David Goodhart examines the entrails of Jacqui Smith's citizenship proposals.
Last week's green paper on immigration and citizenship used a rhetoric that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, talked about 'earned citizenship' and restricting certain welfare benefits to those who have achieved full citizenship, after at least six years 'on probation'. This is the same government that has overseen the biggest-ever migration into Britain and has been more positive about minority rights, multiculturalism and an 'open Britain' than any in our history. Grasping this apparent conflict requires an understanding of the learning curve of the liberal, baby-boom generation.
While Mr Goodhart's analysis of what my university generation believed is spot-on, the key word here is 'rhetoric'. I think the changes are driven by their private polls and focus groups rather than anything else.
Interesting paradox. I think we're still (just about) at the stage where the problem is 'us' - i.e. the white liberals in power. It's their idiotic, guilt-driven responses to the various challenges to the just-existing, despised Brit culture which is the problem. They still have the power to do something about that, but one day they won't and power will either be fragmented or have passed elsewhere.
And that's exactly the way the white liberals in power think about 'us' - us being the refuseniks, the unbelievers in the Great Society, the racist lumpen Little Englanders harking back to a golden age that never existed. WE are the problem as far as they're concerned (I'm using the Royal 'we' here - as the son of a Welshwoman and an immigrant who spoke with a strong foreign accent til the day he died my status is obscure). If only those idiots weren't around what a paradise this land would be !
But they are - although millions have left. And large numbers of them were once natural, almost tribal Labour supporters whose identification is loosening fast. Ms Smith's initiative is aimed squarely at them. After all, large numbers of them are just poor souls who believe what they read in the Daily Mail. It's a problem of perception. They need - what's the word ? reassurance.
And if words are what's needed, we couldn't have a better government to provide them.