Yasmin Alibhai Brown: God bless the foreigners willing to do our dirty work

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The Independent Online

A question for our readers: From the day the Windrush arrived from the Caribbean in June 1948, has there been a time when the indigenous population has not panicked over outsiders raiding their blessed islands? When was the national conversation over this issue benign and temperate?

The latest outbreak of hysteria is over eastern Europeans, many more of whom have landed since the EU expanded to include their countries. The situation is said to be "unprecedented".

So what about the violent objections to a few hundred who landed in 1948, the racist anti-immigration poison in the Sixties when there was full employment, Enoch Powell's white power, the din of disapproval which met us dispossessed Ugandan Asians, Thatcher's "swamping" speech, the antsy reaction to Hong Kong Britons seeking to emigrate to the UK, and the relentless hostility to asylum-seekers since the late Seventies? (Australians, New Zealanders, whites from all over southern and east Africa and Americans are not considered a problem, though when last I looked there were more US migrants here than Jamaicans.)

One of the contagious whinges of the anti-immigrant lobby is that they are not "allowed" to debate immigration, when they know the subject has been churned around for ever and ever, and always irrationally. It lies at the core of our national identity. Our citizenship test should ask: "Are you British enough to loathe all future incomers who may well compete with you?"

What has changed is not the hostility, but the liberal consensus, which was once progressive, egalitarian anti-imperialist and pro-immigration. Immigration is now opposed by influential individuals of the centre left, and some settled immigrants too. Post-war regeneration, the welfare state, Thatcher's revolution, globalisation - all depended on the availability of cheap migrant workers. The great EU experiment is even more dependent on the movement of labour. Unwelcomed Ugandan Asians have created more than 30,000 jobs in the Midlands. The Olympic bid cashed in on cultural changes immigrants have bestowed on the most exciting capital in Europe.

Some middle-class bigots claim they are against immigration as they care deeply for the poor workless classes who are driven out by low migrant wages. Is this why most employ Poles fortheir building and domestic work?

Xenophobic tabloids now have their arguments made by the Today programme (which has turned vigilante and even finds illegal workers so they can be deported) and by tight little nationalists like Frank Fields. There is a campaign to convince Britons we are about to be overcome by a flood of garlicky strangers. And once again, inconvenient truths are shunned.

New migrants come to work. Our buoyant economy demands it. Only 7 per cent claim benefits. Others live in cramped accommodation, earn, pay taxes and go home.

We want to shut our doors because of prejudice and envy. Young Poles and Lithuanians can find work and make something of their lives, while our own people are either too lazy or expensive to compete. Tax-paying immigrants past and present keep indolent British scroungers on their couches drinking beer and watching TV. We are despised because we seize opportunities these slobs don't want.

Two fit white British men loiter outside my local bank. They beg. I asked if they wanted to clear out my back garden for a fair wage. They said I was one crazy lady. Polish Andrew did the job cheerfully and efficiently. God bless bloody foreigners who do our dirty work and are then damned by an ungrateful, obtuse nation.