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July 18, 2011


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To take the Sun as an example, if you look at the way it has swung back and forth over the years it should be obvious that it follows rather than leads. The only organisation that could possible lead the agenda is the BBC, (I'm not saying here that it does in either direction, simply that it's the only one with sufficient market share to make it possible), papers simply don't have the reach and it's not what they're for anyway. With few exceptions, papers just try to have enough stuff of interest in them to sell the advertising space, otherwise they go bust.

As for the British people there is too much of a mix to do more than some very weak characterisation but it is clear that as a whole support for "the left" is not a majority.

Charles Wheeler

"Which brings me to a thought. Could it be that the left is predisposed to exaggerate the power of the press because doing so provides a comfortable explanation for what is an otherwise unpleasant fact - that the British people don’t share our beliefs for some deep-seated reasons? The media are just a scapegoat. And we all love a scapegoat."

Quite possibly. But, given that the media is owned by plutocrats, run by millionaires and edited by those in the top 5% of income earners, it seems likely that it tends to reflect their interests. As most people glean almost all their information about politics and economics from that source, it doesn't seem a stretch to conclude that their own ideas will be influenced by these views, even to their own detriment - except in areas where their own personal experience refutes such opinion - hence, for example, many people's attachment to the NHS despite the constant disparagement of public services in the media.

Conversely, it's unlikely that a media owned by plutocrats and funded by corporate advertisers, would encourage any beliefs that significantly damaged these interests (handwringing articles about global warming can be tolerated, for instance, as long as the possible solutions are vetoed in the economic and business pages and contradicted in the advertising).

The result is an anaemic political discourse drawn from a limited palette of opinion (in which former SDPer Polly Toynbee is cast as some kind of Trotskyite!)

That would explain how easy it has been to produce a revisionist history of the financial collapse that airbrushes the private sector out and pencils in BIG GOVERNMENT as the ultimate cause of all our ills. Hence Hamish McCrae, without hint of irony can call on the evidence of the IMF to 'prove' that it is the growth of government, the provision of healthcare, education and pensions to the majority, rather than an out-of-control private 'market' rigged by financial oligarchs in the interests of a tiny minority that has brought the global economy to its knees. And whose to argue with a string of well-respected economists who happen to depend on those same interests?

It helps explain how the political classes/media/police have developed such a cosy relationship, apparently immune from any kind of democratic accountability - engendering a 'we can get away with anything' hubris that they just pushed a little too far.

You can fool most of the people most of the time. And that's enough - most of the time.

Tom Addison

To be fair Charles, there are quite a few articles and books out there that cite free market fundamentalism as the root cause of the financial crisis. Anatole Kaletsky of The Times, who seems to be a pretty big cheese when it comes to economics journalists, hasn't airbrushed the private sector as you describe.

I'm not saying that lots of "experts" haven't though.


I think you're underestimating the extent to which anti-immigration (or, at least, anti-MASS migration) is informed by worries about the cultural influences that the migrants bring. And the fact that this has no (or few) direct impact (effects) on their lives at present needn't be too relevant, because they could be fearing a future projection of its growing influence...

That's an entirely prejudicial claim, based on blogs wot i read and people who i hear, but, still...


'Many other developments have done more damage than immigration to the working class: the decline of trades unions; deindustrialization; the emergence of an army of cheap labour in Asia; the way technical change has empowered bosses relative to unskilled workers; and so on. It’s perverse to focus on immigration whilst ignoring these.'


Apologies for going off topic, but I am continually perplexed by your lack of inclusion of the FIRE industry when you speak of stagnant median incomes. Isn't it obvious they have been extracting all the productivity gains as rent since the early eighties?

Anthony Zacharzewski

Couple of thoughts on this:

1. The tabloids set the BBC news agenda by the stories they cover and the way in which they cover them. The traffic doesn't often go the other way.

2. The BBC may be more responsible in its reporting, it could hardly be less, but it still is "Immigration is a big problem vs. Immigration is not that big a problem (but still a bit of one)" much of the time.


Many (most?)Racists insist they are not Racist and can often point to ethnic minority people they like and maybe socialise with in the pub, or elsewhere. But this seems to have no effect on their explicit hostility to immigration and support for ideas which if implemented would logically imply the expulsion of non Anglo- saxon citizens. Or/ and severe discrimination against such persons. One guy insisted that Irish people should not be allowed to vote in the uk and his wife was Irish!

