The Independent View: The political culture in Britain seems to have been infected by a form of madness

With each electoral gain made by Ukip, politicians and the media respond with ever more apocalyptic descriptions of the insidious effect of mass immigration on this small overcrowded island.

A vivid picture is painted daily of a nation overrun by swarms of migrants who are taking our jobs, lowering our wages, scrounging our benefits, crowding our schools, clogging up our hospital wards, destroying our culture and boiling our children before eating them for breakfast.

Well, maybe not the last bit, but some of the scaremongering rhetoric comes close to such levels of hysteria. It would be laughably surreal were it not so inflammatory and potentially damaging, particularly when it is stirred up by people in positions of power and influence who really should know better.

And not only is it extremely irresponsible, but this reaction to Ukip’s rise is founded upon a complete lie and a myth. For the people who are voting for Nigel Farage’s party in large numbers do not even live in areas that have seen high levels of immigration.

I wrote a piece last month for the New Statesman online which analysed the correlation between the areas in which Ukip is winning most votes and the ethnic composition of the local population. It can be read here.

What I found is that, by and large, Ukip is doing best in the localities where immigration is lowest. With very few exceptions, the pattern holds true across the country from council wards to European election regions to Parliamentary seats.

Ukip’s successes have come almost entirely in areas that are far more ‘White British’ than the average across England and Wales of 80.5 per cent. Sometimes, as in the case of the party’s first Parliamentary seat of Clacton, the figure is 95 per cent or higher.

My article was written several weeks before Ukip won its second Westminster seat, in Rochester and Strood, where the problems of Eastern European migration are apparently so acute that the victorious MP Mark Reckless was moved to raise the long-deceased spectre of repatriation policies. But the truth is that, at 87 per cent White British, the constituency is not even close to average levels of immigration.

These statistics make clear that most of the people voting for Ukip are simply engaging in old-fashioned scapegoating when it comes to immigration. Many of them have never even seen an immigrant, let alone lost out on a job to one, but will still blame foreigners for all the ills of the land.

In contrast, those living in areas where their lives are affected in profound material ways – both good and bad – by immigration are far more prepared to view the issue with compassion, tolerance and rationality. In short, they are not voting for Ukip.

The two main political parties, with their reliance on pollsters and focus groups, are surely aware of this fact. They must know, and I can confirm this as a second generation Indian immigrant, that the reality on the ground remains harmonious – far removed from the routine abuse and hostility of previous decades. Yet elements of Conservative and Labour seem to be engaged in a senseless race to the bottom, where they try to outdo Ukip in stressing their intent to slash migrant numbers and overturn the EU’s principle of free movement.

They clearly lack the courage to oppose Ukip’s narrative on immigration, and perhaps they even feel a vested interest in sustaining it. Why challenge the perceptions of voters defecting to Ukip when you can simply ape that party’s rhetoric and bring them back?

MPs who think in such a manner are doing their constituents a great disservice. They should challenge irrational and irresponsible scaremongering with statistical evidence and fair-minded discussion.

The reality is that before we point out the economic benefits of immigration, before we highlight the cultural enrichment brought by ethnic diversity and before we question whether it is even possible for a wealthy and historically-influential nation to drastically limit immigration in today’s globalised economy, we must first expose the complete myth that lies beneath Ukip’s posturing on immigration.

Sometimes hope comes in unlikely forms such as Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the Tory Backbench 1922 Committee, who wrote in this week’s Mail on Sunday: ‘The language of Ukip and its unforgiving attitude towards difference is alien to the values that I and most of my colleagues hold dear… The reality is that Rochester and Strood is a constituency with less than three per cent unemployment and below average levels of immigration. There is a fair chance that those immigrants who do live in the area are as much involved in delivering public services as they are in using them.’

I couldn’t have put it better myself! But the leadership of his party, and their equivalents at the helm of Labour, do not look like following his lead any time soon.

So perhaps it lies with the Lib Dems to restore some sanity to the debate on immigration. The party’s leadership has been understandably quiet since Nick Clegg’s unsuccessful debates with Nigel Farage, but this issue is far too important to be left to run on its current demented course until next year’s election.

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This entry was posted in The Independent View.
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9 Comments

  • David Evans 27th Nov '14 - 3:42pm

    I’m afraid Nick is the problem. His decisions on Tuition Fees, NHS reform, Secret Courts, “an end to broken promises” etc have made him massively unpopular and simultaneously undermined our local government base which is the face of Liberal Democracy in most areas. As a result, he has driven away many people who agree with us on those issues to the other parties.

