Thursday, May 05, 2005

Swamp Thing

swamp – 1 n. piece of wet, spongy ground; bog ; marsh
2 v. (of water) overwhelm, flood, soak (boat or its crew or contents)

A couple of weeks ago, when the polls were showing a narrowing of the Labour lead, Polly Toynbee was worried.

‘On the doorsteps, the Conservatives are making headway on immigration. Whatever the polls say - and people lie on this to polite pollsters - Labour campaigners find it everywhere. Howard's posters, speeches and tactics may be despicable but they work, however preposterously impossible his party's policies.’

For Ms Pot, a few of Blunkett’s chickens were coming home to roost.

‘Labour colluded with anti-asylum sentiment to such a degree that even when they did get control of the system and numbers fell fast, they kept tightening the screw, which implied "swamping" was in progress. ’

And what’s so sad is that there’s nothing to worry about.

‘Where was civil society when decency was under attack? Where are the churches, the legal and medical professions, the charities and anyone else with trusted authority when a loud voice is needed to say the country is not being "swamped"?’

It’s been a while since old Swampy raised his head. Last time was a few years back, when David Blunkett spoke of some schools being swamped by the children of asylum seekers, a remark for which he was accused by Diane Abbott of likening asylum seekers to sewage (presumably she sent her son to a private school in order that he could find out what ‘swamp’ actually means – and then tell her).

But the most famous use was by Margaret Thatcher way back in 1979, when the immigrant communities in Britain were half their current size. She spoke of people’s fears about being ‘swamped by people of a different culture’ and was roundly assailed for this by people who pointed out that ‘ethnic minorities’ only made up a few percent of the British population. With hindsight, some on the left have acknowledged that this speech, so condemned at the time, cut the ground from under the feet of the anti-immigration far right, who disappeared off the political map for twenty years. Of course both Thatcher and her critics were right. To a Native Brit living in, say, Lidget Green, Stockwell or Sparkbrook, swamping in the sense of being overwhelmed was a reality. The character of many city areas has changed utterly in the last forty years, as the natives have moved out and newcomers moved in, leaving only the very poorest (usually elderly) natives to ponder the cultural, physical and linguistic transformation of their streets. There’s a wonderful book waiting to be written, of interviews with the surviving oldies in places like Peckham, Bethnal Green, Manningham.
But the number of incomers was still only perhaps three or four percent of the population, and it was this fact that enabled people to deride Thatcher’s speech.

Twenty-five years on, things are changing. The ethnic minority population of Britain is nearer 10%, concentrated almost entirely in England. Emigration by Native Brits is at record levels, immigration likewise. To look at the cultural and demographic changes you need to examine both figures rather than net immigration (think of 5 million Brits moving to LA and 5 million Angelenos coming to Britain. That’s ‘zero net immigration’ in the government’s terms).

In 2001 the Observer reported an unnamed demographer (who I’m presuming with zero evidence was David Coleman of Oxford University) as saying that on current trends for immigration, emigration and birthrate, whites would be a minority in Britain by 2100. I’m not sure if he’d taken into account the million-odd Poles who have come over since EU enlargement, and I’m not sure talking of ‘whites’ is helpful either. I prefer the term ‘Native Britons’, which distinguishes the indigenous people from Albanians, Poles, Frenchmen and other Eastern Europeans.

Not being a demographer, I’m unqualified to say whether his work is plausible or not (you'd think being an Oxford professor was enough - then you remember Terry Eagleton was one). But the lack of any rebuttal from the left is significant. And the recent ONS figures on 2003 births (p75) certainly seem in line with that forecast. In 2003 nearly 20% of births in England were to mothers not themselves born in the UK. Given the number of second and third generation immigrants, it would not seem implausible that between 25 and 30% of births in England were to non-Natives. This would imply a minority population of 25-30% in 50 years from now, even were all immigration to stop tomorrow, all emigration by natives to stop tomorrow, and were those 2003 babies, on reaching child-bearing age, only to bear children at the rate of the natives.

Neither of the last three assumptions are very likely. Labour will do nothing about immigration (David Blunkett said there was no obvious upper limit), natives will continue to up sticks, and communities with a strong sense of family and a dislike of abortion will continue to see children as a good thing, rather than adopting the native attitude of children as a burden and expense.

The beauty of demographic change via birthrate is that it’s not readily perceptible in the short term, unless you start walking the streets of Southall and Cirencester counting pushchairs. As an economist whose name I've forgotten said, ‘compound interest is a wonderful thing’. Following Mr Howards various speeches, I detect a note of ‘he’s gone on about it long enough’ even among some rightish bloggers. My view is that he hasn’t hit the demographics nearly hard enough. It really is almost now or never.

There’s no dictionary definition of swamping in relation to immigration. But I must wonder – if Ms Toynbee doesn’t consider 30% to be swampy, what is ? 50% ? 70% ?

Such changes in the make-up of the population will have impacts all over the place, some good, some not so. Let’s play fantasy politics and try to lay down a few pointers and questions.

The native British are a demoralised bunch, and have generally reacted to immigration by voting with their feet rather than for people who like Odin and dislike Jews. But as the incomer population grows, the English are finding that there’s nowhere (emigration apart) to run to. This may be why the BNPs vote of nearly 5% in the 2004 Euro elections was around four times their 1999 vote.

This trend may not continue - as children of all colours and cultures grow up together they may unite and reject communal politics. But Bradford, Oldham, Burnley aren’t terribly hopeful pointers.