I think there is an element of biological tribalism in Human Nature just as there is an element of Sadism and status obsession. This is encouraged by the mass Media but probably exists anyway.

Incidentally this "blue Labour" hogwash seems to ignore somewhat the cosmopolitan and internationalist tradition in left wing thought and action. Almost as if the Labour Party leadership is embarrassed by the actual history of the left and prefers some contrived ahistorical version. How does Glasman explain the International brigades during the Spanish Civil War? Or the opposition of British textile workers to the American Confederacy? Would he have refused political asylum to Karl Marx and sent him to prussia to be shot? How indeed does he explain the great support for Polish Independence among the first workers International? Higher wages yes but a free Poland too. As the actual left would say "the Educated man is a citizen of the world."


Most public schoolboys like immigration: one needs to keep up the supply of cheap servants after all, doesn't one?

Alex M

@Keith, it seems masochism is a powerful force also. Chris keeps hating on public school boys and we keep coming back for more. I would love to know the composition of S&M readers wot are toffs. Chris' main appeal probably lies in the subliminal effect the blog's name has on public school boy's nostalgia; akin to Proust's madeleine, only less wholesome.


"The Shortcut must always be more difficult. Otherwise it would just be The Way"

If the majority of pulbic opinion was aligned with what is now "the Left", it would no longer be the Left; it would be centralist or moderate or whatever title you want to give it.

"The Left" called that because it is to the left of the majority average public political opinion, these boudaaries shift but if your views are more liberal than joe public's you will be on the left, no matter what.


Jonathan Monroe

I think this is more of a trust and competence issue than anything else. The public thinks (definitely correctly) that the government isn't in control of who is coming into the country and (probably correctly) that the government wouldn't tell them the truth if they did know what was going on.

So why would you expect the public to believe government assurances that immigration is beneficial?

Adam Bell

What's missing from this excellent post is reference to the reverse: is there, or has there ever been, such a thing as a pro-immigration society anywhere in the world? I'm pretty sure that Native Americans resented immigration, and it's not clear that the colonials welcomed those who came after them.

Luis Enrique

this is dreadful cod evolutionary psychology, but the idea that animals may be predisposed to oppose other animals entering their territory, isn't terribly surprising.

If it is true that the left-wing exaggerates the power of the media, that is consistent with the left-wing's tendency to think of people as more susceptible to various influence, as opposed to autonomous individuals.

(this tendency may be a thing of my imagination, however)


You start off by saying that what Lord Glasman said ''shows that there is a nasty populist streak to Blue Labour'' and I don't think you have shown why. To be against future large scale immigration can be for a variety of reasons, as can be having the view that there was too much of it in recent years.

Many inner-city areas have been changed a great deal, and some neighbourhoods that were once settled have become very transient, run down and overcrowded, as they become first ports of call for new arrivals. Some people love those areas because of all the vibrancy and life that springs for them, and other people might not like them. They certainly bring the local council and long term residents some social issues that have to be dealt with.

Children like AJ Nakasilla being just one example.


@ Jonathan - Yes, governments aren't in control of immigration. But so what? They aren't in control of the supply of food, and we don't worry about that because we know the market works better. And it's not just govts that proclaim the benefits of immigration. Most economists do (tho perhaps there's a trust issue here.
@ Adam - thanks. I guess the US in the 19th C comes close ("your huddled masses"), as maybe did the UK.
@ Petey - immigration is not a leftist issue. It's a matter of freedom. Many people on the right claim to support freedom - and one or two might be sincere.
@ Damon - these "cultural issues just confuse me. Are people opposed to Polish immigrants because of their Catholicism? And surely as many inner-city areas are revived by migrants as run-down: the area of Leicester where I grew up, for example.


The immigrant's voices are rarely heard and very few are prepared to ledn their voice for the immigrant's cause.

In the end it is the basic instinct that guides much of popular support for anti-immigrant measures.


Chris, I think that everyone is guilty of spinning the issue of immigration.
I agree that many run down areas have been revitalised by immigration, although you could say that poor people moving in to depressed neighbourhoods and keeping them going when they otherwise might have been knocked down and rebuilt from scratch, prevented urban renewal too. The riots of thirty years ago showed that we were getting some things very wrong, and even today there are abnormally high rates of unemployment in sections of the ethnic minorities.


