In his Foreword for a report for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Tony Blair states quite clearly that he believes that the public have no confidence that governments can manage immigration. The foreword claims that populism is on the rise in the ‘West’, and that there is a perceived rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. His executive summary ends with the statement that “integration is the best way of protecting diverse multicultural communities from populists determined to sow division.” He indicates that as far as he is concerned, integration is not a choice, but a necessity. The argument taken to its logical conclusion, is that populism would be less popular (and by that I take it to mean that there would be less anti-immigrant sentiment) if only ‘they lived the way we do’.
The sheer stupidity of this argument leaves me breathless – even more so that it comes from a politician who has spent years engaged as a Special Envoy for the Middle East peace process. Such attitudes can only serve to reinforce an attitude of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and places the blame for hatred and sentiment on those who immigrate rather than those that hate.
Tony Blair’s argument is not new, it has been heard before; perhaps most notably in 1990 when the then Conservative MP Norman Tebbit raised the idea of the ‘Cricket Test‘. The ‘Cricket Test’ centred on the idea that those who immigrated to the United Kingdom should integrate more into British culture, to the point of supporting the English Cricket team rather than the cricket teams from their various nations of origin – a criticism levelled particularly at those whose families had emigrated from the Indian subcontinent or the Caribbean.
If anti-immigrant sentiment is based on a belief that immigrants are different to ‘us’, or that they choose to live differently to the way in which ‘we’ choose to live, then we should perhaps ready ourselves for the possibility that even in a society without immigration, there are people that can be considered different to ‘us’. If you are not a Catholic, then Catholics are different, if you eat meat, then vegans are different and if you drink beer then those that don’t are different. Society is such that diversity exists everywhere and therefore it seems reasonable to believe that there will always be (room for) difference – and hence division for those that wish to find it.
A better approach might be to try and identify why societies and cultures are looking for targets in the first place, rather than by simply asking those who are targets to ‘keep their heads down’. For example, if populist sentiment lends itself to the idea that ‘immigrants are stealing our jobs’, then maybe a better approach would be to address the issue of unemployment – rather than that of immigration. Likewise, the argument that a country is ‘full up’ lends itself more towards population control (in the UK in 2017 there were over 670,000 births, compared to a net immigration figure of 230,000). Indeed the whole concept of people crossing borders could direct thinking towards questioning the existence those arbitrary borders rather than questioning the rights of individuals to cross them.
Although it may seem (to some) to be a self-evident truth that those entering a society should adapt to it or should accept its rules – and that this would assist in the question of anti-immigrant sentiment, I would contend that the real issue isn’t whether or not people adapt, but rather why people ‘hate’ others, and why such people find targets for their ire.
People migrate from region to region, and from society to society for a multitude of reasons; ranging from the inability to physically live in their current location, to a preference for climate, or to accompany another person who is also travelling. If someone is forced out of their home due to civil war for example, is it reasonable that they be expected to necessarily leave their own culture behind them as well as their home? Is it reasonable that the price of bringing their own culture with them be bigotry and persecution?
Tony Blair goes on to state that “it is important to establish the correct social contract around the rights and duties of citizens, including those who migrate to our country.” This I believe (for whatever its merits may be), should be separated from the question of immigration entirely, and can only be expected to apply if:
- a) it applies to all, and
- b) it permits that those who do not wish to adhere can choose to leave
…neither of which is the case in the society of today.
My way of life is not better than that of anyone else. It may seem to be better to me, but that doesn’t mean that anyone else should be forced to assume it – for whatever reason. Nor should acceptance of a culture be a requirement for being able to live peaceably in the world, without fear of recrimination. As earlier stated, it may well be a self-evident truth that to be accepted into a society, a degree of adaptation is needed; that however, should never ever be used as an excuse for violence and ignorance by others.
The migration of people per se should neither denote nor demand an appreciation of the local culture. Any assumption that it does is facile, and can build division and prejudice; which in turns plays into the hands of those groups who already do not tolerate difference.
The argument put by Tony Blair is (for me), part of the problem, and as such it cannot be part of the solution.