Pandaemonium

DAVID GOODHART RESPONDS

On Saturday I posted my review of David Goodhart’s book The British Dream. Here is Goodhart’s response to that review. My thanks to David for a generous reply. I will post something later this week in response to the main challenge he raises about immigration, multiculturalism and integration, and about whether I adopt the left version of ‘there is no such thing as society’. I have also added a comment to this post which deals with some of the other issues he raises. I hope this turns into a fruitful discussion.


goodhart-portrait

I have learnt a lot from Kenan over the years, especially about the failings of a certain strain of multiculturalism. And I cannot complain about much of his recent review of my book The British Dream. But I still think his own position of being in favour of as much immigration as possible – presumably on global justice grounds – while opposing ‘putting people into boxes’ multiculturalism, is plain eccentric.

To imagine how this might work Kenan has to ignore the economics of large scale immigration which even the mainly pro-mass immigration economists regard as negative for people at the bottom end of the labour market. He also has to adopt a sort of methodological individualism – there are only individuals, floating free of culture, tradition, language, ways of life, who can just slot into modern Britain without changing anything. This is the left’s equivalent of  ‘there is no such thing as society’.

But Britain is a complex mix of groups and ways of life marked by region, class and ethnicity – with both common and conflicting interests. When immigration happens with large numbers coming in a short space of time, especially if they arrive from very different kinds of societies, it often creates conflict – look at Tower Hamlets in the 1970s. The problems there were not created by the media or by politicians framing the debate in the wrong way.

Although I agree with Kenan that separatist multiculturalism has placed too much stress on the primacy of ethnic identities, that doesn’t mean that ethnic cultures don’t exist. It is precisely because they are a powerful force in people’s lives that we need to worry about how to integrate people into modern, liberal Britain.

Decent societies with high levels of trust between citizens require a degree of stability and continuity. That does not mean everyone has to look the same or pray to the same God. It does mean care has to be taken with the speed of change and a policy of moderate immigration – something like the government’s goal of net immigration of ‘tens of thousands’ – is a necessary but not sufficient part of an integration strategy.

Kenan quotes the famous Roy Hattersley quote about the link between immigration and integration. But the point is that Britain has not had a very good record on integration, or rather some minorities (usually more successful ones) have just got on with it and other minorities (usually less successful ones) have remained conservative and inward-looking. In the early days of post-colonial immigration a racialised ‘communalism’ inherited from empire kept minorities apart from the majority, now in some parts of the country it is a form of ‘each to their own’ multiculturalism.

But I never get any sense from Kenan’s writings in this area what he himself believes about integration. Does he think it happens automatically if an overzealous multiculturalism doesn’t get in the way? And if not what sort of policies might improve it?

Kenan seems to think that the idea that a society or even a neighbourhood might have an absorptive capacity is rather distasteful. But everything is easier when numbers are lower and change is slower. When immigration levels were low in the late 1980s and early 1990s fears about immigration subsided. They rose sharply in the 2000s as the numbers rose despite the fact that racist attitudes were in sharp decline.

heathrow

A couple of points more directly on Kenan’s review. I really do not believe, as he states, that the whole political elite – unlike ordinary voters – has been uniformly liberal since the 1950s. In the historical section of my book I have long accounts of the initial hostility of Whitehall to non-European immigration, of Powellism, of Jim Callaghan’s decision not to automatically let in the Kenyan Asians in 1968, of Margaret Thatcher’s hostility to immigration. It is true that the liberal/centre left side of the political class has in recent decades been more favourable and mistakenly believed right up until the mid-2000s that being anti-racist meant being favourable to large scale immigration. This view had significant infuence on Labour’s post-1997 liberalisations but I am not so dotty to believe that the whole political class was pro mass immigration.

And a factual thing: it is not true that immigration declined significantly after the 1962 end of the open door to empire and Commonwealth. In fact numbers in the 14 years after the closure were higher than in the 14 years of openness; in rough numbers 2m people came in the post-colonial wave up to the early 90s of which only 500,000 came in the open period.

