In recent months and years, we seem to have become bogged down in an immigration debate, culminating in Prime Minister David Cameron’s over-zealous set of migration proposals of a couple of days ago. This is all unnecessary and a distraction from things that really matter: the economy, the health service and education, to name but some. Very few people seem to have the vision or courage to describe things as they really are. So here goes…
Immigration is not a problem of any magnitude. It’s true immigration from within the EU grew rapidly with expanded EU membership, and there was an influx from Eastern Europe and particularly Poland (by virtue of the fact there were more Poles than other Eastern Europeans who joined the EU). But Poles and others have come here to work, and work hard. They take jobs locals won’t, and by all accounts – including from employers – are generally harder working and more reliable than the local workforce. They work all hours and 6-7 days a week.
There are some take advantage of our perhaps overly generous benefits system – but they are a tiny minority. And it’s also true the influx has put additional pressure on local services. But this is nothing that cannot be addressed, oiled by a little tolerance.
So why has immigration taken centre stage? The reason, of course, is the growth of UKIP under its Svengali Farage. He’s credited with allowing immigration to be debated openly once again; in the past, so it’s said, anyone who so much as mentioned the “I” word was branded racist.
Well, actually, now we know why. Cameron – running truly scared of UKIP along with all the other traditional parties – had it right the first time: fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists. What Poles and others coming here might not have heard of is the concept of the Little Englander; someone who believes that anything foreign is problematical. It’s a short step from this to xenophobia and racism.
I am in no doubt that Farage and his cronies are closet racists. They put on a mask, but we’ve seen how often it slips. I am sure that if – God forbid – they ever came to power, the rights of foreigners and minorities would rapidly be curtailed. This is why I’m so keen to speak out against UKIP.
Again, it’s not that I don’t recognise the pressures brought by immigration. But – again – this is not as portrayed: indeed, all the economic data shows the huge net contribution made by immigrants, and the obvious benefit of EU membership. Rather, immigration is egregiously played upon by the populist Farage at a time of economic hardship. He found fertile ground in the wake of the expenses scandal (which there was no defending). Follow me, he said. I’m not part of the establishment. I like a fag and a pint. Vote for me and I’ll keep out Johnny Foreigner. And that's more or less it. As we've seen lately, UKIP has few credible policies beyond leaving the EU and curbing immigration (assuming you consider those credible). Yet this simple formula has been enough to turn the established political world upside down.
I don't mind that in itself. The establishment needs a good shake from time to time – and particularly this one. But the result should not be intolerance, and the rise of the likes of UKIP. That makes us a nasty place and people.
It’s time we had the immigration debate on the facts, which shouldn’t take long. That would unmask UKIP for what they are, and then – I’m sure – the bulk of their support would ebb away, leaving the rump to scuttle off to the marginal, right wing extremist groups to which they once belonged. Funny how those groups have declined in line with UKIP’s rise, isn’t it?