romania," A says optimistically. He will too.

None of this is easy for indigenous Britons and settled immigrants, who feel under threat every time a new wave comes in. Ugandan Asians hated the Hong Kong Chinese arriving because they were bringing competition. Immigration brings clashes, challenges. The poor feel ever more excluded, and now of course there are the dangers of global terrorism. A proportion of immigrants and asylum-seekers will turn to crime or end up being a burden on the state. But there is still more to gain than lose. Just watch the BBC's Mega Mela, a celebration of Asian arts. It is just one more event showing how much immigrants (including Jewish, Italian, Polish and Irish arrivals) and their descendants have given this country while rising themselves.

There is another even more important advantage. If the fight against Islamist Stalinism and other fanaticisms is to be won, immigrants are vital. Some may become the enemy within, but more will imbibe social-democratic values, the best of the West, and become the reformers of the future. For example, one of the most compelling writers on modernity and Islam is Leila Babes, a French Muslim sociologist. The Islam she promotes sits well with those of us who are passionate about individual autonomy and gender equality. Her ideas are already travelling to where such rights are yet to be won.

I organised a conference on immigration in Spain last month where paranoia is growing alarmingly in spite of the fact that Spain, like Italy and Germany, needs young immigrants to maintain the size of the working-age population. Compared to these EU countries, immigrants in Britain are more powerful, successful and vocal. Depressingly, however, Blair is more keen to be seen as the leading anti-immigrant leader than one who leads the most successful country of immigration in Europe.

I am sick of this betrayal. Let us have a 48-hour strike of immigrants and their offspring. See what happens to this ungrateful nation without cleaners, doctors, lawyers, waiters, nannies, actors, ushers, curry cooks, bouncers, drivers, teachers, news-agents, social workers, nurses, gardeners, newscasters, shop staff, dancers, pop singers, sex workers, dinner ladies, child minders, City brokers, accountants, pharmacists, off-licence staff...

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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