LibLink: Vince Cable on why we need the EU and immigrants

Vince Cable Social Liberal Forum conference Jul 19 2014 Photo by Paul WalterWriting in the Mail to coincide with Remembrance Sunday, Vince Cable made a heartfelt plea for tolerance of a united Europe and immigration, citing personal experience:

I am astounded when people say they have never been allowed to talk about immigration and that politicians ignore it. I remember it differently: a continued, sometimes angry, political debate going back to the 1950s. There was not an immigration issue as such. Until the late 1990s, net immigration was negative. More people left than arrived. But those leaving were white and most arriving were black or Asian.

That ‘immigration’ debate peaked in the 1960s, at the time I returned with my late British (but Asian) wife Olympia from working in Kenya, settling in Scotland, far from any racial ‘hotspots’.

A panic ensued about the potential – and some actual – immigration of Asian minorities in Kenya and Uganda. And there was Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Let no one underestimate the power of inflammatory language. For some time it was unsafe for my wife, or the two of us, to go out for fear of abuse from normally friendly people.

Subsequently, Britain has become more tolerant and inclusive. Powell was wrong in his predictions. Mixed families like mine became more common.

Racism became a dirty word. The East African Asian minority to which my late wife belonged are mostly highly successful.

You can read the full article here.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Sadly, I fear this debate is impervious to facts, there is an almost perfect storm of a PM hostage to one wing of his party combined with the UKIP threat to them. Add in a populist press eager to find exceptional situations and paint them as the norm and a reasoned approach seems doomed to failure.

    Top marks to Vince for trying though.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Nov '14 - 10:57am

    Vince might have his facts right, but his writing style isn’t good enough. The comments have reacted with scorn and I predicted they would.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Nov '14 - 11:00am

    My wife comes from exactly the same background as Vince Cable’s late wife. We’ve been together over 20 years, and only once (on a visit to Yorkshire) experienced any sort of abusive comment. I have a line I’ve always wanted to use if anyone ever did mention “mixed marriage”, which is “Huh, no, we’re both Catholics”, but I’ve never had to use it.

    However, I do recall that throughout the 1970s and 1980s, we were always told that immigration was a temporary thing, a matter of dealing with former Empire issues, and it would eventually settle down. Only it hasn’t. So, sorry, but the people of this country WERE lied to about that.

    When I look of my office window, I see a place which was once the heartland of “Cockney” culture, but is now almost entirely non-white in population, mostly Bangladeshi. So the certainties and close-knit community that used to exist among the white inhabitants, has gone, so those who feared that immigration would do this were right.

    I think we need to understand the negative feelings this has raised, along with being very pleased that on the whole Britain HAS adapted very well to it, as Vince says, there has not been the “blood in the streets” etc predicted. I think we also need to be aware that it has been the white working class which has borne the brunt of adaption. Prosperous thoroughly middle class communities are still recognisably the same culture as they were decades ago – sure, there’s been organic change, but nothing like what has happened in many inner city places. The real practical aspects of moving towards a multi-ethnic culture have actually been handled by people lower down the social scale. Mostly this has been very successful, but I am aware that there’s a difference between the part of London where I live, and the part where I work – in south-east London where I live, there is a high non-white population, but very few of them are Muslim, and this seems to be factor in integration.

    All these things need to be recognised, because the danger is that white people from prosperous backgrounds can come across as very patronising when they are lecturing about what a good thing immigration is, and how anyone who doesn’t agree with them is just a nasty racist. To them, high immigration may mean cheap nannies, and interesting ethnic restaurants in the parts of town they don’ actually live in.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Nov '14 - 11:05am

    Eddie Sammon

    Vince might have his facts right, but his writing style isn’t good enough. The comments have reacted with scorn and I predicted they would

    Yes, I hope what I wrote won’t get misinterpreted, and I was struggling to find a way I could say it that would’t get seen as suggesting any sort of sympathy with actual racism. However, yes, as I said, well-meant comments like this can so easily come across as patronising to those who have experienced immigration not primarily as cheap nannies and interesting restaurants on the other side of town.

  • Richard Dean 12th Nov '14 - 11:46am

    Vince’s own experience should be telling him why Powell’s prediction didn’t come to pass – the speech served as a warning rather than a rallying call. People like Vince and his wife adapted their behaviour, opinion leaders recognized a danger and adapted their opinions, artists including comedians took up the challenge of promoting integration.

  • ” People like Vince and his wife adapted their behaviour, ”

    The point being why do we mixed families still have to and or expected/need to?

    Thank you for your personal experience Vince, your generation gave mine the platform to stand to.

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Nov '14 - 2:10pm

    Eddie Sammon

    “Vince might have his facts right, but his writing style isn’t good enough. The comments have reacted with scorn and I predicted they would”

    Come off it. He was writing in the Mail. His writing style had nothing to do with it. Contrary to biblical propaganda, if you walk into a den of lions armoured only in righteousness, you’re liable to get savaged. It was a brave and worthy thing to do, and the response was inevitable.

