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How our scornful elites inflamed tensions over immigration

Ordinary people need to take back control of the migration debate.

Tim Black

Tim Black
Columnist

Topics Politics UK World

Long-standing tensions over immigration have erupted on to the streets over the past year.

Back in February, protests over the housing of asylum seekers at a hotel in Knowsley, north-west England, turned violent as masked thugs clashed with the police. Nine months later, we saw even more explosive scenes across the Irish Sea in Dublin, as protests over Ireland’s asylum policies turned into a full-scale riot.

There were several striking similarities between what happened in Knowsley and then in Dublin. In both cases, simmering discontent had been brought to a head by single incident: a video allegedly showing an asylum seeker propositioning a 15-year-old girl in Knowsley; and, in Dublin, the stabbing of three school girls and a woman by an Irish-Algerian citizen once subject to a deportation order. These incidents then prompted spontaneous, largely peaceful protests that turned violent later into the evening – as they were hijacked by trouble-making elements.

But it was the responses to the unrest from the political and media classes in Ireland and the UK that were perhaps the most similar. They seized upon the later involvement of violent, criminal opportunists – some no doubt far right, some no doubt just looking for trouble – and used it to dismiss the broader public anger about asylum and immigration policies that preceded the burning buses and flipped cars.

There was a reason the elites eagerly blamed far-right agitation for what happened. It allowed them to deny their own role in fomenting the unrest – to deny, in short, that they are primarily responsible for turning immigration into such an inflammatory issue. Because make no mistake, they are responsible. Indeed, the political class, cheered on by our virtue-signalling cultural elites, could barely have done more in recent years to turn immigration into a lightning rod for public disaffection and anger.

Firstly, successive governments have consciously presided over ever-higher levels of immigration during a period of intense economic stagnation. This means that more and more people are effectively arriving into nations, like Ireland and the UK, at a time when their own citizens are struggling financially, community resources are relatively sparse and infrastructure is creaking. These governments now seem incapable of providing the basics people need to flourish. Both Ireland and the UK are failing to build enough new houses for their existing residents, let alone for the several hundred thousand more who arrive each year.

Of course, immigrants aren’t to blame for our economic troubles, our failing healthcare systems or our wholly inadequate housing stocks. But their arrival in record-breaking numbers, at a time in which people are already being asked to put up with less, was always going to fuel tensions.

This pressure has arguably been felt most acutely in relation to the asylum system. Faced by a huge backlog of asylum applicants and the absence of any viable accommodation, governments have been putting tens of thousands of asylum seekers, at great public expense, into hotels, student accommodation and even leisure centres in some of the most deprived areas, in places like Knowsley and Portland and Weymouth, where the British government has stationed its flagship migrant barge, the Bibby Stockholm. Spending millions accommodating asylum seekers among the poorest parts of society is a sure-fire recipe for unease. In Ireland, public facilities have been turned over to Ukrainian refugees overnight without any proper consultation.

Secondly, our political and cultural elites have championed high immigration while undermining society’s ability to integrate new arrivals. They have promoted the policy of multiculturalism – celebrating difference over what brings people together and dealing with ethnic minorities on the basis of their membership of certain ethnic or cultural blocs. Meanwhile, Britain itself is routinely presented by the great and good as forever stained by racism and imperialism. This all has the effect not of welcoming newcomers, but of ghettoising them. It is segregationism with a faux-progressive gloss.

This anti-integration, multicultural ideology is even fuelling social animosity between groups who were born and raised in Britain. Last year, we saw hundreds of Muslim and Hindu Brits fight pitched battles for days on end in Leicester – their attachment to their Indian and Pakistani identities was greater, it seemed, than any attachment to their local community. And this year we’ve seen Islamists and their fellow travellers stage weekly ‘pro-Palestine’ marches, featuring the glorification of Hamas, men chanting Arabic war slogans about the slaughter of Jews and plenty of shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’. If you’re looking for evidence of the failure of integration, look no further than those hate marches.

The third and most important reason why immigration has become such an inflammatory issue is that the political class has pursued these policies over voters’ heads. Worse than that, they have lied to voters about what they planned to do. Successive Conservative administrations, from David Cameron’s to Boris Johnson’s, have explicitly promised to reduce immigration while presiding over record levels of it. The government has even done so after Brexit when, unlike EU member state Ireland, Britain actually has control over its borders and the right to set its immigration policies. No wonder people feel that they are not being listened to on immigration.

There is nothing hateful about raising concerns when some young men, holed up in asylum hotels with nothing to do, get up to no good in the local community. There is nothing hateful about pointing out that high immigration is exacerbating the pressure on poorly run local services and crumbling infrastructure. And there is nothing hateful about worrying about the potential security threat posed by those entering the country illegally, in the absence of proper checks. Indeed, there have been several terrorist attacks attempted by those claiming refugee status. Tackling these specific issues certainly doesn’t – indeed, shouldn’t – mean demonising all migrants and refugees. And yet when people raise these reasonable concerns, they are either ignored or dismissed as ‘racists’, ‘xenophobes’ and ‘bigots’.

Is it any wonder then that immigration has become such a focus for public anger? It has become the key issue through which people experience their lack of democratic control over their nation.

None of this is to say that the majority of ordinary people are anti-immigration – let alone anti-immigrant. The riots in Knowsley and Dublin were not evidence of some fast-approaching ‘Rivers of Blood’ moment, keenly anticipated by catastrophists on the right and left alike. Britain is one of the most pro-immigrant societies in the world. And those concerned about the small-boats crisis are certainly not mini-Suella Bravermans, eager to deport every single illegally arriving asylum seeker to Rwanda. Indeed, surveys suggest that, while a majority of people are in favour of tougher asylum policies, there has never been majority support for the government’s seemingly doomed Rwanda plan. Voters tend to think it won’t work and, above all, that it is far too harsh on those who may arrive illegally while still being in genuine need.

What people are objecting to is the toxic combination of high immigration, low integration, economic stagnation and government ineptitude. There is a big difference between welcoming newcomers into a dynamic, integrated, self-confident society – to truly join and build on that society – and welcoming newcomers purely to fill the gaps left by an alarming new culture of worklessness, and artificially to inflate the figures for GDP. All while undermining integration.

We at spiked support a liberal approach to migration. But this is a democratic non-starter when paired with a divisive multiculturalism and an abject disdain for the existing citizenry – not to mention a green-hued culture of limits that insists we can only develop and build so much.

In 2024, if any of these problems are to be addressed, if any of these tensions are to be eased, ordinary people need to wrest back control of the immigration debate from our scornful, feckless elites.

Tim Black is a spiked columnist.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK World

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