Ignored: Gordon Brown's attitude to Mrs Gillian Duffy represented the political class's attitude to voter's reasonable concerns
Imagine yourself back in 2002. The census for England and Wales, compiled the previous year, has just come out, showing the extent to which the country has changed. You decide to extrapolate from the findings and speculate about what the next decade might bring.
"The Muslim population of Britain will double in the next ten years," you conclude. "White Britons will become a minority in their own capital city by the end of this decade."
How would those statements by your younger self have been greeted? The terms "alarmist" and "scaremongering" would certainly have been used, as most likely would "racist" and (though the coinage was in its infancy) "Islamophobe". Safe to say, your extrapolations would not have been greeted warmly. Readers inclined to doubt this might recall that when the then Times journalist Anthony Browne made far less startling comments in 2002, they were denounced by then Home Secretary David Blunkett — using parliamentary privilege — as "bordering on fascism".
Yet that widely abused younger self of 2002 would be proved utterly right. The 2011 census, published at the end of last year, revealed the following facts and more. It showed that the number of people living in England and Wales who were born overseas rose by nearly three million in the last decade alone. Only 44.9 per cent of London residents are now white British. And nearly three million people in England and Wales live in households where not one adult speaks English as their main language.
The religious make-up of Britain has altered as well. Almost every belief other than Christianity is on the rise. Only Britain's historic national religion is in freefall. Since the previous census in 2001, the number of people identifying themselves as Christian dropped by 13 per cent, from 72 to 59 per cent. The number of Christians in England and Wales dropped by more than four million, and the number of Christians overall fell from 37 million to 33 million.
And while Christianity witnessed this collapse in its followers, mass migration assisted a near-doubling in size of the Muslim population. Over the last decade the number of Muslims rose from 1.5 million to 2.7 million. These are the official figures. Illegal immigrants make the real numbers far higher.
Despite being hard to digest in a year, the census story passed over in a couple of days. But this is not an ephemeral story. It is an account of our recent past, our immediate present and a glimpse into a troubling future. Perhaps we passed over it so quickly because few people can bear this much reality.
To study the results of the latest census is to stare at one unalterable conclusion: mass immigration has altered our country completely. It has become a radically different place, and London has become a foreign country. In 23 of London's 33 boroughs "white Britons" are now in a minority. A spokesman for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) hailed this as "diversity".
Of course there are numerous claims as to how it all occurred. One — made in 2009 by the former Labour adviser Andrew Neather — is that Tony Blair's government wilfully aimed to "rub the Right's nose in diversity" and create what it unwisely took to be a new client class. Another theory, not running entirely counter to this, is that the whole thing was a bureaucratic cock-up which ran out of control under successive governments, only doing so spectacularly under New Labour.
Whatever the cause, the public response has been surprisingly uniform. There have been no significant or sustained outbreaks of racism or violence. Most of us feel absolutely no personal animosity towards immigrants. But — as poll after poll has shown — a majority do worry very much about what all this means for our country and its future. And they are right to worry. For nobody has any idea of where are we heading next.
Successive governments of all parties have spent decades putting off any real discussion of this because they realised what most of the rest of us have also realised — that it is a matter on which control has slipped away from them. When the current government came to power it promised to cut immigration from hundreds of thousands a year to tens of thousands. It has not got anywhere near that target. All our governments intermittently talk about limiting immigration. But this is merely an electoral trick. None does anything, because none believes it can.
We also have a media class which has largely supported this state of defeatism. Instead of addressing concerns, politicians and press rarely bother, preferring to throw expressions of rage back at the public as surely as Gordon Brown did to Mrs Gillian Duffy of Rochdale. This is done — as reaction to the census confirmed — not only in accusations of "racism" and "bigotry" against ordinary people, but in a series of deflecting tactics which have become the replacement mechanism for action. These — all identifiable in the wake of the recent census — start with perhaps the most galling of all: "Get over it!"
Here is the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph just after the census was released: "We need to stop moaning about the damburst," he wrote. "It's happened. There is nothing we can now do except make the process of absorption as eupeptic as possible."
Of course he is right. The dam has burst and the water has flowed merrily for years. But is there not something disgraceful about this hectoring tone? Has it occurred to Boris Johnson that there may be people out there who will not get over it, or do not want to? Has it struck him that there are those who feel a degree of anger that for years the main parties have taken a decision wholly at variance to most public opinion? If not, has it at least occurred to him that there is something profoundly politically disenfranchising about talk of this kind?
If politicians refuse to engage in what they call "blame games" over the past, how can we know that they do not mean to employ exactly the same trick over their current actions in the future? Does this demand to "get over it" not break down one of the key tenets of democracy — some degree of accountability between the elected and the electorate? Continuous mass migration has done far more — more even than MPs' expenses — to persuade people that politicians cannot be believed.
