Posted Under: Poverty,Racism/Fascism
Mathew Bell’s interview with Lord Tebbit, in yesterday’s Independent on Sunday, predictably touched upon immigration. “When he steps off the train into London” the interview asks, “doesn’t he see an exciting and creative powerhouse, fuelled in part by the injection of foreign blood and money?”
No, he says, he worries that Londoners are being pushed out of their own city. But weren’t most Londoners once immigrants themselves?
And then the piece moves on. For some reason, this smart alec response from the interviewer gave me a jolt of discomfort. Yes Tebbit’s desire to blame immigrants is worse than wrongheaded. Yet in referring to the phenomenon of Londoners being pushed out of their own city , Tebbit is putting his finger upon an unfolding social tragedy that is every bit as real as it is painful. Right now half a generation of Londoners face a future of economic exile, of being uprooted from the city in which they grew up by stagnating earnings and sky-rocketing property prices.
The implication that this is a non-issue, simply a red-herring, because “hey we’re all immigrants really” – this just doesn’t cut it. Bell could have pointed out that the decimation social housing – carried out by Tebbit’s party – is a major factor driving Londoners out of London, as indeed is the growth of huge inequality. But instead he stuck to playing word games. After all, if we’re all immigrants really, who cares who gets to stay and who has to leave.
There is no overlooking the fact that for the last decade at least, its the right who have been making the weather over the question of immigration. And if this is all we have to offer i response then they will continue to do so. We cannot adequately defend mass immigration by simply telling people they need to relax about the status quo – because for many the status quo is not working.
There is no necessary reason why immigration must bring harm to any particular section of the population. But neither will it automatically work for the benefit of us all (immigrants included), regardless of the social and economic conditions in which it takes place. When housebuilding is kept in check by restrictive local planning, when no efforts are made to replace mass of social housing lost under previous governments, and when the scarce living space that exists is simply allocated to the highest bidder – then, under those circumstances, the immigration of hundreds of thousands into London may make it more difficult for the children of some of those already living here to afford to stay.
If we are to resist calls for tighter and tighter controls, then we must do so by making a call for change. Only by offering an alternative vision for our city can we make clear that settled and immigrant communities are not competing in a zero-sum game. It is all well to talk about London being a “cultural and economic powerhouse”, but that is not its only function. For millions of us it is also home, and that is the function that, first and foremost, it must fulfill.