    How one man, plus a small entourage can totally undermine such great ideals as our party holds is a mystery to many. How this disillusion with Liberal Democracy then manifested itself in a resurgence of the right will be his epitaph.

    Can we turn this around? Only if we are all prepared to try.

  • On newsnight bbc2 Wednesday a professor calmly spoke of the 70% that are ignored maybe the parties should engage and ask instead of telling all the time

  • “A vivid picture is painted daily of a nation overrun by swarms of migrants who are taking our jobs, lowering our wages, scrounging our benefits, crowding our schools, clogging up our hospital wards, destroying our culture and boiling our children before eating them for breakfast.”

    You forgot to mention about the immigrants using up all our precious drinking water :-

    http://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/politics/elections/election_2010/eastleigh/news/8102360.Huhne_calls_for_immigration_clampdown_in_the_south/?ref=mac

    So it isn’t just the Tories and Labour who engage in this “race to the bottom”, is it?

    In fact, I don’t think any of the traditional parties are behaving in the way you describe. All three “main” party leaders have stated frankly that they consider concerns about immigration to be totally legitimate, including Nick Clegg :-

    http://www.libdems.org.uk/nick_clegg_s_immigration_speech

    Yet as I pointed out on another thread, when Ed Miliband made some remarks that were virtually identical to something Clegg said in the above speech, he was denounced by Lib Dems as pandering to racists. The acid test appears to be not what people say or believe, but what colour Party membership card they carry.

    I think this tactic – of insinuating that anybody with any concerns about immigration is a racist – will backfire spectacularly on the Lib Dems, because the end result will be to drive more and more people who are not racist into the arms of UKIP. That will be a disaster for all of us, including Labour supporters like myself.

  • I was pleased to read this article by Harcharan Chandhoke.

    He is right to point to the levels of hysteria and scaremongering rhetoric that are echoing round politics in this country.

    Have people gone completely mad? Irresponsible populism can be heared from MPs who are Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat. There seems to be some sort of manic rush to be as alarmist as UKIP.

    This tells us nothing about the facts of immigration and everything aout the gap between the Westminster Bubble and the real world.

    In the real world, those of us who live in areas with high numbers of immigrants get on fine together and recognise the nonsense that is spouted by lazy MPs who think a quick burst of anti-immigrant rhetoric will see them re-elected in May.

    It shows a lack of knowledge of the realities of migration and also a complete failure to understand why people have been voting UKIP. The vote for UKIP which is hugely exaggerated by the media is a symptom of the gap between the Westminster Bubble and real people. If existing MPs think that aping UKIP on immigration will win them respect and votes they are very much mistaken — it will just further illustrate how out of touch they are.

  • I do not in the least understand why any Liberal Democrat would do anything but oppose the ridiculous fearmongering about immigration and terrorism which has been used to hijack the national discourse. If it were even slightly beneficial to the Lib Dems’ electoral prospects it might be justifiable as a cynical ploy for votes; but in reality it simply boosts UKIP at the expense of everyone else, but particularly the Lib Dems. How did this internalised culture of self-harm begin? What has to happen for it to stop?

  • David-1

    “I do not in the least understand why any Liberal Democrat would do anything but oppose the ridiculous fearmongering about immigration and terrorism which has been used to hijack the national discourse.”

    Any one who is even slightly liberal should oppose the fearmongering but they also should avoid the tempation to become shrill and try to stigmatise those who have concerns.

  • David-1 27th Nov ’14 – 9:04pm
    David, to answer your two questions —

    1)–. How did this internalised culture of self-harm begin?
    It began in 2003 at the Brighton Liberal Democrat Conference when Paul Marshall and David Laws got together and decided to use Marshall’s hedge fund millions to mount a coup and shift our party from being a Liberal Party to being a Mark Two Conservative Party in their own image. (see page 86 of the book ‘The Clegg Coup’)

    2)– What has to happen for it to stop?
    To stop the rot — members of the party and in particular the MPs need to take back the party from the Right-wing entryists

  • AC Trussell 28th Nov '14 - 4:50pm

    I don’t know why I bother reading this depressing stuff. I’m sure some of you would prefer to be shouting in the wilderness!
    Cheer up, you should be shouting about all the good stuff that is now helping people.
    No doubt you will find something negative to say about this.

  • geoffrey payne 29th Nov '14 - 12:23pm

    Please come and join us and help us make this case.

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