As always happens when you find something important, I was looking for something else when I stumbled across what I thought would be the grail, the one ring, the M'Kraan Crystal of anti-immigration scaremongering. What I was looking for was reasoning behind the latest weird, outlandish immigration conspiracy theory.
A few months ago, Andrew Neather wrote a pro-immigration column in the Standard saying that although immigration was a good thing and there were sound economic resons behind allowing it to increase, there was also an undercurrent in early 2000s Labour thinking that reasoned that immigration would also increase multiculturalism, which was a good thing. That made him uncomfortable.
The tabs seized on this and turned the main reason for Labour's immigration policy into a dastardly master plan to change the face of Britain on purpose, just to hack off Conservatives. Mwuh-huh-huh-huh-haaah!
Neather reacted to this by writing a rebuttal, 'How I became the story and why the Right is wrong' in which he said:
Somehow this has become distorted by excitable Right-wing newspaper columnists into being a "plot" to make Britain multicultural.But this idea of a secret plot has resurfaced, because MigrationWatch sent out an FoI request and now they've got the smoking gun that proves Labour did deliberately increase immigration on purpose as a secret scheme to encourage multiculturalism! Dun-dun-durrrrn! 'How Labour deliberately threw open doors to mass migration in a secret plot to remake a multicultural UK' says the Mail, in a story with another by Andrew Green stapled to the bottom in the online version.
There was no plot.
The trouble is, the gun isn't smoking. It's difficult to see if it's ever been fired at all. The document MigrationWatch have got hold of includes some vaguely worded references to 'social objectives' - the benefits of which "in turn feed into wider economic benefits, " so we appear at least partly to be talking about economic reasoning again.
You have to make a bit of a leap from this vague stuff if you even want it to just back up what Neather originally said (which didn't include a plot), let alone use it to prove that there was some 'secret plot to remake a multicultural UK'. One of the deleted sections from the document talks about the potential impossibility and economically damaging concequences of attempting to limit economically driven immigration. This doesn't get mentioned. TabloidWatch looks at how Andrew Green makes such leaps from such scant evidence in 'Melanie Phillips is being deceitful about immigration coverage', and you can look there for the skips and jumps if you like. Go on.
We're not just talking about a nefarious Joker-style plot to change the social makeup of Gotham, though. Green hasn't just leaped from mentioning social benefits of immigration to the existence of a conspiracy to increase multiculturalism. He's strapped on a jetpack and rocketed off to the conclusion that the fact that Labour were going to mention social benefits of immigration in a speech but didn't in the end is proof that they were deliberately importing voters from abroad. That's what they meant by 'social objectives' in the original draft of what they intended to make public. It was obviously a coded signal that they wanted to secretly cheat. Because immigrants always vote Labour. The swarthy bastards.
Sometimes, there comes a point in a discussion where you just have to look awkwardly at your feet and shuffle away, like when when the troofer tells you the CIA were responsible for 9/11, or the cab driver tells you he blames the blacks, or when the shouty man on the bus tells you he invented paint. Any rational response would fall on deaf ears. If vague mentions of social benefits of immigration being cut from speeches can be proof of deliberately importing voters, nothing you can say will make a difference.
That Labour's vote has been in freefall since 1997 doesn't matter. That Labour had such a huge majority that they didn't need to artificially inflate it doesn't matter. That perhaps Labour's biggest and most controversial decision - invading Iraq - alienated a huge chunk of the vote from immigrants and ethnic minorities, suggesting that cravenly sucking up to immigrants and ethnic minorities wasn't a top priority, doesn't matter. That increasing immigration would lose the votes of some people already living here doesn't matter. That you can't predict how individuals vote doesn't matter. That you don't know how many immigrants even vote at all doesn't matter. That a great number of immigrants can't vote at all doesn't matter. That Labour have been banging on about economic benefits of immigration for years - even to the point that one of the 'social objectives' for increasing immigration was in itself an economic argument doesn't matter. Because we've left the world of rational, evidence-based arguments and arrived in tinfoil hat land.
