As I write this, there are discussions raging on Twitter about a UKIP political poster. It says ’26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose jobs they are after?’ This is clear dog whistle politics, so loud and blatant that it would hurt dog’s ears. It is the type of rhetoric that has poisoned British politics; it is the politics of fear, the politics of hate, the politics of division, and should have no place in Britain. UKIP are able to get away with this rhetoric because mainstream politicians are reluctant to argue the benefits of immigration, reluctant to dispel the mistruths and lies that are banded about by the anti-immigration brigade. Labour apologises for the past mistakes passionately, but presents the case for immigration too reluctantly. It is time for people to fight back against the dog whistle politics and defend the indefensible.
You may remember that in the EU debates, Nigel Farage distinguished between Western Europe and Eastern Europe, saying he preferred immigration from the former rather than the latter. I found it a shocking and xenophobic thing to say. Unlike Nigel Farage, I don’t believe that an immigrant from Germany is automatically any different than an immigrant from Greece. I was brought up to believe that everyone is fundamentally equal, no matter what. That’s why I joined the Labour Party. The Labour Party should be prominent in arguing the case for immigration from all areas of the world.
Immigration is good for Britain; it as simple as that. It is good for our economy; it is good for our communities. No matter what UKIP argue immigration makes a net contribution to Britain. Their contribution to Britain is the equivalent of 4p on the basic rate of income tax, according to the OECD. They contribute more to the economy, than they take out.
UKIP favour two contradictory strands to their argument: immigrants take our jobs, and that they sit on benefits reducing the amount British people get. The latter claim is simply not true. Immigrants have made a substantial contribution to Britain; they are not a drain on British resources. Immigrants from the European Union have contributed, in a decade, 34% more in taxation than they received in benefits. Immigrants from outside the EU contributed, over the same time period, 2% more in taxation than they received. Immigrants are less likely to claim benefits, live in social housing and more likely to have a university degree than native Britons. Our National Health Service depends on immigration; our pension system is supported by immigration. As Britain gets older, young immigrants support our public services. Our universities are at the heart of the global technological revolution, innovating and developing fantastic new technologies helped by graduates that came to Britain attracted by our world class universities.
But, many UKIP-ers may say, what about the effect on the community, on our cultural identity? Farage echoes this by arguing he would be happy that British people were poorer, if he could stop the ‘damage’ immigration made to the social identity of Britain. Yet I argue that immigration contributes to our culture. It makes our high streets more vibrant; our food diverse and tastier; it makes our country more open and tolerant.
We, as a country, should feel proud when an immigrant from the poorest of poor backgrounds decides to make Britain their home. When an immigrant with a pocket empty of cash, but a heart full of hope wants to come to Britain to work, we should welcome them. We should encourage those who want to work hard, get on in life, better themselves and decide to make Britain their home. Turning away hard working, committed immigrants because we distrust them, harms Britain and it harms the British people. Many immigrants display the best of Britain in their character: hard work, honesty, commitment, fair play, a desire to make a better life for themselves and for their family and a devotion to do right.
So there’s my attempt to defend the politically indefensible. When an immigrant reaches our shores with a desire to innovate, a commitment to better themselves, we should open our arms and welcome them. Britain benefits when people across the world chose Britain as their destination. Britain’s long history is a history of immigration, of people escaping persecution and poverty to make a better life for themselves. We didn’t close our borders then, and we shouldn’t now. Britain wins when we are open, tolerant and welcoming; we lose when we are insular, distrustful and pessimistic about people.