Like many people who are pro mass immigration Kenan seems oblivious to scale and paints his opponents like me as being hostile to immigration itself; but of course I am not as I repeat endlessly in the book, I am against historically unprecedented annual inflows of 500k or 600k as we have had in recent years. I against partly on social democratic economic grounds because of the extra competition at the bottom end of the labour market – and remember that 20 per cent of low skill jobs in UK are taken by people born outside the country. And partly on communitarian/cultural grounds: too much churn is bad for stability locally (which most people seem to want) and also makes it harder to maintain the idea of a national ‘imagined community’ of people with significant shared interests, which was the great achievement of post-war social democracy.

Even if the government reaches its target of net immigration of around 90,000 a year that translates into a gross inflow of around 250,000 a year – hardly a closed door. If supporting this target makes me ‘obsessed’ by immigration then so be it. And incidentally in a book of eight chapters only three are directly about immigration and two of those are historical.

Kenan likes to stress the similarities between immigration today and in the past but what is most clear is the huge discontinuities: not just in scale but also the fact that unlike in the 19th century or early 20th century today we are a democracy and a welfare state, people have a sense of ownership of their society and have a legitimate say over who joins it.

Finally, what Kenan says about the transformation of working class life and culture by de-industrialisation is true enough but that does not mean it cannot also be changed by large scale immigration. The two things have often been associated in the minds of many people and it was indeed the same free market/globalisation principles that both swept away the old industrial villages and swept into the country huge flows of cheap labour. The labour movement was created in part to reduce competition in labour markets and give working class communities a bit more control over their destinies – large scale immigration makes both things harder.

David Goodhart

About these ads

9 comments

  1. David, Many thanks for a generous response. I will reply to you broader points, on immigration and integration, on whether I ‘adopt a sort of methodological individualism’, and whether being in favour of mass immigration while opposing multiculturalism is ‘plain eccentric’, properly in a separate post later this week. Let me deal here with some of the points that you raise more directly about my review of your book.

    I really do not believe, as he states, that the whole political elite – unlike ordinary voters – has been uniformly liberal since the 1950s. In the historical section of my book I have long accounts of the initial hostility of Whitehall to non-European immigration, of Powellism, of Jim Callaghan’s decision not to automatically let in the Kenyan Asians in 1968, of Margaret Thatcher’s hostility to immigration.

    It is true that you give accounts of Powellism, of the Kenyan Asian debate and of Thatcher’s hostility to immigration. But you see all these mainly as views that lie outside of the consensus. So, you write that ‘by the mid-1960s a gap had opened up on immigration and racial equality between popular opinion… and much educated and political class opinion, which came to accept, at least in theory that idea of human equality as demanded by the UN Declaration…’ [p139]. This ‘educated and political class opinion’ has not, you suggest, been confined to merely political liberals or the left. Rather, ‘a liberal consensus has usually united the two main parties on race and immigration from the mid-1960s to the present’. [p149] You go on to describe Thatcher’s intervention as a ‘wedge’ into that consensus. You say of Thatcher’s views:

    ‘She is right. Being tolerant about post-colonial immigration was an abstract thing for most of upper- and middle-class Britain. For parts of working class Britain there was real change and real people to accommodate’. [p150]

    To write, therefore, as I did, that ‘Since the 1960s, Goodhart suggests, the public, faced with the reality, have become increasingly hostile to mass immigration. The political class, driven by abstract universalist ideas, has continued to see it as a good’ seems to me a fair summary of your argument in the book.

    Like many people who are pro mass immigration Kenan seems oblivious to scale and paints his opponents like me as being hostile to immigration itself

    Far from ignoring the issue of scale, I quoted you on how different the scale of immigration has been in the Noughties. I am sorry if the review seems to paint you as hostile to any immigration. I’m not sure where I suggested that, and I certainly don’t think it. I do disagree with your support for Coalition policy on the immigration cap, but this review was not a debate about numbers. It was rather about showing why I agreed with you on some of the problems Britain faces today, but disagreed with you that the source of those problems lies in immigration; and indeed to suggest that obsession about immigration makes it more difficult to tackle those problems.

