Must I Vote Tory to Champion Immigration?

By Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin | The Independent (London, England), March 1, 2004 | Go to article overview
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Must I Vote Tory to Champion Immigration?


Alibhai-Brown, Yasmin, The Independent (London, England)


What a week this was. We witnessed the first British citizenship ceremony - an excellent idea, though I could never swear loyalty to the Queen and Her family. But that is a quibble. At long last, in ritual at least, we are making recent immigrants feel this is their country and putting before them a clear social contract.

These new British citizens agree to live by the principles of social democracy. The state, in turn, I assume, will ensure their safety and promote equality of treatment and fair opportunities so they can grow healthy roots into the soil of this country and add to the ever-changing landscape. The recipients looked ecstatic. They appeared not to realise what an overwrought time and place they are coming into.

In truth I no longer know what kind of Britain I am living in either. It is all too bewildering. Traditional ideological maps are now obsolete. My old enemy Michael Howard sacked Ann Winterton, the Conservative MP for Congleton, for making an obscene, racist joke and now, it appears, Tories will be voting against New Labour's plans to remove the right of appeal from asylum-seekers.

Meanwhile, many key names on the left have been propagating views on immigration which are emphatically on the side of small Englanders such as the Daily Mail's Peter Hitchins, who wants the old Empire back, please. Indeed the always-polite Mr Hitchins profusely thanked the new deliverer, Prospect magazine's editor, David Goodhart, for a searing essay arguing that too much diversity threatened the welfare state and tried his own patience. The Observer endorsed Goodhart and gave him a column to convert the unconvinced. The Guardian gave him another column, and then two full pages. Immigration has once more become a volatile subject, one of the three most contentious issues which are breaking up the nation. (The other two are Iraq and "the war on terror".) The clashes go way beyond the numbers game into every aspect of state policy, including the economy, social cohesion, patriotism, civil rights, workers rights, globalisation, diplomacy, war, the EU, gender equality, democracy, ethnicity and race, party politics, the media, national identity, demographics, history, education ... I could go on.

In the 31 years and eight months that I have been here, fighting for the right to be a true Brit, I have never known such chaos and confusion. This is as serious as it gets for immigrants, the descendants of immigrants and the indigenous Britons who have struggled with us against the mean streak that has always been present in this country and which is easily aroused by anti- immigration populists. Or populist intellectuals.

These intellectuals say they want a robust debate, but they haven't the stomach. As soon as we rebut them, and point out the flaws and prejudices which underpin their critiques they burst into victimhood and claim they are being misrepresented or tarnished with accusations of racism. They are not racists, not in the way of a small and vanishing number of Britons. They don't want us to die in gas chambers or to be expatriated. They would not mind their sons and daughters marrying out and they love the writer Zadie Smith and actor Art Malik.

As Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, notes, the genteel and learned can have exclusionary attitudes based on views of themselves, the country and its identity that are entirely in line with the old right's idea of kith and kin. Some of their best friends are not black, and never will be. Their use of "we" does not include me, but does, I presume, include economic migrants from Australia. They have no objections to the army of US citizens in Britain.

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