Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Theresa May plays the race card…

@PaddyBriggs: Theresa May speech on immigration. Message to British children of immigrants: "We don't want any more of your type here".

Obviously my tweet was a simplistic paraphrase and these were not the Home Secretary's actual words. But the point is clear. We have a mixed society amongst which are millions of children and grandchildren (etc.) of immigrants. They are British citizens of no less value than any other British citizen and as deserving of respect.

If you suggest that the cohesiveness of Society is damaged by immigration, which Ms May did say, then you implicitly say that those who are here and of immigrant descent are a threat to society's cohesion. What Ms May is unashamedly doing is blaming multiculturalism for some of society's ills.

A pluralist society is more complex and challenging than a unitary one. Culture clashes of various sorts can and do occur. Areas like education and healthcare can be more difficult at times because of the cultural variety of pupils and patients. But the benefits far outweigh these issues. A pluralist society is infinitely richer and more interesting than one in which we are all the same. Second and third generation British Asians (for example) vary in the extent to which they conform to white majority cultural norms. Many do and the only thing that distinguishes them is often their colour and their name. Ahmed, who's darker than Andrew and has a name that is not traditionally British, is otherwise indistinguishable from him as they share a desk in the city or the staff room at the school at which they both teach. Other children of immigrants stick more closely to their cultural heritage. This is both mostly a benign choice and nothing new. Visit, for example, Stamford Hill if you want to see children of generationally distant immigrant Hasidic Jews peacefully living a life very different from their White Anglo-Saxon Protestant neighbours!

I used the "mostly" in the above paragraph advisedly. Cultural variety, in my view, is a good thing and I like Chinatown and Southall and Stamford Hill. But everyone in society has to obey the law. I don't want a Muslim child of Pakistani descent to be "forced" to adopt traditional British culture and norms if they don't want to. But I do require them to obey British laws and to be respectful of the majority culture in doing so. They must attend British schools (preferably secular ones) and be taught in English - this is not forcing an alien culture on them but it is suggesting that they should adapt to recognise that they live in Kennington not Karachi.

Back to Theresa May. People move to Britain for a whole variety of reasons. Far from all of them are long-term immigrants. To call the Polish plumber who fixes your boiler an "Immigrant" is likely to be inaccurate. What he is much more likely to be is what the Germans (who have a word for it when we don't) call a "Gastarbeiter ". He is here to work because, frankly, the money is better and/or the jobs are more available than back home. Does he affect the "cohesion" of society whilst he is here? Hardly! Having been a Gastarbeiter myself a few times in different countries I think I understand the phenomenon. The freedom of the movement of Labour allowed by international Treaty (as in the EU) is something from which we all can benefit if we choose to. I know I did  – as will my Polish plumber I’m sure.  

Mrs May is playing the “Immigration card” and tapping in to the innate prejudice of those in society who dislike not immigration, per se, but multiculturalism. And that brings me back to my tweet. The children of migrants, a generation or more removed from the original migration, are symbols of a multicultural society – mostly, I would argue, its success. The society of which they are part has its tensions and, yes, it is arguably less “cohesive” than if it was monocultural. But Ms May’s assertions about Society’s lack of cohesion are open to another interpretation – that this is primarily caused by past immigration rather than by poverty, neglect, lack of opportunity and the rest. These ills are far from confined to the areas that were settled by migrants but migrants and their children are often unfairly the scapegoats for such problems. Ms May is unashamedly playing the race card  - she is wrong to do so.   


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