Magazine article The Spectator

Immigration and the Nation

Magazine article The Spectator

Immigration and the Nation

Article excerpt

The British Dream by David Goodhart Atlantic, £20, pp. 416, ISBN 9781843548058 David Goodhart's new book, The British Dream, is an important study of postwar immigration into the UK, its successes and failures. He explores the tension between growing diversity and national solidarity and examines the meaning and significance of national identity.

In his introduction he quotes a conversation he had over dinner at an Oxford college in the spring of 2011. He told his neighbour that he intended to write a book arguing that liberals should be less sceptical about the nation state and more sceptical about large-scale immigration. His neighbour, described as one of the country's most senior civil servants, said: 'I disagree. When I was at the Treasury I argued for the most open door possible to immigration. I think it's my job to maximise global welfare not national welfare.'

The man sitting next to the civil servant, one of the most powerful television executives in the country, said he believed global welfare was paramount and that therefore he had a greater obligation to someone in Burundi than to someone in Birmingham.

I hope I am not alone in finding these sentiments deeply shocking and in expressing the hope that the senior civil servant is no longer in post. This is not because I don't believe that we owe some obligation to those who share our planet with us.

It was partly out of a sense of that obligation that, when I was its leader, I committed the Conservative party to meeting the United Nations target of devoting 0.7 per cent of our national income to international aid. But another, at least equally important, strand in my thinking was that it is in our own national interest to promote the alleviation of poverty and disease in other parts of the world, not least because if we succeeded in doing so it might go some way towards easing the pressures which impel people from those countries to seek to emigrate.

There can surely be no doubt that the primary duty of those in positions of authority is to our own national interest. That, of course, means governing in the interest of all our citizens and one of the most interesting aspects of Goodhart's book lies in his examination of how the increased diversity of our population makes this task even more difficult than it would otherwise be. …

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