The Muslim vote, as Muslim numbers grow and they realise their electoral power, is likely to detach from Labour, even if Labour foreign policy is adapted to their needs and we cut ourselves off from the US. Traditionally Labour has been the party of immigrants, but a point will be reached at which they (Labour) are not needed any more and with a cry of 'so long and thanks for all the outreach workers' the Muslim vote will depart. The divorce will be messy. As I wrote a day or two back, the average middle-class Labour activist and the average Ibrahim in the mosque are 180% apart on social issues. And I’m with Ibrahim (apart from the death penalty for homosexuality and apostasy – I think ostracism is a sufficient punishment) on most of those issues.

Where will the remnants of the white working class vote end up ?

When will the Conservatives realise that they will never recapture city seats or votes – that whatever happens to the votes which now go overwhelmingly to Labour, they won’t end up with the Tories ? And what will the Tories do when this sinks in ?

What will happen if taxes are raised to support the large numbers of post-war baby-boomer pensioners ? Remember these pensioners will be 95% hideously white natives – the workforce being heavily taxed to pay their pensions will be all colours and cultures.

At what percentage of population does it become acceptable for Native Brits to form equivalents to the Black Police Officers Association or the Society Of Black Lawyers ? Are the BNP just ahead of the demographic curve ?

The possibilities are endless. But there’s one nasty one - the possibility that the English will wake up to what’s happened and get very cross about it – but after it’s too late to do anything about it, which is pretty much where we are now.

In yesterday’s Guardian, ex-Aussie Labour leader Paul Keating, tired of being stuffed at the polls by one Howard, took a poke at the other one, comparing him unfavourably with that legendary anti-racist campaigner - Winston Churchill, a man who apparently "bequeathed to his party a mantle of moral rectitude which remains to this day".

Churchill was certainly neither class nor race-bound (‘what is the point of being against a man simply because of his birth ? How can any man help how he is born ?’). But he did have a view on swamping which I’m sure could be called racist. Towards the end of the Second World War the question of Indian officers in the Royal Navy arose, and whether there was any barrier of rank for those who showed aptitude and bravery. Churchill had already been in conflict with the navy over the antiquated rules governing which occupations could rise to become officers (‘apparently there is no difficulty about painters rising in Germany !’), and he wrote that there should be no limits, that Indian citizens should be promoted to Captains, or even Admirals, of His Majesty’s Ships if they were the best men for the job.

He then added an afterthought - ‘But not too many of them, please’.

Churchill also said a few things about the Brits which give me to pause. Throughout the 1930s he had been a lonely prophet, railing against German rearnament, at a time when the mass of the British people only wished for peace and a quiet life. They didn’t want to feel bad about themselves by listening to a lone warmonger. Wasn't the government saying there was nothing to worry about ?
In the end, brute facts forced the government to Churchill’s view, but only after the damage had been done and a European war had become inevitable.

Similarly today no-one wants to think too hard about what’s happening on the demographic front. Who wants to have the tag of ‘racist’ attached to them ? Far better to ignore the figures and the swivel-eyed loons shouting about them.

Here’s Churchill in May 1932 :
"I should very much regret to see any approximation in military strength between Grmany and France. Those who speak of that as if it were right, or even a question of fair dealing, altogether underrate the gravity of the European situation. I would say to those who would like to see Germany and France on an equal footing in armaments : ‘Do you wish for war ?’ For my part, I ernestly hope that no such approximation will take place during my lifetime or that of my children. To say that is not in the least to imply any want of regard or admiration for the German people, but I am sure that the thesis that they should be placed in an equal military position with France is one which, if it ever emerged in fact, would bring us within practical distance of almost measureless calamity. "

While not in the least implying any want of regard or admiration for our New Britons, I feel the same way about the Native Brits becoming a minority in their own country 50 or 80 years hence. While I think we can probably avoid civil war, Fiji (where resentment at the majority Indian-descended population by the minority natives has led to several army coups) may be our future.

My worry is that if the Native Brits decide they don’t like what has happened, will they try to do something about it ? And what ? Churchill again.

‘It is a curious fact about the British Islanders, who hate drill and have not been invaded for a thousand years, that as danger comes nearer and grows that become progressively less nervous ; when it is imminent they are fierce; when it is mortal they are fearless. These habits have led them into some very narrow escapes.’

By now the polls are closing and barring a change in voting behaviour (all those don’t knows being Tories, for example) Labour are back in, with what majority we know not. Guido Fawkes showed a few weeks back a list of Charles Clarke’s tough measures on asylum and immigration - but like pinball machines, Clarke’s pledges are ‘for amusement only’. Labour, from the Home Secretary to the lowliest ward chairperson, are constitutionally incapable of doing anything about immigration - because to do so would, in their eyes, be racist, the sin of sins. So it looks like we will continue the slide towards – whatever.

One consolation. If it is racist to make any objection to any number of incomers, the good people of the USA, Oz, Canada and New Zealand can at least sleep easy at night, knowing that they are not the genocidal interlopers of guilty liberal mythology. No, it was the natives, objecting to their arrival with spear and arrow, who were in fact the evil racist thugs, quite rightly suppressed by the forces of law and order. Mr Sharon, too, can start planning many mighty cities on the West Bank and Gaza, as any Palestinians bothered by them are racists who should be ignored. And should the Palestinian Authority object, I’m sure western liberals and the Guardian will give them the same hard time as they’ve given John Howard’s Aussie government.

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