A senior Treasury official at a recent business breakfast boasted
of the contribution made by migrant workers to Britain’s
He is, of course, right. But, worryingly, he went on to indicate
that, without regular and large influxes of new immigrants, our
economy would look a lot less sound. Although he did not specify
the jobs they would undertake, the clear implication was that their
appeal lay mainly in a willingness to work harder than the
indigenous population and for lower pay.
Any “practising” Conservative thinks hard before raising this issue
publicly because she or he knows that they’ll immediately attract
cries of “racist”. However, all politicians could go a long way
towards stemming the rise in racism in this country if we stopped
regarding asylum and immigration as “race” issues at all.
I’ve never quite understood why the colour of someone’s skin should
be of any relevance at all: a sentiment which contributed to my
brusque removal from South Africa in my teens for offending the
Yet it has become a regular occurrence to hear people who I would
otherwise regard as reasonable human beings voice racist sentiments
whenever asylum seekers or economic migrants are discussed.
The main political parties have largely honoured a commitment to a
“firm but fair” immigration policy as the best way to counter
racism. That this government has jettisoned that commitment and, by
its own admission, has little idea how many people have entered and
settled here, should be a subject that can be discussed without
Hence the peoples of central eastern Europe, who have suffered so
much under communist regimes, deserve from us a warm welcome into
the EU this May. But that requires the government to negotiate
workable and fair systems of entry control which inspire confidence
among the resident population. Since their EU membership had been
approved many years ago, it makes Tony Blair’s threat to withhold
benefits from them for at least two years even more offensive.
And if any good can come out of the horrible deaths of the Chinese
cockle-pickers on Morecambe Bay, perhaps it could be an agreement
among leading politicians to debate how to introduce firm but fair
immigration and asylum controls rationally and calmly.
Sheila Gunn is a political commentator and a Conservative
councillor in the London Borough of Camden.