    Nor, incidentally, do I ‘ignore the economics of large scale immigration which even the mainly pro-mass immigration economists regard as negative for people at the bottom end of the labour market’. I acknowledged that very point in a previous post, but take a different view on it than you do. At the same time the impact of immigration on local workers, even those at the bottom, is not as straightforward as you seem to suggest.

    what Kenan says about the transformation of working class life and culture by de-industrialisation is true enough but that does not mean it cannot also be changed by large scale immigration. The two things have often been associated in the minds of many people and it was indeed the same free market/globalisation principles that both swept away the old industrial villages and swept into the country huge flows of cheap labour.

    You are raising two different arguments here, one relating to perception, the other to reality. It is true that ‘the two things have often been associated in the minds of many people’. But where is the evidence that immigration is responsible for de-industrialization or the break-up of traditional working class community? You quote, seemingly with approval, Graham Mahony, former head of race relations in Bradford, who observes that ‘White people knew that the immigrants were not to blame for the decline in their towns, indeed that they may have helped slow it down. Yet decline is inevitably associated with their arrival in the 1950s and 1960s.’ [p247] Immigration, in other words, as I suggest, is not the cause of these changes, but rather has become symbolic of them, which is precisely my argument.

    There is, on this question, an interesting anomaly in your argument. Your argument about scale relates primarily to post-1997 immigration. As you yourself observe, up to the mid-1990s net immigration was close to zero. But much of your argument about the social and cultural impact of immigration is about postwar immigration, that is immigration prior to the 1990s, the period when in most years immigration was lower than what you would like current immigration to be.

    The labour movement was created in part to reduce competition in labour markets and give working class communities a bit more control over their destinies – large scale immigration makes both things harder.

    The labour movement was created to defend the rights and interests of the working class. There has long been a debate within the labour movement about whether that requires it to defend or to oppose immigration. It’s clear where I stand on that debate.

  2. I’ve lived and worked in Africa and the Middle East for a number of years, and so experience the ‘other side’ of the dynamic, both as an ‘outsider’ in local societies, as well a listener regarding local inhabitants who wish to migrate elsewhere (or have, and returned). A number of thoughtful issues are raised in this and the first blog, which I need to think about before responding.

  3. geo green

    Problem is this. The immigrant who arrives in his/her new country must not try to change the host country other than through the ballot box. “My God is superior to yours. My habits/mores are the only acceptable ones etc” are not acceptable positions for an immigrant to take. Further frank & open discussion must be permitted without the accusation of “racist” being bantered.
    Unfortunately at present in GB the situation is dire and with little hope of change.

  4. I don’t see how largescale immigration is possible anymore in democracies struggling with massive debt, and loss of manufacturing,
    and high unemployment. It is a policy or approach that is working from an old paradigm that no longer exists.

    • This argument only makes sense if large scale immigration is responsible for ‘massive debt, loss of manufacturing and high unemployment’, or for the failure to tackle these issues. Since it isn’t, I cannot see the relevance of this line of argument.

  5. sandyk11@hotmail.com

    There is a surreal politeness in this exchange, all built around the notion that David Goodhart is not a garden variety of racist liberals. I am more disturbed by his poor grasp of economic data (something that he claims to ‘ploughs through, but obviously none of that ploughing worked.

    • I have known David Goodhart for a long time. He is no racist, liberal or otherwise. Such claims are thrown around too easily these days, and serve little purpose apart from smearing people and limiting discussion. It is not ‘surreal politeness’ not to indulge in the kind of nasty exchange that has become the currency of the Internet.

      • sandyk11@hotmail.com

        My intention was not to smear, and if that is how it came across, I apologise. But claims, in Goodhart’s Dream, of the sort that more people come each year in recent times than the total that came between 1066 and 1950, appear to be ignorant of episodes of mass immigration from Ireland. And even ignoring those, it beggars belief that the number coming in the distant past was only a few hundred each year. (He repeated conflates net with gross migration). The inference I draw from his summary statistics is that, for him (and for all those disturbed by the ‘pace of immigration’) some people count more than others. And let’s not even begin to discuss his wishful interpretation of economic analysis and data.

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,660 other followers