[This post is taken from my weekly column on www.tmponline.org]
Last week Chief Constable Julie Spence from Cambridge entered into the immigration debate, giving her views on how migrant workers – particularly those from Eastern Europe – are placing a heavy burden on the resources of the police force. Language, cultural and social differences are all, according to Ms Spence, costing her community – and no doubt others – dear.
Of course the media loved that! They might as well have shouted: “See! We knew we were right! Immigration is bad for our beloved country! Forget what the government says, here is a senior police officer telling us what we’ve always known!” Lo and behold, the newspapers – from The Daily Mail to The Telegraph – played up to the hysteria.
Ross Clark in the Times wrote the following piece of well-investigated journalism (please note my sarcasm): “That our murder rate has doubled since the 1950s, for example, is not entirely unconnected with our having absorbed a great number of migrants from cultures much more violent than our own.”
I would love to ask Mr Clark from where he gets his evidence that a) Eastern Europeans (or anyone else for that matter) are more violent than Brits, and b) that the increased murder rate in the UK since 1950 has anything whatsoever to do with immigration.
In another piece of scare-mongering, the Telegraph says: “Society is fracturing, segregation growing, the dream of integration further away than ever. This poses profound problems for the country: funding adequate public services is probably the least of them.” Again, where is the real evidence for any of this?
Unfortunately, these are simply the ill-informed, un-researched personal – although presented as fact – opinions of supposedly intelligent, forward thinking and educated people. But blimey, if they feel that way, what must the average Joe Bloggs think?
Immigration is – and always has been – a controversial issue in this country. Whilst the government plays up the economic benefits, many remain unconvinced, believing instead that it harms ‘social cohesion’ and damages the fabric of British society. Ms Spence’s comments served only to reinforce this viewpoint. According to her, people from Eastern Europe have ‘different standards’ and are responsible for a rise in knife crime and drink driving.
On the whole, media discussion of immigration tends to appeal to people’s fears of ‘the other’. Constable Spence, by positing Eastern European and British cultures as being fundamentally different and at-odds with one another, does the same. The hysterical and hyperbolic language used by the media leads to a sense of panic whereby the public is led to believe that wonderful, quaint British society will fall to pieces as uneducated, uncouth immigrants with non-existent moral values ‘swamp’ the country.
I find the fears surrounding immigration uncalled for and rather ridiculous. Ridiculous because they are age-old. Whether it’s blacks, Irish, Jews or Eastern Europeans, there has always been a public fear of those from other countries coming into the UK. There has always been someone, whether it’s a politician or a police officer, with ‘evidence’ to show how dangerous immigration is to the British way of life.
Back in 1968, Enoch Powell’s gave his controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. Today it seems we are still hearing the same thing; the underlying notion being that migrant populations will overwhelm Great Britain and its people.
However, I do not see any real basis for this belief. The UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The economy is stable, unemployment is low, violent crime is on the decrease. On the whole, people from different countries live quite well side-by-side in modern day Britain.
Undoubtedly there are some tensions, and terrorist activities have increased public anxiety. However, we must not generalize based on the behaviour or actions of a few. There are bad apples in every cart – immigrants and British alike. We must not forget that the vast majority of violent crime and anti-social behaviour is committed by British people.
No doubt Constable Spence’s constabulary now has different and pressing needs. However, life is all about change and they will simply have to adapt. Interestingly enough, the Immigration Minister was today quoted as saying that, in real terms, funding is up by 20% in Cambridgeshire and crime is actually down in the region.
Let’s focus on the positive and look at the benefits of immigration. Let’s focus on just how much immigrants have contributed to British society over generations. It is a disservice to hard working, law-abiding people who have come to this country and made social, cultural and financial contributions to make gross disparaging over-generalizations about those who come to reside in the UK from abroad.
Isn’t it time Ms Spence and others look at the bigger picture and applaud immigration?