It is difficult to believe that the upsurge in racially aggravated bullying being suffered by children, as was reported by ChildLine this week, is unconnected to the intemperate and fact-free argument that passes for intelligent debate about immigration in Britain.
Some politicians, some sections of the media and some self-appointed “think-tanks” – all of whom should know better – must bear their share of the blame. As Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, bravely pointed out this week, the huge movements of all sorts of people in and out of the country make much of the talk about “protecting our borders” and imposing arbitrary limits quite meaningless – and dangerous with it. It presents the public with a goal that can never be fulfilled. Or rather one that can only be met by creating a virtually closed society and leaving the EU (Ukip’s Nigel Farage, at least, is honest enough to admit this).
If we want Britain to have skilled managers, engineers and professionals coming to build the economy; if we want the NHS to be properly staffed; if we want students to come and pay substantial fees to help fund our universities; if we want other nations to accept us when we want to work overseas or retire to the sun, then we have to accept immigration.
As Mr Cable says, we need to be practical, and ministers need to be honest about what can and cannot be done. They also need to explain why Romanians, Bulgarians and Roma are not demons bent simultaneously on milking the system for benefits, camping in parks and taking jobs away from “us”; and how successive waves of migration – Irish, Jewish, from the Indian sub-continent, Africa and Eastern Europe – have benefited the nation, not just economically but also socially.
As Mr Farage says: some things are more important than money. How right he is, although perhaps in a rather different way than he thinks. Social cohesion and the welfare of our children must, most certainly, be a priority. And the evidence that the relentless scaremongering about immigration is turning into racist bullying in our schools only emphasises the damage already being done.