I’m really sick of talking about immigration

August 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

I am. I am sick of it, so unbelievably thoroughly sick that I have often stopped having arguments about it because I don’t have the energy, because it’s working its way into every political conversation I damned well have.

There are lots of reasons I’m sick of this. As has been explained eloquently in many places on the internet, migrants are human beings, and I’m terrified that I’m living in a country where more and more people are forgetting that. I’m worried, too, about being in a world where “asylum seekers” is a term of abuse. Seeking asylum from the horrors of war, making a journey where death is a frequent companion and faces everywhere are turned against you, seeking only a chance to work and to have a family and a safe roof over your head – that’s the sort of courage that deserves a medal, not barbed wire and armed police. I am embarrassed daily to be British with the humanitarian crisis we are allowing to unfold in Calais, putting both those seeking safety and the security services of both Britain and France at huge unnecessary risk to “control” a number of people we could safely and securely absorb with no real dent in the economy and no potential loss of life.

We’re entirely abandoning our moral obligations to the rest of Europe, too – the “we’re full” card hardly plays well in Italy and Greece, where small Mediterranean islands run by governments with few to no resources simply do not have the logistical capability to give emergency food and shelter to new refugees. We are a part of and player in Europe – island in the north sea we may be, but our economy is joined at the hip to that of the rest of the continent, and our strategic presence across the Mediterranean and in the near East means we can ill afford to ignore crises there. I’m sick and embarrassed of feeling like I’m from a country that is behaving like an unusually petulant, irrational toddler, failing to support its friends and throwing its toys out of the pram even at the risk of irreparably breaking them.

But I think mostly, deep down, right at the root of it, what I’m sick of about migration is not being allowed to talk about anything else. And I’m sick of that because I live in a country that has deep-rooted problems, difficult challenges, a changing age structure, working practices, and economy in a changing world. Those problems need solutions and they’re solutions that we’re just not discussing or thinking about because we’re either shouting for or against the idea that migration is the problem. I don’t want to have to tell everyone in detail that migrants are contributing both skills and finances to our public services before I advocate any form of policy on health or education. I don’t want to have to explain to people that “kick the migrants out” is not a solution to population problems before I tell people why we need to start the long and hard task of rebuilding our social housing stock. I don’t want to have to point out the need for high-skilled migrant labour in our economy before I discuss economic policy. The reason I don’t want to have to talk about these things is not that I don’t think immigration is worth talking about ever – it’s that once I’ve said it, I’m in an immigration debate again, and whatever point I wanted to make has been lost.

Now, this may just seem like the rantings of an upset, whiny liberal. But think about the effect it’s having on debate. Our ageing population is putting new strains on the NHS, and drug resistance seriously threatens the future of healthcare. Our education system, especially higher education, is suffering from underinvestment, with new loan systems burdening graduates and building financial black holes into the core of the higher education sector. British agriculture is in crisis, with innovation stamped out by a mix of anti-GM legislation and the dominance of the GM market by agribusinesses who want to keep a vice-like grip on farmers. We have an increasingly punitive and dictatorial welfare system that is directing the labour of the poor with what ultimately amounts to threats of starvation. We have an unbalanced tax system that charges an unemployed young man 20% extra to put a shirt on his back or an elderly woman 20% extra for an incontinence pad but doesn’t charge the elite any sales tax on caviar.

These are big and real problems. They are hurting people in this country, every single day. And I am sick – utterly sick – of feeling that every time I talk about them I have to preface it with some irrelevant explanation as to why the problem wasn’t caused by a homeless Syrian or Libyan or Eritrean. If you’re one of the people who’s demanding those irrelevant explanations in political debates or who really believes that a couple of thousand migrants in Calais is our main national problem right now, have a long and hard think – because it’s those attitudes that are stopping us campaigning on and fixing the real problems with Britain today.

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