Cameron’s O(ver)done Immigration Nonsense
I am a foreigner; an interloper; an immigrant. I came to this country 20 years ago. I have lived here ever since. I work here and pay taxes here. I have never scrounged and never worked illegally. My English is better than many British people I meet. I follow cricket avidly and like the occasional slice of toast with marmite. I make a mean cup of tea. When I first arrived, this land felt like home and 20 years later I have earned the right to call it my home. There are many thousands like me.
I watched Cameron’s speech yesterday with increasing frustration and some amusement. By the end of the speech, I became convinced that, if Cameron is not a bigot and a xenophobe, at the very least he speaks that language awfully well.
I don’t say this because his speech was a cheap political ploy. Nor because it was a spectacularly cack-handed move in the context of the Coalition. Not even because he deliberately misled the British public with regard to the figures – I expect nothing more from him nowadays. All these points have been already adequately addressed by others, much more astute than me.
I say it because at the core of his shaping of the debate is a bigoted assumption, based on nothing other than imperialist xenophobia. He states that he wants a mature discussion. He does not understand why such a discussion automatically brands one “a racist”. I will attempt to explain “why” to him.
Last night, on BBC Question Time, Cristina Odone provided many clues. In response to a question on immigration, this Italian-American used classic “them and us” language, designed to inspire fear (naturally she included herself in “us”). In response, to a question on the NHS she tearfully explained how the entire nursing profession needed to be overhauled from the ground up, because two nurses were heard speaking in a foreign language – how dare they? (This response was in the context of Odone’s Swedish mother, being treated in an NHS hospital.) In response to a question on AV, she drew on her extensive experience of living in Italy.
These are all answers to Cameron, but let me make them plainer, since his PR-geared brain may not grasp them. A mature debate cannot be had, on im-migration alone. It can only be had on migration. That includes e-migration.
In 2006 the BBC reported the preliminary results of an extensive study on the subject of emigration. IT found that 5.5 million Britons live not-on-these-shores. That is almost 1 in 10 of the UK population. Over two thirds of them go abroad to work (or, as it is known when talking about im-migration, steal jobs). The destination countries span the entire globe. Over 1.3 million UK nationals lived and worked in Australia. Roughly the same in the US and Canada. Just under a million in Spain and France. The full study later that year endorsed these figures and their upward trend.
More recent figures from the Office of National Statistics confirm this steady exodus. The figures also showed that EU countries like Germany and Poland are overtaking North America as destinations of choice.
The underlying assumption of never looking at this side of the issue is simply this: Foreigners coming to this country are unskilled scroungers, taking our jobs, using our health-care, taking advantage of our welfare state. Britons going abroad are productive, law-abiding, contributors to that society. There are of course scroungers among immigrants, but roughly at the same proportion as among Britons.
The simplest expression of this idiocy is the idea that anyone who sets foot on this soil, is obliged to speak English, while anyone encountered by a Brit abroad, is also obliged to speak English.
I can burst this bubble comprehensively, from personal experience. I grew up on the small, but very popular, island of Mykonos. Every year hundreds of Brits come to work there for the six-month tourist season. None of them speak Greek when they arrive (and very few after even many years in the country). Most of them work under the radar, cash in hand, no NI. Many of them, at some point, take advantage of our free Health Service.
That precise image was captured brilliantly in the tender Willy Russell character of Shirley Valentine, the cinematic version of which was filmed a few yards from my house. The reason for the film’s popularity is that it tapped into a true and aspirational phenomenon. But Shirley lives above the restaurant, works there as a waitress cash-in-hand, doesn’t pay municipal or income tax or NI and doesn’t speak Greek. This loveable British institution, is nothing other than a scrounging immigrant, of the type Cameron describes and absolutely typical of the Brits that come to work on my island.
Yet, Greeks welcome them. We take them into our hearts and our homes, break bread with them, knock back shots of Sambuca with them. We recognise that their different background, outlook and experience will teach us something and make us better. Migration enriches culture, it does not threaten it. Many feel so welcome, that they stay and make a life for themselves there.
So, why is Shirley Valentine a story that is never told in the context of the migration debate?
This is a key ingredient in the bitter, bigoted jus of Cameron’s scaremongering codswallop. By flipping a coin which has the Queen’s head on both sides, he performs a parlour trick, the aim of which is to strike fear. At its heart is an imperialist world view, which would have seemed more at home 200 years ago: Immigrants are funny-looking intruders barbarising our society. Emigrants are the good folks of the East India Trading Company who illuminate, educate and civilise natives.
I am tempted to go up to David and explain this point, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y and VERY LOUDLY, in Greek. Perhaps he’ll see the irony.