Down with these Malthusian MPs

A proposal to cap the UK population at 70million shows how mainstream miserabilist population control has become.

Tim Black

Tim Black
Columnist

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Topics Politics

‘70 MILLION IS TOO MANY.’ That is the title of a campaign launched today by the UK cross-party parliamentary Balanced Migration Group, a rag-bag of has-beens and never-will-bes intent on keeping the national population below 70million come what may. Even by the lowly standards of contemporary party political thinking, it’s a thoroughly miserable, intellectually impoverished campaign.

That such a human-hating campaign has been launched by the Balanced Migration Group shouldn’t perhaps be a surprise given the withered nature of some of its 20-strong members, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, self-styled Labour maverick Frank Field, and Tory MP Nicolas Soames. Together this group of people to be avoided at a party have come up with a ‘big’ idea: to get all political parties to pledge to limit net immigration to the levels of the early 1990s – around 40,000 a year – as opposed to 2008’s figure of 168,000. In doing so, they trumpet, the current British population of 61million won’t exceed the (rather arbitrary) limit of 70million.

If the idea is depressing, the reasons for its existence are more so. ‘Nearly a million votes by our fellow citizens for an extremist party [the British National Party] amount to a danger sign which must not be ignored’, the group declares. As we’ve noted before on spiked, if the BNP didn’t exist, today’s purposeless politicians looking for the Good Fight would surely have to invent it. Here, however, the BNP provides a justification not for a campaign posturing in opposition to the BNP’s stance on immigration, but for placating those they believe support it. Fearful that the BNP might be stealing their illiberal, prejudiced thunder, Field and friends are trying to take it back. That the vote for the BNP was born largely out of a disenchantment with mainstream politics, rather than any incipient racism, seems to have passed the Balanced Migration Group by. Instead, they seem a little too keen to exploit what they imagine is the BNP’s constituency.

Just as dispiriting is the group’s belief that more people in the UK equals societal collapse. Public services cannot cope, they say; Britain’s infrastructure, from housing to transport, cannot hold; and the result of ‘too many people’ will see any last vestige of ‘social cohesion’ torn apart.

And all this because of an extra 10million people? It’s a staggeringly ignorant supposition. Human societies have always been able to embrace more and more people. And the reason is simple: just as population changes, so too does society – economically, politically, technologically and so on. This is why, despite the dire predictions of anyone from the Reverend Thomas Malthus 200 years ago to demographic catastrophist Paul Ehrlich in the 1970s, as global population has risen exponentially so have the majority’s living standards. Things like transport, housing and energy do not stand still while population changes – they change and improve, too. As Malthus himself might have noticed if he’d lived long enough to witness the full benefits of the Industrial Revolution.

To present infrastructural problems as problems of migration – and population increase – is entirely disingenuous. Poor public services or a limited housing stock are not issues to be understood in terms of there being too many people. They are to be understood as social and economic problems to which there ought to be social, economic solutions. We should be trying to build more houses, not limit inhabitants. The language of ‘migration’ and ‘population’ simply shifts responsibility, from politicians to people – and people’s desire to have children and to move around the world.

The use of dishonest phraseology by those of Malthusian mindset is nothing new. In the 1920s and 1930s neutral-seeming phrases like ‘family planning’ and even ‘birth control’ were part of a thoroughly retrograde ideology. For a post-First World War ruling class struggling to rule, and incapable of envisioning a future except in terms of decline or catastrophe, the travails of imperial Britain were grasped in biological terms, as problems of an expanding population of inferior lower-class types – ‘undesirable births’, as Ernest McBride put it in a 1931 edition of Nature. Hence, in 1921, Marie Stopes, the founder of the Society for Progressive Birth Control and Racial Progress, berated a London audience about the perils and expense of allowing ‘wastrels to breed’. She wasn’t a lone weirdo, a eugenicist without a congregation. Her ideas were thoroughly mainstream. As the prime minister at the time, David Lloyd George, gravely stated, how can Britain run an A1 empire with a C3 population (medical categories for army recruits). ‘Family planning’, ‘birth control’: though they sounded innocuous, these weren’t rational solutions to rational problems; they were responses from a visionless elite to problems for which they could envisage no solution.

Today it seems that it’s acceptable once more to blame population changes for social and economic problems. It is acceptable to advise the wrong sort of people not to have children; it is acceptable to tell those from abroad that too many of them will bring about the ruin of Britain. The bland cadences of today’s policy speak – ‘balanced migration’ – exhibit a thinking as pernicious as the eugenicism of the earlier period. And one shouldn’t mistake the rejection of the Balanced Migration Group’s proposals by mainstream politicians for something positive. There is no principled defence of the freedom of movement, here. As Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, there was no need for such a limit because existing immigration controls were already working. While Brown and Field might disagree about the means, they share the population-limiting end.

The virtually unquestioned, dinner-party acceptability of neo-Malthusianism provides a dispiriting snapshot of our times. Bereft of vision, of aspiration, of a sense that there’s a better society to be built, today’s political class struggles to envisage a future that is not catastrophic. Just as it did in the 1920s and 1930s, the apocalyptic dominates the contemporary ruling ideological outlook. The neo-Malthusian ideology not only degrades its propagators, it degrades us all. It reduces us to a mere quantity to be managed, human-headed beans to be counted in – and out. But there is more to man than this. There is our capacity to innovate, to develop, to improve, to progress. And here history is our witness.

Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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