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Home > Politics

Election 2005: Conspiracy of the idiots

26 April 2005

'We wouldn't need so many immigrant teachers, nurses, dentists, doctors etc. if we hadn't let so many immigrant patients in, in the first place!' - contributor to BBC Talking Points

Yeah, whatever. If there's one thing more infuriating than politicians weaseling their way out of their self-created problems, it's the deafening roar of the idiots. The great thing about being an idiot is that you don't have to justify the views you hold in any reasoned way... 'If UFOs don't exist, then how do aliens travel around? On motorbikes? Don't make me laugh. Their legs would be too short to reach the ground.'

(Comments like these are customarily followed by the idiot sitting back in their chair smugly, as though they've just checkmated Gary Kasparov.)

Unfortunately, the current election, perhaps even more than previous ones, seems to be conducted on an idiot level. It's almost as though the main parties are in cahoots with those members of the public who vote for the vaguest, least-considered of reasons.

BBC news recently took a trip to Rochdale, with depressing results. Rather a lot of the people vox popped immediately came up with 'immigration' as one of the main issues that concerned them.

We're not suggesting Rochdale is any more or less racist than anywhere else, but why is immigration such an issue? For many years Rochdale has had an established Asian population: about eight per cent of the total population is Asian, mainly Pakistani, according to Rochdale council.

Although there have been what can loosely described as 'race riots' in nearby Oldham and Burnley, there hasn't been anything like this in Rochdale itself. (Even the Oldham riots didn't seem to be much more than very local incidents caused in part by BNP agitation, rumours and macho stupidity on the part of Asian teenagers.)

So it's hard to see how the residents of Rochdale can get too worked up about the Asian population at a local level, and even harder to see why people in places with a smaller or non-existent ethnic population are also warming to the issue. Unless they're so bigoted they think that if they pop into a corner shop run by dark-skinned people, they're going to end up in a big cooking pot. So what is going on here?

A clue lies in the fact that earlier this month Michael 'Fucking' Howard suggested that there would be more race riots if people lost confidence in the UK's immigration system. This is a pretty weird interpretation, by any standards. Some northern towns have shown a reasonable level of support for the BNP, although it doesn't seem to be particularly reliable or consistent. This is quite different to actual race war on the streets.

But politicians, Howard most of all, have pushed immigration as automatically being a problem, or at least enough of a problem to warrant making it one of the main election issues. (We realise that immigration isn't directly related to the riots oop North, but immigration as an issue does feed into race antagonism.) But is immigration really so important?

At some level, immigration is a genuine issue. It throws up all sorts of questions about whether an economy needs immigrants or whether after a certain point the net effect is a drain on a nation's resources, and if so, how much. There are dozens of other immigration-related questions: whether immigrants integrate or not, and whether it matters if they do or don't; what large-scale immigration means for jobs and wealth creation, etc.

What tends to hobble the debate is that proper evidence about immigration is thin on the ground.

The lack of information about true levels of immigration is well (un)documented. Jeremy Paxman grilled Tony Blair this week, or rather seared, spatchcocked and roasted him on a high heat, forcing him to admit he didn't know how many failed asylum seekers are still in the UK. Blair wouldn't even give an estimate, which is a pretty lame response from a prime minister who claims that immigration is such a serious problem.

But if the numbers aren't there, an underlying theory about immigration doesn't seem to exist either. If you've got the time and inclination, some interesting stuff can be found here (An overview), here (A detailed trawl through a variety of research) and here. (An informative little quiz about the reality of immigration.)

It's stupid to look for a cut-and-dried view of immigration in the UK (especially on the Internet). But the more you look into the 'problem' of immigration, the less it looks like a real problem.

If there are three questions it would be nice to know the answer to, they would be:

- What, roughly, is the true level of immigration in the UK?

- Is it beneficial, or a (serious) drain on our resources?

- Given that there's little evidence that the UK is being impoverished by immigration, or that ethnic tensions are anything more than the work of racists and hotheads, is immigration an issue at all?

The answer to the last question is probably 'no'. And although we don't have answers to any of the questions, Labour and the Tories seem happy to conduct vague, idiot-friendly campaigns based on the common perception that immigration is a serious problem. In other words: campaigns run by self-serving idiots for other idiots.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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