On the night of the census announcement I was invited as a guest onto the BBC's Newsnight — the only one on a panel of four (five if you include the presenter) who expressed any concerns or reservations about mass immigration. The others were unanimously happy about it. The onus was therefore on me to explain why there might be any problems. This is not an unusual set-up.
A.C. Grayling — himself a hugely successful immigrant (from Zambia, then Northern Rhodesia) — said of the census, "I think on the whole it's a very positive thing, a thing to be celebrated." Bonnie Greer — also a highly successful immigrant — agreed and said, like Boris Johnson, "It cannot be stopped."
If you have not had the experience then let me tell you that it is fairly hard in these situations, especially when hampered with white skin, to resist the allure of the "get with it" attitude. The temptation to "go with the flow" is stronger than in almost any other argument. And not just because the price for stepping outside the consensus is so uniquely high.
Yet somewhere, lost in the middle of all this hipness and with-it-ness I tried to remember and bring into the discussion a little of the world outside the cosy Central London studio — a world which nobody else present even wanted to put their finger on: the downside of immigration and the people it forgets.
Although immigration has boosted the economy and made Britain a more diverse and in some ways interesting place, it has also made us poorer, drained our resources and brought cultural practices we could happily do without. In January a gang of nine Muslim men — seven of Pakistani origin, two from North Africa — went on trial at the Old Bailey for the sex trafficking of children from the ages of 11 to 15. One of the victims sold into slavery was a girl of 11. She was branded with the initial of her "owner" abuser: "M" for Mohammed. The court heard that Mohammed "branded her to make her his property and to ensure others knew about it". This did not happen in some Saudi or Pakistani backwater, but in Oxfordshire from 2004 to 2012.
Of course gang-rape and child abuse are not the preserve of immigrants. But as recent child rape-gang cases in the north of England have also shown, there are specific cultural ideas and attitudes that some immigrants bring with them — about women, other races and sexual minorities — which are not even medieval yet. Attempts to impose parallel legal systems, "blasphemy laws", and other new "norms" of behaviour are subtler versions of the same. But so fearful of "racism" and so in retreat is the core culture that it can barely rouse itself even to point any of this out. What media reporting there is of cases such as that in Oxfordshire is not only scant and periodic, but fearful and hedged with caveats to the point of obliqueness.
Of course none of this ever comes up in any "acceptable" discussion on immigration. Only the good must be dwelt upon. The bad is ignored. But just as surely ignored is the other thing which was missing from our cosy, right-on Newsnight discussion. That is what we used to call the mainstream — the core — what used to be called "our culture". Again, nobody much likes to talk about this. Amid all the endless celebration of diversity, the greatest irony remains that the one thing no one can bring themselves to celebrate is the thing that allowed everyone here to celebrate in the first place.
But why is it ignored? Is it accident, design, policy or cock-up? Even those of us inclined to cock-up theories of history might recognise that the direction in which the argument has jumped in recent years has a deeply malevolent edge. It brings to mind what Samuel P. Huntington said about "multiculturalism" — that policy made up on the hoof after mass immigration began. In his final work, Who Are We?, Huntington wrote, "Multiculturalism is in its essence anti-European civilisation . . . It is basically an anti-Western ideology."
Among the staging-posts which allow the argument to get to that end are some of the most intellectually dishonest arguments of our time. All were on display in reaction to the census. They include: "It's nothing new." This popular argument goes: "Britain has always been a melting pot of people of different races and backgrounds."
Such statements are so selective as to be wholly disingenuous. Until the latter half of the last century, Britain had almost negligible levels of immigration. Unlike America, we were never in fact "a nation of immigrants". And although there was often a trickle of people moving here, including Jews and Huguenots who overwhelmingly integrated into the culture, the simple scale was in a wholly separate league to the mass immigration we have seen in recent years. Roughly 50,000 Huguenots came to Britain after 1681. This was equal to a couple of months of immigration by the turn of the 21st century. The entire Ugandan Asian immigration into Britain in the early 1970s (caused by Idi Amin's expulsion of Asians from Uganda) numbered around 30,000. This constituted six weeks' worth of immigration by the late 1990s.
Yet despite these facts, one popular way to ignore the change in recent years has been to pretend that the history is different. Taxpayer-funded institutions, including schools, excel at this argument. It is a way to diminish the problem — most noticeably the problem of integration — by claiming that there is no problem, or at least no unique problem. It pretends that whatever our challenges, and whatever we are experiencing, it is just normal.
Other attempts to dissemble around the facts have been even more outrageous. Most disturbing are those implicit and explicit claims which respond to mass immigration by pretending either that the British do not have a culture, or that what culture and identity we have is so uniquely bad that it should not be mourned when it is destroyed.