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Nov '14 - 2:14pm

    Matthew Huntbach

    Why is it terribly unfair for people to voice a suspicion that anti-immigration views may be motivated by racism, but okay for you to claim that those of us who support people’s right to migrate do so because “to them, high immigration may mean cheap nannies, and interesting ethnic restaurants in the parts of town they don’ actually live in”? Is denigrating the supposed undeclared, unworthy motives of your opponents acceptable so long as you’re on the right side of the argument when you do it?

  • I am tired of pro-immigration enthusiasts arguing for their own narrow causes.

    It may be the CBI whose members would love to recruit all of their employees from countries with low wage expectations.

    It may be those who believe that lavishing taxpayers’ money on immigrants is an essential responsibility for a relatively well off nation.

    Or it may be those who scream “racism” to anyone guilty of mentioning the “I” word.

    The simple fact is this: Immigration is out of control and is rising too quickly and too much. The rate of increase is not sustainable now, let alone in the future.

    The population remained stable at around 56 million for decades. Today it is more than 64 million and rising at around a quarter of a million per year. This is like adding the population of Bristol every 12 months. This figure is accelerating.

    This is stretching to breaking point our infrastructure such as the NHS which is already close to failure, the welfare bill which currently swallows up a quarter of all taxation, our education system which does not have enough teachers, schools or the budget to cope, quite apart from the language difficulties. The housing market was already a disaster even before immigration added to its woes.

    I can hear the enthusiasts telling me that it is unfair to blame the immigrants. I am not blaming anyone, I’m stating facts. You cannot pretend that we can absorb another million people every 3-4 years and not add to the housing demand. Where will these people stay if they do not add to demand? That requires a serious answer.

    It is time politicians and left wing activists faced reality otherwise they will bring down the public funded services that they shout so much about.

  • Malcolm Todd 12th Nov '14 - 3:51pm

    “The population remained stable at around 56 million for decades. Today it is more than 64 million and rising at around a quarter of a million per year. This is like adding the population of Bristol every 12 months. This figure is accelerating.”

    Sources for these “simple facts”? A quick search on Google suggests that (1) the population was not static at around 56m for decades – it grew steadily from about 51m to to about 57m between 1951 and 1971, plateau’d for about 10 or 12 years (not “decades”) then resumed steady, but rising, growth to the end of the century; it has grown somewhat faster in the last 10 years; (2) the population is rising at more than 250000 a year — that’s the net rate of migration in the last year — be clear, is it population levels you’re worried about, or numbers of immigrants?; (3) by “accelerating” you perhaps mean that it’s more this year than last year – but two points don’t make a trend, and whilst still historically high, the growth figure is lower than it has been in most of the ten years.

    For evidence, try these:–england-and-wales–scotland-and-northern-ireland/2013/sty-population-changes.html—focus-on-people-and-migration—chapter-1.pdf

  • David Evans 12th Nov '14 - 4:19pm

    Peter “The population remained stable at around 56 million for decades. Today it is more than 64 million and rising at around a quarter of a million per year. This is like adding the population of Bristol every 12 months.”

    The population of Bristol (i.e. within the boundaries of Bristol City Council) is 437,000. So you’re only out by 75%!

    The population of Greater Bristol that includes areas of the conurbation, like Kingswood, Mongotsfield and Bradley Stoke is actually 617,000. So on that you are 146% out.

  • Martin Land 12th Nov '14 - 4:27pm

    Among the countries facing significant demographic declines, according to Eurostat, is Germany whose population is predicted to fall from 82 million today to 70 million in 2060, with the percentage of people aged 65 or more rising from 20.1% to 32.5%. Other shrinking countries include Poland, whose population would fall from 38 million to 31 million in 2060 (with over-65s rising from 13.5% to 36.2% of the populace); Romania (down from 21 million to 16 million); Hungary (10 million to 8 million) and the Czech Republic (10 million to 9 million).

    In Italy… the over-65s are projected to rise from 20.1% to 32.7% of the population by 2060; Spain where the increase is 16.6% to 32.3%; and France (whose population is expected to rise) 16.5% to 25.9%.

    Britain is expected to have fewer problems with an increasing population being combined with a less steep increase in ageing – over 65s becoming 24.7% of the population – up from 16.1% now.

    So, let’s think. Immigration or social and economic suicide?

  • “Until the late 1990s, net immigration was negative. More people left than arrived. But those leaving were white and most arriving were black or Asian.”

    This single statement shows the lack of depth in Vince’s (and others) thinking – he spots a trend but doesn’t stop to consider whether it might cause problems or become a problem.

    I think the real problem with Vince’s article in the Mail is that it isn’t particularly focused. If he wanted to talk about a united Europe and what that means with respect to the movement of people then do exactly that, don’t wander off the subject and start talking about mass immigration from outside of Europe. So like Eddie Sammon I think Vince’s writing style isn’t up to it; probably needs to employ a more capable support team, because the way the article was written is just asking to be taken apart.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Nov '14 - 7:52pm

    Malcolm Todd

    Is denigrating the supposed undeclared, unworthy motives of your opponents acceptable so long as you’re on the right side of the argument when you do it?