Operation Black Vote says that the police are still so racist that they will kill black men because of it.


john b

One guy insisted that Irish people should not be allowed to vote in the uk and his wife was Irish!

I'm not convinced that's bigotry so much as consistency. If you're a ROI citizen (as in all cases below, who isn't also a UK citizen) who's been in the UK for two days at final-election-registration time, you can vote in a general election. If you're a French citizen who's been in the UK for 10 years, you can't. If you're an Indian citizen, you can, but only if you have Permanent Leave To Remain - but you're much less likely to get allowed in than a French person in the first place.

I'm strongly pro-free-migration, but the weird, colonial-era laws that determine which foreign nationals are allowed to vote in British elections, based on whether we used to own their countries or not, probably should be changed at some point.

john b

Bloody Chris and his bloody HTML-stripping. First para is a quote, others are me.


Obviously that article was written from the viewpoint of someone who hasn't lost work to the immigration wave.

A few years ago I was temping (packing fruit). Mind numbing and menial, but I have a work ethic and wasn't to proud to fill in time before I started my family. Then about a dozen eastern European girls turn up and we are no longer working full days but are going home at noon and getting half the pay.

I'm also assuming you've not tried to get a job recently. It is lunacy to hire masses of foreign workers when our own unemployment level is hideously high. So we are saddling ourselves with masses of unemployed and disaffected locals and a hefty welfare bill to boot.

"“Controlling” immigration has a deadweight cost - the taxes necessary to pay for border guards,"

Really. So we should just step back and allow the millions who want to enter our country in. Criminals and all. And just allow them to totally crush our infrastructure, welfare/health/education etc system under their weight of numbers. House prices are high enough. Or do you suggest we rip up every inch of green space to house and feed these people? Do you have ANY idea how many people would arrive here if we had an open door policy? The population would double almost overnight.

As for the other issues that affect the working classes; I see you are leaving out high immigrant crime rates, competition for housing, negative impact on education (one classroom, a dozen languages) and religious and racial hatred (on all sides). And diseases like drug resistant TB and HIV.

But of course, these things rarely affect liberal professionals who can afford to leave in leafy suburbs away from the hell holes that have huge numbers of immigrants in them. So I suppose from your POV immigration has brought in masses of cheap employees with no downside; after all YOU aren't competing with them for jobs or council housing.

As for disliking strangers/foreigners, this is a natural behaviour for all social animals. It's not right wing, it's nature. Chimps will try to rip apart or chase off strangers in their territory, as will just about every other social mammal. You can't eradicate this inherent dislike of 'non-group' members without serious genetic engineering. High levels of immigration will lead to social unrest and violence as the native population feel more threatened and 'invaded'.

Ask an biological anthropologist.


Possibly I also object to your assumption that everyone who objects to immigration does so because of a 'nasty right wing' streak. FYI, the last few polls have shown that a majority of the immigrant population of the UK want a moratorium on immigration as much as the natives.

Why do liberals assume that when anyone disagrees with them it's because of bigoted right wingness. Possibly, just possibly, it's just a difference of opinion on how to effectively manage a social issue that differs from yours.

Martin J

The reason people hate immigration is that everyone is racist naturally, and it's only a matter of time before we all start hating each other and telling each other to get the hell out of this country.

We've only had millenia upon millenia to learn this trait about ourselves. But the liberal left suddenly realised that they could score a few cheap political points by calling everyone "racist" all the time, so they thought they'd import a few million in a decade to engineer society to suit their junevile name-calling games.

Great idea guys!

Unfortunately, the Muzza's are in for it first (or we are, at their hands).


Chris D: "And surely as many inner-city areas are revived by migrants as run-down: the area of Leicester where I grew up, for example."

Writing from Leicester, I observe that the run-down areas improve owing to migration, but they do not improve relative to wealthier areas. The residents of Highfields are richer and the physical environment has improved, but the district is not catching up with Knighton. When the residents of Highfields get a bit richer they'll move to Knighton or establish a business there. If everywhere like Highfields was completely transformed, where would migrants live that is close to the city centre with so many economic opportunities? The ethnicity of residents is probably changing more quickly than relative prosperity of the areas in which they live.

"Could it be that the left is predisposed to exaggerate the power of the press because doing so provides a comfortable explanation for what is an otherwise unpleasant fact..."

