Should Cambridge should kick up a fuss about immigration?

25 May 2013

Immigration is popular again – or rather the opposite. The problem, you see, is hordes of awful people from abroad coming over here, ‘taking our jobs’, wreaking havoc on our communities, causing obscene criminal damage, abusing our children; you name it, these bloody foreigners are bad eggs, one and all, and we’d be better off without them.

Or at least you might think that if you listened to UKIP. Oh, and the Tories. Come to think of it, or the Libs and the Labs. The whole lot in fact – a huge political consensus, at last. The problem with Britain is other people. Excellent.

Except, of course, that’s utter rubbish. It’s just easier to sell copy that way. Because one thing the political establishment in this country is unwilling (or too stupid) to do is actually debate immigration; what it means, whether we can control it, whether we should control it, and what it actually brings to the country.

Take the recent cases of Cambridge being prevented from employing excellent post-docs from overseas. The reason? They didn’t quite have the right points in the most recent government scheme to keep out those rebellious troublemaking foreigners. The same government, of course, which is pushing enterprise and claims to be on the side of education (though with Mr Gove as a friend, who needs enemies).

The problem is that we don’t talk about immigration; instead it’s a cheap political tool which is wheeled out when people think parties aren’t hard-line enough or strong enough on the economy. Labour’s answer to austerity Britain (and having an oaf as Shadow Chancellor) is to start attacking immigrants and announce that people have ‘valid concerns’ about the huge changes to Britain. But the huge negative changes imagined by the media are just that – imagined. And were the media not to propound them, would people really have them?

The evidence, in fact, is pretty clear. Immigration (certainly at the levels we have it) is financially a very good thing for the UK. The trading economy that we have lends itself beautifully to immigration, and it is simply a lie that jobs are ‘taken’ from Brits. In fact, it’s quite clear that immigration has little or no effect on the stats for unemployment (indeed, it may well reduce it). I might not be a mathmo, but that can only be a good thing.

The argument about non-skilled and skilled immigrants is also nonsense; there is no evidence that unskilled immigrants take jobs from unskilled Brits. Added to that, the statistics speak for themselves; crime, unemployment, welfare claims – all are less in immigrant families than in pure British breeding stock.

So if the financial anti-immigrant lobby is tripe, then what’s left? Xenophobia and so called ‘self-preservation’, stirred up by our media and not tackled by the people who claim to want to lead us.

And this is where the debate really needs to be had, at the top. Because there’s a lot of self-defined good people who swallow this crap – or propagate it. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop, is a good example (of a fool, in fact); the rubbish he spouts about this- he says immigration is ‘disturbing our way of life’- and various other political points is evidence-free, but does influence a lot of people. That, frankly, is a worry.

Often it boils down to an aversion to heterogeneous communities, or a worry that children are being taught in schools where no-one speaks English. I personally can’t think of anything duller than living in a white-only neighbourhood, but apparently that’s the ideal (and of course how Britain has always been).

Except, of course, it isn’t. And if there are segregated areas, our aim should be to reduce causes of segregation, rather than hate the newcomers. That is not even to mention multiculturalism, and our total aversion to discuss it cool-headedly.

This university does better with immigration being high, not only in regards to the academic faculties but also because of the people who actually make the place work, day in, day out. Our daily lives are made more interesting by people who aren’t our clones – who have different ideas, ideals, cultures and views. And yet we seem to despise them, and cover it up in fallacious financial arguments.

People are right when they argue we haven’t had a proper debate, and that immigration inevitably leads to some change. But the sensible response to that is not to slam the borders shut and expel people who are running away from persecution, or looking to contribute to our economy. Contemporary discussion of the matter is not good enough. We, as a university, should be making a hell of a lot more noise about it.

Charlie Bell is a PhD student at Queens’, studying Medicine.