During its holy festivities, this Christian country remembers its Saviour and his holy lessons. Mary and Joseph sought asylum, needed the kindness of strangers. Ever year, I hope that Britons will learn from that story to embrace the needy wanderers of our times.
It is a forlorn hope, since every year Britain becomes more virulently hostile towards most incomers and the same big lie is repeated: that this tolerant nation has always welcomed people until now, when there are simply too many coming in and sinking the island nation.
They said that when Huguenots in the 17th century, and later Jews, needed a sanctuary; when Caribbeans took up essential public service jobs; when factories invited Pakistani and Indian workers; when we East African Asians were forced out of our homelands; and again when Vietnamese boat people came to stay. The singers pass on but the song never changes.
Through those centuries there were always public figures who bravely stood up for immigrants for moral and economic reasons. Some were even Tories. During the debate on the Nationality Act of 1948, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, Conservative spokesman on Home Affairs, said: “We are proud we impose no colour bar restrictions... we must maintain our great metropolitan tradition to everyone from every part of the Empire.”
Ted Heath took on Enoch Powell and allowed British Ugandan Asians to settle in the UK. Though a little Englander, Margaret Thatcher welcomed in the Vietnamese. Labour MPs championed immigrants, and won their trust, but in government the party was often cowardly and surrendered to base instincts.
Its 1968 Immigration Act, which discriminated against non-white Commonwealth British citizens, was described by Auberon Waugh in The Spectator as “the most immoral legislation” ever to emerge from any British parliament. Almost as an apology, the party pushed through race relations laws for which we are grateful. The Lib Dems always spoke up for immigrants and internationalism. They even elected as their President Lord Dholakia, an Asian from East Africa.
Today’s leaders are, in contrast, spineless, contradictory, deceitful, and outdoing each other on ferocious anti-immigration rhetoric and policies, mainly because they are spooked by that grinning maverick, Nigel Farage of Ukip. Nick Clegg, whose principles are as dispensable as chewing gum, now spits out the policy of amnesty for undocumented, low-paid migrants. He once mustered the passion of Mark Antony to argue for their rights. He also wants a £1,000 bond on visitors from non-white nations. Not Australians and New Zealanders and all those kith and kin who stay forever.
By the way, did you know there are more Americans living in Britain than Jamaicans and Somalis put together? Meanwhile, Ed Miliband is busy saying sorry for Labour’s immigration policies, instead of reminding Britons about the high living standards they enjoyed between 1992 and 2007, partly because of the high productivity of EU migrants. Cameron is trying to face both ways on immigration. His neck must hurt plenty. In India, he magnanimously invites them over to study and work, while back home he makes speeches that make Norman Tebbit look like a cuddly toy.
The Tory threats to restrict medical services, housing and education to new migrants (even if they are working) have been lauded by the French National Front. Imagine white Britons in Spain having to endure these threats and rhetoric.
These politicians are influenced by public intellectuals like David Goodhart, former editor of Prospect, who burble on about national solidarity being weakened by migrants. Yes, sure. What deep common bonds there are between Iain Duncan Smith and the poor, which the minister for welfare is systematically destroying.
David Walker, Bishop of Dudley, has attacked the way all our political leaders are encouraging popular fury against migrants and refugees, exaggerating the “problems” which often have “little relationship to the actual reality”. The Council of Europe is alarmed by the extremely hostile public debate on Romanian and Bulgarian would-be migrants to Britain. The European Commission has attacked the “knee-jerk xenophobia” in Britain led by those entrusted with responsible leadership.
The consequences of the latest anti-immigration mood are barely considered. There has been an 11 per cent fall in Indian investments between 2011 and 2012, according to the new, much needed Migration Matters Trust, set up by the Tory Gavin Barwell and Ex-Labour minister Barbara Roche. And then there are the “ethnic minority” constituents. Some oppose immigration but most don’t. They have traditionally voted for Labour.
The Lib Dems, still disgracefully white, need their support to survive. Lord Ashcroft and other Tory grandees know the ethnic minority vote will determine results in key constituencies. In the next election these voters and white Britons who support immigration will have no democratic choice because all the parties are lining up with Ukip now.
On Good Friday, we went to the V&A, and nearly every member of staff there was from somewhere else, working hard and with a smile. I go to radio and TV stations early in the mornings and late at night, where the cleaners are like ghosts, doing a job unseen by the journalists around them. Delivering a speech at a City bank, again the service staff were almost all black or Arab. The street cleaners in my borough are “outsiders”.
They, we, still have to endure ceaseless attacks on us, day after day. And those elected to hold the country together and protect the vulnerable now use persecution as a political weapon. So, tell me, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband: why should we, who don’t fear and loathe migrants and refugees, vote for you?