spiked is about as pro-freedom of movement as it is possible to get. Never mind Romanians and Bulgarians, we think even Africans should have the freedom to travel through, work and settle in Western Europe. So you might expect us to have enjoyed the kicking David Cameron received over the past week for his anti-immigrant posturing, from commentators and campaigners claiming to be on the side of migrants to Britain. But we didn’t. On the contrary, the assaults on Cameron over his allegedly fiery rhetoric revealed how warped, even undemocratic, the pro-immigration stance has become, and how urgently we need a new, fresh, properly liberal defence of free movement.
Much about the anti-Cameron storm didn’t add up. The PM was attacked after proposing that newly arrived immigrants should not automatically qualify for welfare benefits. He was accused of stirring up unfounded fears about Britain’s welfare larder being plundered by Romanians and Bulgarians, who will have freer movement around Europe in the new year, when actually the vast majority of such Eastern migrants are fit, healthy and keen to work. This is true. It is indeed daft to fret over the alleged scrounging instincts of a foreign population who, if those from its number who are already here are anything to go by, will labour, nurse and serve for wages. But the strange thing about the Cam-bashing is that those who spearheaded it are not only far from being in favour of freedom of movement – they also actually agree with Cameron on curbing new migrants’ benefits.
So Labour’s Yvette Cooper made waves when she claimed Cameron was ‘panicking over Romanian and Bulgarian workers’. But when you dug down under the Cooper-cheering headlines, it became clear that she supports curbing benefits for new migrants - in fact, Labour thought of it first. ‘The prime minister is playing catch-up. Why has it taken him eight months to copy Labour’s proposal?’, she said. Even some of the more excoriating newspaper editorials were sympathetic to Cameron’s central idea. The Independent‘s leader was a hit with tweeting lefties, with its slamming of Cam for being ‘neurotic’ about immigration and spreading ‘hysteria’ about Eastern Europeans; yet is also said this: Cameron’s proposals are ‘not without merit’ and ‘it is not unreasonable to minimise the temptation [to migrants] of Britain’s welfare and healthcare provisions’.
The most striking example of Cameron being slated over his immigration-talk by someone who is hardly a friend to immigrants was when EU commissioner László Andor got stuck in. Andor, the EU’s man on employment, social affairs and inclusion, got British-based critics of Cameron all excited when he warned that Britain risks becoming the ‘nasty country’ of Europe as a result of its ‘hysteria’ over immigration. Cameron should give a ‘more accurate’ picture of the likely levels and impact of Romanian and Bulgarian migration to Britain, he said. So here we have a man who works for an organisation whose stringent, unforgiving anti-African immigration policies have led to the deaths of hundreds of migrants on the coasts of southern Europe lecturing Britain on how it talks about immigration. Being told off about one’s bad attitude to immigration by a Brussels-based suit is like being lectured about one’s drinking habits by Shane McGowan.
So if the loud critics of Cameron are actually in agreement with him - either on the specifics of curbing benefits or on the general idea that migration must be more tightly policed - what is pumping their bluster? What is it about Cameron’s comments that caused them to bash out editorials or press releases attacking his neurosis and hysteria? What they’re really worried about is not the impact that Cameron’s proposals will have on Romanians and Bulgarians, but the impact they will have on Brits, on the apparently mushy, malleable minds of those less well-read sections of Britain with their innate hostility to migrants and their latent desire to attack foreigners. What outraged Cam’s critics was not that he suggested making migrants’ lives a little harder, but that he suggested it in front of the children - us, the masses of Britain, who are apparently too politically immature to hear such talk.