Immigration scare tactics. Get Bruce Willis!

When the big hand hits 12...well...I dunno
The 'England is the most overcrowded country in the EU' meme that I looked at in my last couple of posts is just one of many that make up one of the anti-immigration lobby's (MPs, tabloids, MigrationWatch) wider narratives.

Immigration is unusually high in the UK compared to similar countries, we're supposed to believe, and we're about to reach breaking point. We're full up! Something must be done before our population hits 70 million, dammit!

But almost all of the smaller memes that make up this narrative are, well, a bit rubbish. The 70 million target is itself is bogus, plucked from thin air because it's a nice round number that looks as though we'll reach it soon enough to be imminent, but far enough in the future to seem preventable. Ask exactly why this specific number should be scary and you get no proper answer. Sir Andrew Green, of MigrationWatch infamy, couldn't think of anything definite in this interview. Even the Daily Mail called it 'symbolic' in its last batch of immigration figures.

And it's not just the arbitrary target that's rubbish. England is not the most densely populated country in Europe unless you expect Dutch people to live underwater, but so what if it was? It used to be in 1950 and nothing happened then, so why would it matter now? It wouldn't. It's just another distraction that's meant to look scary and new and make the UK look different and unusual. Another bogus reason that something must be done.

A movie scientist bursting his way into a military meeting that acted that way would be crap.
"Sir! Sir! I apologise for interrupting but we must scramble all jets now! We have three days!"
"Eh? What for?"
"We have three days! You must scramble the jets, and get that one pilot who was the best but went off the rails and now he's just a boozer with nothing to live for but he can redeem himself if he flies for one last time and saves the world in THREE DAYS!"
"THREE DA - eh?"
"What's going to happen in three days?"
"Umm...well...dunno. Nothing probly. Might get a bit vaguely unpleasant, but I suppose we could prepare. Just scramble the jets! And get the drunk guy! Or...or...you'll see. Or you won't. Look, the deadline's just symbolic."
"Fuck you, poindexter."

Perhaps the most blatant attempt at making us think the slasher in the hockey mask is coming when it's actually just the cat (if I can be permitted to mix my movie metaphors) was last years 'study' by MigrationWatch - reported in the press release 'Migrant Stock has Doubled Since 199I - Immigration Problem ‘Home Grown’ - not a Result of Globalisation', which was churned into the Mail's 'UK migrant total is 'three times the world average''.

The basic premise was this. The percentage of migrants in the world's population rose from 2.5% to 3% between 1960 and 2005 - but the percentage of migrants in the UK's population? That went from 4.5% in 1960 to a whopping 11% in 2008! Finally, proof that the rise in immigration to the UK isn't the result of globalisation and is a specifically British problem. Something must be done!

Except one small detail never made it to the Mail. The world's population more than doubled between 1960 and 2008. MigrationWatch mentioned this in their main 'study', while leaving out the fact that 2.5% of the world's population in 1960 represented around 75 million people - whereas in 2005, 3% of the world's population represented about 180 million. Since the number of migrants in the world had grown by over a hundred million and more than doubled while the number of places they could go to hadn't doubled, it's inevitable that some countries' proportion of migrants would grow unless their own populations doubled in the same period.

It seems screamingly obvious to me, but maybe not to the migration experts at MigrationWatch, that if you want to see if the rise in migration to the UK since 1960 was a specifically British problem that had nothing to do with globalisation, you'd compare the UK's share of the world's migrants from 1960 with 2008. Easy. I did that calculation myself.

In 1960, the number of migrants in the UK represented about 3.2% of all the migrants in the world. In 2008, that figure had SOARED to around, er, 3.6%. And that's if the number of migrants in the world didn't rise between 2005 and 2008. A rise of less than half a percent isn't that scary, is it? Makes everything look like UK immigration levels aren't 'home grown'. Maybe expert think tank MigrationWatch just didn't think of making this calculation.

In fact, the funniest part of the MigrationWatch study is looking for all the special pleading to stop you comparing the UK to any country you might think is similar. Can't compare the UK to other Western European countries or English speaking ones because, well, just because okay? But you can compare the UK to the entire rest of the world including not only these countries, but the ones that are exporters of their population. That's just fine and dandy.

The whole point of all this stuff is to create a sense of urgency. It transforms the debate about immigration into being one about what must be done about the terrible thing happening here and nowhere else. We look at the rise in immigration since the 90s and blame Labour for deliberately importing voters rather than realising that all that happened is the UK's immigration rate became roughly the same as the EU average. No! We must stem this rising tide before our population hits 70 million!

But, the newspapers at least don't really give a flying raas about the rising population numbers, of course. When scaremongering shifted last year from being mainly about immigration numbers to focusing on birth rates, the papers' reaction to news about the number of births to mothers who were born abroad was not to call for measures to discourage everyone from having babies, but to publish columnists' opinion pieces about how middle class *ahem* indigenous people need to have more babies, encouraging another baby boom. High population numbers not an obvious high priority here.

(A bigger clue to what the priority is came in this years '1 in 5 will be ethnics' headline in the Express, and the Mail's scaremongering about white British mothers. For the papers, the 'ZOMG teh 70 million' number stuff adds a veneer of respectability to their other, less respectable scaremongering).

The trouble is, that other scaremongering drags the worrying about numbers along with it. If the UK's immigration numbers are uniquely high in the world, what's driving them? Immigrants either become complicit in an evil New Labour plot, or grasping cheats taking advantage of our hospitality and generosity.

Migration is a global issue, related to a rising population across the world.  Without artificial scare numbers or separating England fromm the rest of the UK to make it top of something or other, the debate becomes less urgent, less geared towards an unambiguous anti stance.

When people realise that the number of migrants in the wolrd has risen by over a hundred million people since 1960, that the UK's immigration rate per 1,000 population is around the European average, and that the percentage of migrants in our population is quite a lot less than other countries like the US, Canada and Australia, they're less likely to see it as an urgent problem of venal graspers flocking in droves to ruin it for us all that MUST BE STOPPED by PILOTS IN JETS. Stopping it looks easy. Everyone else manages it.

People are way more likely to sympathise with people moving somewhere to make something of themselves, somewhere where the streets might not be paved in gold, but an ordinary boy can make his fortune, become mayor and have a cat that wears shoes.

But OMG! Look over there! We're the highest, biggest, most something or other in the whole wide world! Get Bruce Willis!

1 comment:

goodjudge16 said...

I find that it's easier to think of them as DarkieWatch - it's a more honest name for a bunch of xenophobic loons.

Strange that the first ONS report that Google found for me - http://www.statistics.gov.uk/articles/population_trends/PT135POPCOBARTICLE.pdf - shows that of the "five most common non-UK countries of birth in
the UK", in 2007 number 2 was Eire and number 5 was Germany. When did you last hear 'Sir' Andrew banging on about our culture being overwhelmed by Lederhosen and David Hasselhoff records?