The left has a passion for newspapers. Every fringe party has one, it seems. Blame the 1855 act that removed Stamp Duty from newspapers making them affordable for the working class. Technology helped, but it was clear in 1855 that the main inhibition to cheap newspapers was tax. A house servant could spend 1/20th of his/her weekly income on one newspaper for the week.

The modern left ascribes UK social and democratic reforms to cheap newspapers post 1855 (similarly, tech-political wizards tell us that the uprisings in North Africa/Middle East are down to Twitter and FaceBook). The role of human interaction in the debates that deliver reforms is usually treated as subservient to "mass media". Even the modern fringe left understands that argument: selling a newspaper is insignificant in comparison to the conversation between seller and buyer; when you buy a copy of Socialist Worker, you are buying an invitation to a movement.

Modern conformist liberals assume that the same buyer/seller relationship applies to purchasing a daily paper. The buyer does not enter a political discourse with the seller; we talk about cricket and the weather. I know Tories who buy the Guardian to read Richard Williams and I will always pick up a discarded copy of The Times to read Danny Finkelstein or Matthew Parry. And liberals read the Daily Mail.

Allan J

"How long would the NHS last if it sacked its immigrant staff?"

Talk about nonsensical. If the NHS were stupid enough to sack all its immigrant workers tomorrow then, yes, it would have big problems. But nobody's suggesting that. And of course the correct question is, would the NHS have survived if instead of employing immigrant workers in the first place it had employed non-immigrant workers? Of course it would have - though it would have had to pay them more (but not much more, according to Chris's own argument about the impact of immigrants on UK wages).

To believe otherwise you need to be in the school of self-loathing lefties who believe that British people are lazy and won't work.

Big Fez

re: Adam Bell at 11:07 ("is there, or has there ever been, such a thing as a pro-immigration society anywhere in the world?") and those commenters happy to explain anti-immigration feeling as 'just human nature'.

What I (like many liberals) find sad about this whole debate is the UK seems to have been going backwards over the last fifty years. For a long time being the country that offered asylum to the persecuted, and freedom of worship and expression to those denied them elsewhere, was a source of great national pride.

I'm not one of these new-fangled libertarians but it seems at least plausible that the growth of the welfare state is in some way connected to this shift. It could be we now think of people (local or otherwise) less as fellow contributors, and more as recipients of welfare, council houses, the benefits of the NHS etc.

If you view the state as some kind of magic dispensary, rather than the aggregate of all our efforts, then it makes perfect sense for folk to resent having to share the big manna cake among more people. And whether the cake might or might not be a little bigger because of these newcomers is a question that need never occur.

Big Fez

re Allan J at 8:50pm ("Talk about nonsensical. If the NHS were stupid enough to sack all its immigrant workers tomorrow then, yes, it would have big problems. But nobody's suggesting that.")

I think you have taken that statement a bit too literally. Perhaps a less pithy paraphrase of the argument (as I read it) would be:

Of course, immigration means there are more people who need to use public services. But it also means there are more people to work in them, and more taxpayers to pay for them. Unless we have reason to suspect immigrants of being less likely than average to be taxpayers or public employees then the net cost of immigration in this sense is zero at worst*. And if the reverse is true** then there might well be substantial benefits.

It is perfectly possible to disagree with this argument of course, but your response above seemed to me to miss the point a little. Unless I have missed yours - in which case, apologies.

*Of course there are costs involved in any change, e.g. we need to build more GP surgeries in areas which are experiencing populationn growth. But this would happen even if there were no immigration, as people move from sunderland to london, or from london to the counties; as factories close or new housing is built. Except in very rare cases, immigration is probably a negligible fraction of this churn.

** There are reasons we might expect immigrants to be above average 'contributors', which do not rely on stereotyping. For example, most immigration systems around the world favour people with jobs lined up already, or with a university education, or require you to have $5000 in the bank or speak good english before you can enter the country, or something.


Claiming that it is "nasty" and "populist" to favour restricting immigration is a little childish.

There are (at least) two arguments that should be teased apart here.

The first argument says that, on average, immigration is good for the economy.

The second argument says that, anyway, even if it isn't good for the economy, anyone who objects to to our current regime of unrestricted immigration is mean and nasty and a populist.

In other words, the only line of argument allowed is the economic argument, and we've ruled out acting on any findings that immigration is not a net gain.