And these tinfoil hat land conspiracy theories are now part of mainstream discussion. 'Using immigration to turn Britain into a nation of Labour voters is so shameful I can hardly believe it' says Stephen Glover, who doesn't seem to realise the reason he can hardly believe it is because it's mad paranoid bollocks, in the second best selling newspaper in the country. "Last night the news ignited fresh concerns that Labour has deliberately manipulated border controls to gain more voters," said the Express, a poorly selling crap tabloid that still outsells broadsheets.
Melanie Phillips, calling it 'an abuse of democracy' but stopping short of reproducing the 'importing voters' lunacy, manages to imply that the British press is somehow colluding with the nefarious plot because:
Other than in the Daily Mail, I cannot find any reference to this anywhere else.This is despite coverage in the Sun and Express, and a front page headline in the Telegraph a day before her blog post. How anyone could imagine that the British press is anything other than vehemently anti-immigration is staggering. As I've said before about Phillips, when I think of her, I imagine a derelict funfair with an out of tune calliope playing in the background while a blank faced little girl in a dirty dress holds a grubby ragdoll which she stabs in the face with a bradawl. Stabs and stabs and stabs.
I wonder why.
Update: She has now gone over the top with 'At last we know the truth: Labour despises anyone who loves Britain, its values and its history'
Anyway - I'm digressing. What about the discovery of the nexus of all possible realities being smashed if the population hits 70 million? "We're about to find out that if we hit 70 million, the dead will rise from their graves and shuffle blank-eyed towards us, hungering after our warm, tasty flesh." I thought, as I read the transcript of this Radio 4 documentary and saw the presenter, David Goodhart, specifically asking Andrew Green about the figure.
But the answer was incredibly disappointing. There is no reason why 70 million is a terrible number. He even concedes that you could build more and more to accommodate for more people if you want, although he obviously hates the idea and wonders where you'd put everything. Here's how the exchange culminates:
GOODHART: Well it’s ridiculous to say we’d have a billion, obviously we couldn’t, but the difference between 60 million and 70 million is 10 million. We could have 10 million more people if we had a proper response on infrastructure policy. The extra 10 million people would be, many of them would be paying their taxes so that they would be contributing to the funds required to build all those new roads and schools and hospitals.More vague 'it just wouldn't be nice and people don't want it' handwaving. No challenge to the idea that we could cope if we had a proper response on infrastructure policy, which presumably take care of the quality of life, environment and society things he mentions in his answer.
GREEN: They might over time, although the net benefit from immigration is extremely small. The issue is one of quality of life and of environment and of society. Those are the three issues. I would add a fourth, which is the public doesn’t want it; and do we have a democracy or not?
We all know Andrew Green is a Steven Seagal fan, and he seems to use the great man's movies as evidence for how immigrants and politicians behave. Immigrants aren't all tattooed hispanics and Jamaican drug dealers with butterfly-knives who need to be kung-fued through windows; and politicians aren't all evil conspiracists plotting to bring us down, who need to be kung-fued through windows. Andrew Green needs to chill. I've spent my whole life in Central London in close proximity to immigrants, and a significant amount of it in Westminster in close proximity to politicians. I've never had to kung-fu anyone through a window.
What we have here is the entire discussion about immigration being driven by fear of a number that has
been arbitrarily chosen by an anti-immigration lobby that can offer no real reasons for why it has been picked and exactly what will happen if it's reached. This number is being used routinely in mainstream news outlets as a focal point for how the debate should procede, while rarely being challenged. Much as I don't like New Labour, I have to agree with some of Alan Johnson's sentiments in this BBC article.
On top of that, the mainstream press are now pushing two conspiracy theories, one more odd than the other about nefarious aims of immigration painting immigrants as a homogenous, bleating blob who will all mindlessly do the same thing and think the same way. This is in a press environment where a columnist that goes beyond even the BNP in his assessment of the criminality of black people is being seriously touted as a potential editor of an apparently centre-left newspaper, and you get this.
The idea of this odd new conspiracy theory is so accepted that the Conservatives feel they can spoof Labour policy with this:
If you want a vision of the future, imagine some blowhards inventing scare stories to drive immigration policy - for a few years, at least.