Despite having written on the economic benefits of immigration and the mixing of cultures, I wonder what is the impact of countries taking in so many people. What demographics change if immigrants do not speak the national language and what is the change in the balance of local culture.
The far right might gain ground on these issues, but the left must address them too. Nobody on the left dares pronounce against immigration; socialism focuses on integration. And rightly so. But would anyone choose positive migration?
Some say that we need foreign workers to bolster the workforce. Would it not be better to retrain currently unemployed people?
If not fleeing from war or hardship, migrants do not change their country to draw social benefits; they do so to find work. Migrants must always therefore integrate and pay taxes. Clandestine immigration is the worst of both worlds because they are both accused of taking jobs and also do not contribute to tax income.
Mass migration is for social reasons, people fleeing war or persecution, but would you call for people to come here? We might like their food and understand that mixing cultures is beneficial, but what is the risk of losing our own culture? Is it at the risk of extinction or just improvement?
What cultural values?
Most agree that the fundamental values are those of justice, that the courts are supreme and that all adhere to their rulings. The UK has a thousand years of history and law. But do right-wingers think that African, Caribbean, Pakistani or Afghan immigrants want to overthrow the state? No more than certain white individuals.
We should not confuse the needs of migrating families with the intentions of terrorists to destabilise the world. And we should not be swayed by a small minority of idiots who tarnish the name of migrants with despicable acts of violence.
What does it mean for a state and a society to evolve? In the Western world states mostly develop for the better such as through voting for human rights. In Africa many countries are unstable but after having been taken over by dictators such as Uganda by Idi Amin and the Philippines by Duterte.
But are these fears of subversion really the fears of the right and why do they seem so far-fetched? I think it is more about everyday group identity, of wanting to find others in agreement, the notion of belonging. Perhaps many wonder to what group they belong when many people around them seem to be from elsewhere. It is understandable that people look to their surroundings and local communities for their identity.
Defining national identity
Is this a tenable, desirable situation? The solution is to ensure that immigrants learn English, that they adopt local customs and adhere to Englishness – if only we could define it ourselves.
There are people who think they know what national identity is. What do they refer to? History, the law of the land, the habits or opinions of a sub-group or behaviour accepted by the majority.
Even if national identity were defined, it is already both unconsciously understood and yet different for all. Perhaps it is geography or adhesion to unspoken norms that permeate everyday life. But even if we take a snapshot of society today, any national identity will change and evolve with or without immigration.
The point for the rightists then is perhaps that there should be a high enough proportion of nationals to influence change and maintain a national identity: keep England English and France French.
Perhaps we should define English as white and Christian with a class system, or beliefs such as freedom for which we are willing to die? Are Muslims then excluded, not able to be English even if born here, or Europeans but only after say three generations.
Perhaps after a while people just become English. I bet people born in England of whatever origin consider themselves as English as anyone after a while.
We cannot accept anyone who is against England or wishes to subvert the state but also must beware of not stifling opposition, dissent or well-intentioned desire for change. Perhaps only a royal family can guarantee a continued national identity. But although steeped in history and tradition, even a royal family will evolve.
In conclusion then, if a nation has a national identity most would be hard pushed to define a set of values or beliefs acceptable to all. We do not even agree 100% in elections and referenda or even in everyday parliaments. Perhaps we could go some way to set down in writing some values or beliefs that go to identify each nation. Would we find any agreement?
Perhaps then it is just geography and the maintenance of peace. How could we justify going to war if not to defend ourselves? Some countries such as Switzerland and Sweden do not. It might then be our allegiance to the government and elected leaders. What then if we voted for those who lost the election?
There is some allegiance to the idea of a country even if the law binds us to loyalty whether we like it or not. Perhaps the only qualification for nationality then is acceptance of the law of the land while reserving the right to change that law by democratic means.