Most normal people, who don't have post graduate degrees in economics (or whatever--sorry geeks), see the inherent poverty of this strategy, which seeks to bash them over the head with their own ignorance. "What--don't you realise that in the long run capital adjusts? Racist! Have a look at my massive regression. Isn't it impressive?"

Aren't people allowed to be opposed to the idea of substantial in-migration flows *in principle* and regardless of whether the empirical evidence shows that immigration has a "significant, small, negative impact on average wages", with "the biggest impact... in the semi/unskilled services sector" (the intuitively obvious result), or otherwise?



I agree with Big Fez. Migration from the strictly economic view is a form of population change that is often faster than natural growth or decline. All the purely economic disadvantages of migration can be offset by effective planning of public services or are corrected by price changes produced by changes in supply and demand and must be considered in the context of the gains from migration. When you strip out the economic arguments there is a residual set of feelings that are not rational about migration. It is unrealistic to deny this. Any short time spent reading the rants about it in Newspaper comments sections makes that clear. The Alf Garnett tendency shall we call it.

Big Fez

@ vimothy

"Aren't people allowed to be opposed to the idea of substantial in-migration flows *in principle*?"

Remember that talk about 'restricting immigration' is really talk about massive restrictions on many people's liberty. People who want to be with their partner or relatives; people who just want to earn a decent wage, which they maybe cannot in their home country; people who want to get a good education, or pursue a career not open to them at home; people who because of their race, religion, sexuality or gender are stigmatized or persecuted in those countries less liberal than our own.

It seems clear to me that the burden of proof lies with those who oppose immigration. If you want to justify so massive a restriction of liberty for so many people then you had better have good evidence of some quite substantial harm being done.


Big Fez,

So basically, the burden of proof is on those who oppose the social engineers and their programme of wholesale change to the British population.

You can dress this up as increasing liberty, but it is clear that this is going in one direction only. I agree that the liberty of those who want to migrate to Britain is increased if their ability to do so is increased (e.g. by making legal migration easier). On the other hand, you are clearly ignoring the any claims that the current population might have to this land.

What about *their* liberty, and, God forbid, sovereignty and right to self-determination? I mean, do you lock your door at night, even though there are those amongst us who do not have houses, or even shelter, or whose welfare would increase if given access to your car, wallet and DVD player? Of course you do--as do we all. What about your income--do you give away everything that is not needed to reproduce your labour power? What, even though this reduces the liberty of those who have no income, and who would benefit from yours to a greater degree than you do?

My point is not to simply cry "tu quoque", but to show that your desire to increase the liberty of hypothetical migrants, though perhaps noble, is not without implications for your fellow Britons.

Imagine that the government approaches a family a demands that they foster a child--the family has no choice. Now, the child's liberty might have increased, but it is not clear to me that the same can be said about the family.

Big Fez

vimothy ("you are clearly ignoring any claims that the current population might have to this land. What about *their* liberty, and, God forbid, sovereignty and right to self-determination?")

I am not ignoring *any* such claims. I just stop short of endorsing the claim of absolute and exclusive use, which seems to me too strong. And it's not that I don't give weight to the liberty of the british-born. It's just that I think it is hard to see how their liberty is substantially harmed by migration at the levels we have experienced over the last decade. If it is even harmed at all (which is yet to be satisfactorily proved) it is surely hard to imagine it is harmed badly enough to offset the harm done to that of the 'hypothetical' migrants above.

Not to say there aren't some good reasons for being in favour of less migration which are compatible with liberty. but I think it's hard to base such an argument mainly on 'the liberty of the natives' without either a) clear evidence of the major harm migration does to such liberty or b) good reasons why we ought not similarly value the liberty of the non-native.

You offer two analogies in support of your position, but both misrepresent the situation. You suggest an open border is akin to an unlocked house. This would only be true if ALL immigrants were criminals, who simply took without contributing anything back. This is obviously not the case. Your 'compulsory fostering' example falls down in a similar way - the relationship between parent and child is a very unbalanced one (although perhaps still not quite as unbalanced as that between robber and victim).

I hope that these examples were just a bit of rhetoric on your part, and not reflective of your actual attitude towards those people who might want to come to this country. Contrary to what your average Daily Mail reader might believe, the vast majority of people migrating to britain do so in order to bulid a better life for themselves, which includes working hard and contributing to society. And the tiny minority who, having read and believed the Mail, move here imagining that they can live off our highly generous benefits system soon find that they are not actually eligible for them.

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