Opinion: On Immigration and Being Yellow (both ethnically and politically)

I do not usually write on topics that have bearing on my ethnic background, quite simply because I do not think that in this day and age it really matters anymore. However, I am beginning to sense (and I have been sensing for quite a while) a certain backlash against foreigners (read: non-Europeans).

More specifically (and adding Darce-like tones and italics for effect) “benefit-scrounging, job-taking, NHS-using, council house hogging, swan-eating, non-English speaking” migrants which the tabloids and right-wing newspapers do very much like to bash. The rise of this particular form of bashing should be and hopefully is a serious cause of concern for the Liberal Democrats – together, of course, with the increasing ludicrous line being taken by both the Labour Government and the Conservative opposition on the issue.

I, of course, declare an interest in these matters – and as much as I rather not admit it in the current climate, I am in fact still a foreigner, and more so, one who finds Britain more of a home than “back where (you) bloody came from,” and who would be very, very happy to stay on and settle.

The straw that broke the camel’s back, and indeed, the straw that has made me break this single taboo of writing on even remotely ethnic issues, is the increasingly dire if not paranoid tone being taken by our media, and being accelerated by blatant populism within Westminster. We are of course talking about the famous action-reaction spiral – that, if my learned audience might recall, led to certain ‘mishaps’ over the course of human history, including the Cold War.

We are now observing the political reincarnation of this dreadful spiral between the Conservatives and Labour, but now over the issue of migration, with the entire debate being rather unhelpfully fuelled by certain newspapers of a certain slant busy pouring petrol over an already raging fire of misinformation, sleight-of-hand prejudice and downright xenophobia.

The Conservatives, good to routine, with the help of their friends in the media, will flag up certain exceptional cases of ‘naughty migrants’ – I would list some but I am quite sure you might be able to recall this or that about (insert choice of foreigner here) busy claiming or brashly taking (insert choice of public service, benefit or British job here) while British people suffer endlessly as the Government sits on its hands.

We have the reaction – Labour will engage in pointless populist gestures (remember the uniformed border security force? And what about the constant upward rise in fees for visa services?) while immigration hard-liners including the ever-so-nice Frank Field, Migration Watch and various, assorted Conservative MPs from the south (I suppose they come in nice, foreign-made boxes, like generic chocolate) are busy suggesting mad-men measures, including inflexible quotas decided by unelected, unaccountable committees which will starve the British economy of talent come the next boom, and the laughable alternative of EU withdrawal.

This mad, endless, and spiteful debate does no one any good. It creates an opportunity for covert racists to engage in foreigner-bashing under a mainstream umbrella, and does nothing to sort out the underlying economic and social failures started by the Conservatives and aggravated by Labour that explains both the reason why resentment now exists and why migration was needed in the first place.

It also diverts attention away from more important issues. Resources, time and effort – both within Westminster and the media – that rightfully should be targeted to deal with the dreadful and inhumane tragedy that is human trafficking are now being uselessly wasted on trying to target a ‘threat’ from highly skilled migrants who, in most cases, end up being exemplary British citizens and represent a net contribution to the British economy.

The tragedy at Morecambe Bay is an issue the Liberal Democrats, as well as the small but bustling Chinese section of the party, has been campaigning on – and little if not no progress has been forthcoming from this Labour Government on putting forward genuine changes to ensure it never happens again.

I will not, however, defend migration as perfectly legitimate, nor will I try and argue that all migrants are angels. The fact of the matter, as I will freely admit, is that some will scrounge benefits, and some do commit crimes of various shapes and sizes. However, what people fail to remember is that the vast majority of people who come from abroad do have a genuine allegiance to the United Kingdom (well, genuine enough to put up with the weather), do in fact pay their taxes on time and do contribute brilliantly to the social, cultural and economic fabric of the nation. Migrants have been painted as bogeymen, as creatures and a threat – and this is blatantly, utterly unfair and unrepresentative.

Let me relate this on a more personal level. I think I speak for more than myself when I say this is creating an air of fear, insecurity and discomfort for many who feel, both culturally and linguistically, extremely British but are yet to achieve citizenship. My heart sinks when I hear supposedly ‘progressive’ politicians like Frank Field, the Labour Member for Birkenhead (which, incidentally, is near where my English godparents live), criticise immigration and immigrants, without the least concern of separating the bad from good, or even acknowledging the massive contribution that hard-working, tax-paying and law-abiding immigrants make to this nation.

I feel disappointed and upset when I read the comments on Evening Standard articles in which ‘Bob F’ and ‘Jane R’ from the Home Counties immediately jump to the assumption that ‘foreigners’ like myself a) should go back to ‘where they bloody come from’ and b) are only here to enjoy free healthcare and benefits, while forgetting the simple fact that immigrants contribute far more to the British economy that native-born ‘benefit scroungers’ take out.

