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Migration is about economics, not politics The racists' complaint has always been the same: I'd have a great life if it wasn't for that person over there Lynsey Hanley Tuesday March 1 2011 I have a suggestion to make to 48% [" title="Observer: Searchlight poll finds huge support for far right 'if they gave up violence'] of the British population who, according to the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight's new report [" title="Searchlight: Fear and Hope], would support an anti-immigration party: what if the party was also anti-emigration? Seeing as we have an ageing population, no working-age British person would be permitted to move elsewhere in search of a better life for themselves or their families, as we'll all be needed to prop up the economy and pay for pensions. A British country for British people, where British people pick vegetables, pack chickens, work in old people's homes, do auxiliary nursing, wash pots in hotel kitchens and all those other pleasant minimum-wage jobs everyone's dying for their children to do. Canada's off-limits; Spain's out of bounds; Dubai's a pipe-dream. In the big, all-British, society, we'd all muck in and do our share of the difficult jobs. As Paul Merton would say, innit marvellous? Immigrants move to places where workers are needed: in Liverpool, for instance, where jobs are scarce and are about to get scarcer [" title="Guardian: Liverpool to bear brunt of cuts as Merseyside councils slash services], you are likely to find Liverpudlians working in Costa and Pret and cleaning hotel rooms. Immigrants don't bother going to places where there is no work to do; ergo, they don't steal jobs, but fill vacancies that are otherwise hard to fill. All the twaddle about raising the St George's flag outside any public building is yet another diversion from a basic truth, which is that working-class people get diddled whatever their race or religion, whether they arrived in the country five minutes ago or whether they've been here, supposedly, since the dawn of time. The frustration and anger that comes from feeling trapped too regularly gets directed at anyone, or anything, that's different, as difference is conflated with advantage. Anyone like you must be in the same boat, and therefore anyone who appears not to be like you must be getting a bigger slice of cake. What rubbish.


I grew up in a place where the population at the time, though not much different now, was 97% white. However, this total included so many people of Irish and Welsh extraction that if "English" had been elevated as an identity over that of other British Islanders, and the Celts expelled, there wouldn't have been that many people left. In my 18 years there I witnessed and experienced the full gamut of human behaviour, from knee-buckling kindness to wretched cruelty. Much of that cruelty was based on casual racism, particularly against Asian people, who were perceived to have "benefited" from moving into the inner-city areas from which most people on our 1960s estate had moved. It was never clear how living in condemned housing was meant to give people advantages, though it was clear that much of the rage expressed had more to do with nostalgia for a sense of community that was disrupted by moving to the estate. This was rarely acknowledged: instead, it was always about "Them", and never made much room for what a larger sense of "Us", based on common class interests rather than perceived cultural differences, could mean. The racists' complaint has always been the same, whether it's been the 1960s, 1980s or 2010s: I'd have a great life if it wasn't for that person over there who has about as much influence over the social and economic structure as I do. (As to the survey's discovery that more Asian than white British people feel that immigration should be stopped, all that proves is that human prattishness knows no boundaries, racial or otherwise.) At 18 I moved to a place in which no racial or religious grouping was in the majority, and guess what: in my 13 years living there, I continued to witness the full gamut of human behaviour, from tenderness expressed between people with little in common except their postcode (which, of course, counts for a lot), to wretchedness expressed between people who looked and sounded alike. Yes, there was racism: bitter people love to blame others. But what struck me there, and what has always struck me, in 35 years of living in this perplexing, simultaneously mean-spirited and large-hearted country, is that we can get along. Anyone who says that we can't ? that divisions are too wide and that somehow this project of living together must be stopped, or reversed ? can only be speaking for themselves, out of the illness of their own hearts. Migration is natural in an urbanised society. Cities wouldn't exist if people hadn't moved in from the country, and in that sense, with only a few exceptions, we are all immigrants and we all have roots in the working class. The world's population is moving, almost as one, towards towns and cities. To say that it's somehow politically engineered is missing the point: it's economically engineered, to the extent that people move towards capital. That's why British people work in Dubai, and Polish people work in Britain.


Both Jon Cruddas, who has faced down the BNP in Dagenham at successive elections, and David Miliband, writing in the Guardian today [" title="Guardian: Insecurity is fuel for the far right's hate], are right to say that the mainstream parties are ignoring the concerns of a large proportion of the electorate, but he needs to be clearer that what they are ignoring is the fact of class as it is lived, rather than some people's foolish need to have flags to wave.