    I have neither said that none of those who are opposed to immigration have racist motives nor that all those who are positive about immigration are only taking that view for narrow financial reasons. I am simply doing that liberal thing of looking at both sides and trying to find a balance. There are plenty of good things about immigration, yes. But there are also bad things. As it happens, I agree with Vince that the good things outweigh the bad things, and that on the whole it has worked out well for this country.

    My point, however, was that it tends to be those higher up the social scale who get the most from the positive side, and those lower down the social scale who have the most in the way of difficult issues to contend with. Is it so wrong to say that? I am suggesting that because of that, those trying to put the positive side of immigration need at least to be aware of the concerns of others, and may not do so because of the way the balance differs depending on social position. But I’d say similar for any political issue – it is always good to appreciate the arguments on both sides, even, and perhaps especially, if you are firmly on one side. You can, after all, much better push your case if you are familiar with the arguments against.

  • I thought it was the Conservatives who supported EU enlargement in the 1990’s, while Labour were in power when it happened in 2004 and 2007.

    I do wonder if the opposition to immigration is different now than in the 1960’s and 70’s. With full employment and low levels of homelessness I think the opposition to immigration was cultural, now it is economic. How often have you heard someone say, that the Poles are Catholics and so are from a different culture to our Protestant way of life?

    Politicians need to recognise that the economic effects of immigration are what make it such an issue today. If we had full employment and no housing shortage I am sure people would be less bothered by the number of eastern Europeans in the country. This is why Matthew Huntbach is correct it is poorer areas and people who have had to face the pressures of immigration and not the wealthy middle class.

    @ Malcolm Todd

    I have looked on the internet. UK population
    1951 – 50.2, 1961 – 52.8, 1971 55.9, 1981 56.3, 1991 – 57.4, 2001 – 59.1, 2011 – 63.1.
    The population has increased by 4 million in the ten years between 2001 and 2011 and by 3.2 million in the 30 years between 1971 and 2001. (It seems that the population rise for France has been even higher from 48.7 million in 1947 to 66.03 in 2013.)

    Your “grown somewhat faster in the last 10 years” should read more three times as fast!

  • Richard Sangster 13th Nov '14 - 9:26am

    The excess of people from the continent, living in Britain, over the number of UK citizens living on the continent, is no more than about 200, 000. So net migration from the continent is only a minor part of the problem. The main problem is that we are keener to placate NIMBYs than to build sufficient new housing.

  • I think that the main problem is significantly wider than just placating NIMBY’s and building housing. It is also how as a nation we have large numbers of jobs which could be filled most effectively by Brits, but due to a whole series of long lasting failures we have failed to educate/socialise a significant proportion of our population to want to do and be able to do these jobs. Whether it is Doctors, where we have had to import them from poorer countries for many decades, or fruit packers which has been a more recent phenomenon, or any of a large number of jobs in between, we have a substantial mismatch even though we still have a relatively successful economy.

    The fact that we still have sink estates where a majority of people do not work, really does say a lot about how poorly things have been handled over many years by politicians of all colours. Immigration in these circumstances enables the productive economy to circumvent these problems, aided by the fact that English is the most prevalent second language in most of the world, but the country as a whole is still letting a lot of our youngsters down and we need to work very much harder to remedy it.

  • Richard Sangster 13th Nov '14 - 2:46pm

    David, you raise a very valid point, albeit one that is going to take a long time to resolve. All I can say is that measures like the pupil premium are a start.

  • David Evans really identifies two problems, first how to get people to train for the jobs where we have labour shortages such as doctors and secondly how to re-connected people to working.

    I remember a few years ago that career advice was decentralised and there were fears that it would be done by poorly trained teachers as it was done in the past. Perhaps it is time that the government spent some money identifying those career areas where we are likely to have a shortage and put in place incentives for people to train for those careers and for companies to take on trainees and train them. This would have to take account of the duration of training.

    I don’t think Richard Sangster has thought about how long it would take the pupil premium to resolve this issue, assuming it could. If we assume people work for 50 years then it would take that long for everyone to have been affected by the pupil premium. This is why school education and apprentices are not going to resolve this issue in my lifetime.

    The Work Programme has been a failure as it is no more successful than doing nothing. I don’t know why this is so. There are lots of skilled people working in this area who could with the resources make a difference to people, but it will take lots of resources and time. However 2 or 3 years invested in a person could ensure that that person would work for the rest of their lives, assuming of course that there were the jobs for everyone that paid a living wage.

  • David Evans 13th Nov '14 - 4:50pm

    Richard, I agree, but I think it worth emphasising that I do not regard extra spending in itself as a solution, but a means to an end. Improving the end results is not just much more important, it is the only thing that is important. Money can and often does help, but it can be wasted or even used counter productively.

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