I feel ever so slightly insulted when I look at Tory Bear (who does like writing about me) to find that some bigoted Conservative councillor in Medway has decided to make fun of my unusual Chinese surname rather than engage in proper discourse and debate.

On some particularly bad days, I sometimes wonder whether the words of my parents, who were students in the bad old days of the ’70s and ’80s, really are true: that I, and others like myself, never really will be accepted as equal partners in Britain, no matter how British we may seem, or what we do, simply on the basis of colour, and the fact that we are of foreign birth. I do not want to believe that – for like anyone willing to be a Liberal Democrat I am an optimist at heart – but looking around me, in this day and age where the BNP is on the rise and all the newspapers seem to want you to go away, it is difficult to see things in a positive light.

Things however, will, and indeed can, get better.

I joined the Liberal Democrats because of my progressive, internationalist outlook- and hopefully, in the long run, British society which I truly do feel part of, will move ever closer to this progressive and internationalist ideal. I will openly admit, looking back on what I have just written, that I am from the privileged few able to integrate with little difficulty. My accent and cultural identity have been bought through good, British private schooling both here and overseas that many will never have the luxury of going through.

However, the debate on immigration affects all of us, not only those like myself who are ethnic minorities, and it is in our interest collectively to ensure we do not slide backwards into regressive fear-mongering, loathing and concealed hatred. An open and tolerant Britain, integrated not only into Europe but also with the rest of the world, is an ideal that is surely but slowly becoming a reality. The bad days of the ’70s when my parents had to walk to university under a torrent of abuse and ignorance solely due to the fact that they happened to be foreign and ethnic Chinese are over. And they must never, ever return.

Edwin Loo is the Campaigns & Communications Director of London Liberal Youth, and Executive Member of the Chinese Liberal Democrats. He is a Politics & History undergraduate at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This article is written in a personal capacity and does not represent the views of either London Liberal Youth or the Chinese Liberal Democrats.

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9 Comments

  • In my experience those opposed to mass immigration, multiculturalism etc aren’t actually that bothered about Oriental immigrants. Whether this is because there are fewer of them or because they appear to integrate better (as well as doing very well academically) I’m not sure.

  • I would argue immigration is an important issue if we are to tackle the population problem. (See the optimum population trust)

  • Andrew Duffield 19th Apr '09 - 7:15pm

    The problem is poverty – not population. Solve that (by solving the land question and securing the fiscal recycling of wealth) and not only will populations stabilise but the need for economic migration will also decline.

  • Bruce Wilson 19th Apr '09 - 11:05pm

    I voted Conservative in 1997. Never again. In my foolish youth I thought that people like Ken Clark or even John Major were representative of the Conservative Party. How wrong I was. Having watched the various twists and turns of the CP over the past 13 years I have come to the conclusion that it has a strong fascist streak. Be that the war in Iraq, its hatred of the EU, its reaction to the economic downturn or any other number of issues. David Cameron can grin like a Cheshire cat for all the world, I will never believe him.
    Only the LibDems are liberal.

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Apr '09 - 10:46am

    Edwin,

    There are benefits and costs with immigration. Do you recognise that or do you think there are only benefits? It seems to me the distribution of the costs and benefits across the existing population is not uniform, and that is a big part of the problem. For example, if you’re an employer, it’s great to have a choice of ambitious and intelligent people willing to work for low rates because those rates are high compared to what they would earn in their home countries, how much better it is to be able to pick from these sorts rather than be forced to choose from the lower ability/intelligence end of the native population. On the other hand, if you are in the lower ability/intelligence end of the native population …

    Intelligent discussion on these issues must recognise the disbenefits, if it does not and simply dismisses them as “racist” it may engender a degree of self-righteous satisfaction, it won’t solve the problem of the resentment those who get more of the costs than the benefits feel.

    I would also note that making fun of your names isn’t something that only happens to you if you’re foreign. I have an unusual English surname which sounds like something else. Do I need say more?

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Apr '09 - 10:27pm


    Fear of migration is almost exclusively driven by the media now.

    You try being a councillor for a ward which is largely council estate, a generation ago was almost all white, but where a large proportion of new council house allocations go to first generation immigrants. People remember a time when if you were brought up on the estate you would expect to get a council house allocation on it when you came of age. Now you are told it is impossible, you will never qualify, even if you are living in cranped accommodation e.g. three kids in a two-bedroom flat – there are others in more need who will get the allocation of any house that becomes empty. What do you say to your constituent who says “My grown up children can’t get a council house because they all go to immigrants”?

    Would you say to such a person “No, your concerns are all driven by the media”?

    I have no reason to believe there is any racial bias in allocations, the people getting allocations are more in need than those who don’t. But people who aren’t getting allocations do feel they’re getting squeezed out, can’t afford to buy, not needy enough to get council housing.

    The resentment is there, and I don’t believe it’s all fuelled by the media. If you can’t get housing, you do feel resentment, you don’t need the media to make you feel it.

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