Saturday, 29 August 2015

This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land

Not so long ago the news footage on our TV screens featured migrants storming the border between the USA and Mexico. Now it shows migrants at our own border and it is not so easy to distance ourselves from the images. Nor should we: migration is an age-old phenomenon, it is universal and inevitable as long as its causes - war, persecution, poverty and famine - persist. Migrants are mostly desperate people. As Bob said, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” And so they are coming to Europe, notwithstanding the obstacles in their way.

Europe is a politically stable region with a huge economy and vast resources but it should be remembered that its riches were acquired largely by colonial exploitation. Furthermore, the turmoil now rampant in Africa and the Middle East is due, at least in part, to the legacy it has left in these regions. Europe - and Britain is a part of Europe - may not be able to undo the damage it has done but it could and should make amends by alleviating the symptoms. Some countries - Germany and Sweden, for example - appear more willing to accept the recent swell of immigrants than others, notably Britain, whose reluctance is shameful given the prominent part we have played in its causation. So why are we afraid of accepting immigrants? Here are some of the populist objections.

We are a small, overcrowded island. This perception is heightened by the fact that most of us live in cities, many of which seem crowded because their infrastructure has not kept pace with growth. High-density occupation is an inherent - and desirable - feature of cities: it is actually economically beneficial, provided it is well planned and managed. The real problem is that it is not.

Immigrants take our jobs. Jobs only exist where there is economic activity. Immigrants, having no cause for complacency, have an illustrious record of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial activity creates a bigger economy which in turn creates more jobs for the increased population. Jobs are created as well as “taken”. And we need a bigger working, wealth-generating population to balance the demographics of our ageing population.

Our education system is overwhelmed. The children of immigrants consistently achieve higher educational qualifications than their “native” counterparts and, in doing so, are not only less disruptive in the classroom but also more likely to become net contributors to the economy.

Our social services are under strain. Social services are provided locally but funding is controlled centrally. This contradictory system will never work efficiently. Central Government should let go of this control and allow Local Authorities to allocate resources as appropriate.

Immigrants destroy our culture. If this were true then I would be worried - there is much to treasure and admire in our culture. But there is also a huge residue of prejudice, misconception and ignorance accumulated as a result of historical hogwash and jingoistic insularity. The introduction of other cultures presents an opportunity for cross-fertilisation. Because culture is a process, not an object, integration does not dilute: it enriches and enhances.

Immigrants change the nature of localities. Yes, nothing stays the same: get over it.

The plight of the refugees fleeing violence, death and destruction presents us with an opportunity, as John Buchan put it, to “pay our debt to the past by putting the future in debt to ourselves” but the main obstacle to this humanitarian approach is politics. The accommodation of refugees is a relatively short-term issue but eradicating the drivers of migration is a question for the long-term - and politicians don’t embrace the long-term until they have retired from office. There is no chance that our government will say or do anything helpful to the situation until its electorate insists otherwise.

“This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway.” (Bob Dylan)

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