Here is Bonnie Greer again on Newsnight: "There's always this failsafe, spoken or unspoken, that there is a British identity. That's always interesting to me. I think one of the geniuses of the British — of being British — is that there isn't this sort of rock-solid definition of identity that an American has."
It is hard to think of another country where this would be acceptable: your culture has always been like this — it never really existed.
In 2006 Channel 4 took enormous delight in taking a group of white British people whom it clearly believed were racists — including Norman Tebbit — and doing DNA tests on them for a documentary, 100% English? These were used to prove that all were in fact "foreigners". Nobody would be so rude as to do this to any other group of people. But with British people, different rules of engagement were deemed to apply. There existed an apparent desire to deny the British — alone of all people — an identity. In the absence of any ability to manage immigration, this is how our public figures have dealt with the issue.
Of course to make this point is to provoke an obvious rebuttal: "Ah! But that is exactly what you do deserve. Do you know what white people did — and the British in particular? You travelled around the world and lived in countries and pillaged them, and tried to erase their local cultures." Will Self was at precisely this game on Question Time the week after the census was published when he claimed: "Up to the Suez crisis . . . most people's conception of what being British involved was basically going overseas and subjugating black and brown people and taking their stuff and the fruits of their labours. That was a core part of British identity, was the British empire. Now various members of the political class have tried to revive that idea quite recently without much success."
Leaving aside the claim by Self (currently professor of contemporary thought at Brunel University) that members of the political class had tried to revive the British empire, in this speech you hear the authentic and undisguised voice of revenge. Demonstrating that such an instinct transcends racial or religious boundaries, and can as easily be self-induced as aimed at others, it suggests that Britain must be uniquely punished for the deeds of history.
The repercussions of this argument are striking to consider. For if this is even partially a spur for the recent transformation of our country and its acceptance, then what we are going through is not an accident, not a mere laxness at borders, but a cool and deliberate act of national sabotage.
If this is indeed considered an acceptable motivating factor then I suppose we must ask: who else can be treated in this way? And what is the statute of limitations? The Ottoman Turks ran one of the longest, largest and bloodiest empires in history. Ought we to treat modern Turkey as a country which deserves to be altered completely? Where should we encourage the waves of immigration to come from? Should the Turks also be expected to take this lying down? When, if ever, would a halt be called? Since all countries, peoples, religions and races have done something terrible in their time, and since most races and cultures are not punished in this way, is it wrong to see anti-Western racism as the motive behind all recent justifications?
Motivations aside, this of course throws up the ultimate question which our politicians remain too paralysed to address: how much longer must all this go on? Are we approaching the end of this transformation? Is change at this pace the new norm? Or only the beginning?
The census provided a wonderful opportunity to address this, and it was, like everything else in this supremely dishonest discussion, wretchedly missed. Perhaps one could put the pertinent question like this: is the fact that "white Britons" are now a minority in their capital city a demonstration of "diversity" as the man from the ONS said? If so, when does it cease to be so? There are London boroughs already lacking in "diversity" because there aren't enough white people around to make them diverse.
But what levels, after all's said and done, do the celebrants of diversity want to get to? What is their ideal target figure? Is a ceiling of 25 per cent white Britons in London — or the country at large — optimal? Or would it be 10 per cent? Or none at all? A final, and perhaps harder, question: how — given the concatenation of claims against them — might "white Britons" ever acceptably argue, let alone complain, about such unspecified or unspecifiable odds?
The answer remains for now that nobody can tell us, and nobody can address this. Here is Self again, speaking to wild applause from his Question Time studio audience:
"The people who line up on the opposition to the immigration line of the argument are usually racists [audience applause] . . . [with an] antipathy to people, particularly with black and brown skins."
We long ago reached the point where the only thing white Britons can do is to remain silent about the change in their country. Ignored for a generation, they are expected to get on, silently but happily, with abolishing themselves, accepting the knocks and respecting the loss of their country. "Get over it. It's nothing new. You're terrible. You're nothing."
For what it is worth, it seems to me that the vindictiveness with which the concerns of white British people, and the white working and middle class in particular, have been met by politicians and pundits alike is a phenomenon in need of serious and swift attention.
If any politician feels like an act of humility here, perhaps we could go back to where I started. Just compare the statements derided as cliché which have come from so many working- and middle-class white voters in recent years and stand them alongside the statements of the mainstream political parties. All these years on, despite the name-calling and the insults and the ignoring of their concerns, were your derided average white voters not correct when they said that they were losing their country? Perhaps you do not think they should have said it, or think they should have said it differently, or should have accepted it more readily. But were not the voices that everybody wanted to dismiss, in the final analysis, the only ones which were right?
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