Controlling Immigration Is Good For Democracy
The “European Market” in Boston, Lincolnshire: The town, which has faced high levels of EU migration, voted 75 per cent Leave (© Rui Vieira / AP/Press Association Images)
One of the ways in which “progressive” thought has unconsciously inherited the structures of Christian morality, while evacuating it of content it finds uncongenial, is in the Augustinian doctrine of original sin. This holds that, however good the effects, and whatever respectable reason may be given for it, every human action is in fact motivated partly by human pride. It merits judgment.
Medieval theology had seven cardinal sins. “Progressive” thought has a more economical three — racism, sexism and homophobia — but they turn out to be capacious categories. Not trolling, but rather, I think, in a moment of discombobulated candour, one contributor to a prominent political blog, Open Democracy, wrote of discovering that he lives in “a petty-minded island nation with fascist tendencies”. Leavers have been generally accused of racism or being in bed with racists. And this because many think that controlling immigration matters.
As it happens, the polling evidence is that the dominant reason for voting Leave was democratic, namely the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK. But the second most given reason was the desire to regain control over immigration (33 per cent to 49 per cent, Ashcroft; 34 per cent to 53 per cent, ComRes). Those figures almost certainly understate the level of concern, when you consider the consistent underestimation of the level of popular support for views that are socially unacceptable in polite society, such as voting Tory in 2015, or voting Leave. As well as playing a major role in the campaign, concerns over immigration have been key to the rise of UKIP, a fact that created the political pressure for the referendum in the first place.
The idea that fascists lurk under every stone is one of the enduring myths of left-wing student politics, perpetuated because it gives a delicious sense of urgency to pub discussion. “March Against Fascism” stickers pop up by cashpoints in Oxford at regular intervals. It is a peculiarly irrational concern in Britain. The history is that in the 1930s we kept our heads when Europe did not. Oswald Mosley’s legacy is of having inspired Wodehouse’s satire, Roderick Spode. The only person close to a real-life fascist I have come across was Marine Le Pen, in a Union debate designed to shock. She had to be imported.
All racism is deplorable, and some have been emboldened by the referendum result to act despicably. But racism was with us before the referendum; it was a contained problem; and that is unlikely to change. As Brendan O’Neill has observed, the kind of hate crime that makes the national news in France is the attempted burning down of a mosque, which happened in July in Toulouse. Here, it is horrid words on a bus. So the general accusation of racism against Leavers smacks more of ideology than thought. Nonetheless, the debate over immigration was one of the sad shortfalls of the referendum campaign. Beyond the mudslinging over Cameron’s broken pledge to reduce annual net migration below 100,000, there was little explanation of why the numbers matter. What is needed is clear articulation of the reasons why, without any hint of racism, you could be concerned about immigration.
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