Reflections on a Silo Nation

According to Denis MacShane, there are three great lies about immigration:

1) Politicians are not talking about it. I can think of no other issue that flares up so often on the doorstep. It is raised regularly at local Labour party meetings. The government has changed the law again and again. Phil Woolas and other ministers get into trouble as they talk of little else.

2) It is out of control. In fact, last year there were 24,000 claims for asylum but 65,000 asylum seekers were sent or went home. The great wave of east European workers sucked in by the booming low-wage labour-intensive economy of the early century has subsided. Over decades Britain has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Irish. Now it is a different type of Catholic European – Poles and Slovaks.

3) There is something easy to be done.

The Rotherham MP is always worth reading and this is an interesting and sensible contribution to the current ‘debate’.

Opposition to migration can stem from racism, sure, but it also has roots in a silo mentality. We think of ourselves as an absolute zero sum economy where (to paraphrase P J O’Rourke) if I order a pizza, you have to eat the box. We don’t like migrants because we might have to pay for them. We don’t like foreign wars, not because we care about the loss of life, but because wars cost money and distract us from our national interest. And not just wars. Any aid, any trade, any intervention is suspicious these days. During the Haiti earthquake crisis acquaintances would ask me things like: ‘Why are we giving public money to Haiti, when there are problems enough at home?’ The attitude is that you look after your own and build up the walls. Society must be non-porous and vacuum-sealed. A philosophy of total separation.

The fact that even recession-hit and ‘broken’ Britain is a safer and more comfortable place than impoverished Haiti didn’t seem to occur to my interlocutors. Nor did the idea that it might be a good reflection on British citizens that, even in dark times, so many pledged support for disaster victims who they had never met and never would.


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