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“Put simply, we will never control immigration properly unless we tackle welfare dependency,”

Cameron is cynically playing on the insecurities of the disillusioned and uneducated by blaming Labour and the benefits culture for mass immigration. It’s using an acceptable scapegoat as blackmail for the people willing to swallow it. He’s saying ‘If you go back to work we’ll stop letting brown people in.’

“When there have been significant numbers of new people arriving in neighbourhoods, perhaps not able to speak the same language as those living there, on occasions not really wanting or even willing to integrate, that has created a kind of discomfort and disjointedness in some neighbourhoods. This has been the experience for many people in our country and I believe it is untruthful and unfair not to speak about it and address it.”

Where’s the proof for this? Integration is a two way street, the onus is on us to make people feel welcome. Is it a surprise that some minorities are afraid to interact with the wider community when groups of people are marching through our high streets in protest at aspects of their faith and culture? Is it surprising that people feel safer in communities that consist of their ‘own people’ when they face discrimination on a daily basis?

But, on this point, according to academics who have studied this subject, Cameron is wrong. Recently the University of Manchester sent me a news release about some research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council which found that deprivation, not multiculturalism, was the root cause of fragmented communities. The research team was headed by Dr Laia Bécares and this is what she had to say:

Politicians seem to link racial tensions to the perception that ethnic minority people and newly arrived migrants are not integrated into their host culture. But our findings show it is not neighbourhood ethnic profile but neighbourhood deprivation which erodes social cohesion in England.

The paper, called Composition, Concentration and Deprivation: Exploring their Association with Social Cohesion among Different Ethnic Groups in the UK, has been published in the journal, Urban Studies. Unfortunately it’s only available to subscribers. But here’s an extract.

Our findings show that it is not neighbourhood ethnic profile, but neighbourhood deprivation, which erodes social cohesion for ethnic minority and White British people in the UK. The fact that it is deprivation, and not ethnic heterogeneity, which causes social ills in the UK has been reported before, although previous studies have not examined whether this varied by ethnic group … Regardless, by exploring how the association between neighbourhood ethnic profile and social cohesion changes once area deprivation is adjusted for, and by assessing the contribution of area-level socioeconomic characteristics to social cohesion among different ethnic groups, the present study argues that increased residential heterogeneity does not erode social cohesion in the UK …

High levels of area deprivation have been stated to generate feelings of powerless, threat and alienation among neighbourhood residents, leading, in turn, to low levels of neighbourhood attachment and participation. Prior to engaging in building social cohesion, ethnic minority people living in deprived neighbourhoods are often more concerned about access to jobs, housing and public services. Efforts to promote social cohesion in the UK through integration and communitarism have been criticised because they fail to recognise the importance of the wider social and economic inequalities they produce and have been blamed to direct attention away from the institutional structures and practices of racism that have created existent health and socioeconomic inequalities in the first place. Existent sociopolitical schemes, thus, should not overlook the findings that highlight the importance of area deprivation on the erosion of social cohesion, given that initiatives that seek to enhance social cohesion while ignoring the structural factors that are responsible for material deprivation are unlikely to have a major impact.

Cameron wants to restrict non-EU migrants to highly skilled, well educated individuals, rich students who will only be allowed to stay if they find highly skilled graduate jobs and talented entrepreneurs. These are good immigrants. A coincidence that they fit the demographic that is more likely to vote Conservative? Isn’t this a cynical attempt at social engineering that they constantly tell us Labour are guilty of?

This is the second public speech made by Cameron this year that panders to the right-wing, with anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, anti-multiculturalism sentiments that closely resemble the rhetoric we hear from the BNP, UKIP and the EDL. This is a worrying trend that isn’t confined to the UK. In France we have seen Sarkozy attempt to restore his ailing popularity by trying to be more of a bigot than his rival Marine Le Pen. Across the Atlantic we have seen Donald Trump throw his hat into the Presidential candidates ring while jumping on the overcrowded anti-Muslim bandwagon in the clumsiest possible fashion.

Cameron makes the bogus claim that not talking about immigration “created the space for extremist parties to flourish, as they could tell people who mainstream politicians weren’t listening to their concerns or doing anything about them”.

We heard this during last years electioneering. It was inaccurate then and it is now. As Sunder Katwala points out, the talk of stifling the debate on immigration is a complete myth.

This hoary old myth doesn’t get us very far. The idea that debate about immigration has been silenced and closed down in Britain is a pervasive myth.

But, as a matter of fact, it can be easily disproved if one goes and looks at what politicians said and did throughout the period, or reviewing the endless noisy public debates about immigration, and volumes of legislation on immigration (broadly in a restrictive direction) under almost every post-war government, whether Conservative or Labour. I published a Comment is Free post ‘The Enoch Myth in 2008, offering chapter and verse which proves beyond any reasonable doubt just how noisy these decades of supposed silenced debate always were. (Cameron, perhaps prey to the myth, says in his speech “I remember when immigration wasn’t a central political issue in our country – and I want that to be the case again”. I wonder if he could cite any five or ten year post-war period which he has in mind when he claims that?).

It is interesting to reflect on the drivers of the sense of political disconnection which means that this is widely believed, but that is a very different thing from the myth being true.

Cameron directly echoes Michael Howard’s election posters in 2005, which proved somewhat less effective than the Conservatives hoped at the time, and which had the rather odd aim of starting a debate about immigration which will not be distracted by allegations of racism by starting a debate about racism and being silenced, rather more than to start a frank and rational public debate about immigration itself.

It was rather odd to claim that the other major party was treating all discussion of immigration as verboten – because I clearly recall that Labour had election posters in 2005 which proclaimed in bold, primary colours “Your Country’s Border’s Safe”, and it would be rewrite history rather spectacularly to claim that Labour home secretaries such as Jack Straw or David Blunkett did not speak about immigration. (Despite this, the claim has often been implicit in Labour’s post-election debates, which sometimes strike me as taking place as if we all had the memories of goldfish, leading to proposals to ‘break’ with the party’s recent approach and move on by saying all of the same things again, so as to also sound ‘tough’).

Immigration was also the only subject raised in all three of the televised election debates. The claim that extremists have flourished doesn’t quite explain how the BNP lost support and the Lib Dems ended up in a coalition government either.

The same David Cameron who today states: Our country has benefitted immeasurably from immigration. Go into any hospital and you’ll find people from Uganda, India and Pakistan who are caring for our sick and vulnerable. Go into schools and universities and you’ll find teachers from all over the world, inspiring our young people. Go to almost any high street in the country and you’ll find entrepreneurs from overseas who are not just adding to the local economy but playing a part in local life. Charities, financial services, fashion, food, music – all these sectors are what they are because of immigration. So yes, immigrants make a huge contribution to Britain. We recognise that – and we welcome it.

Is the same David Cameron who made a speech in February declaring that multiculturalism had failed. Which is it Dave?


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