Will We Stay Or Will We Go?
According to the Daily Telegraph, the newspaper for all your urgent articles on arthritis, hedgehogs and Prince William (although they do have great arts coverage) the crossover age from Remain to Brexit is 43. This is the point when you go mad and turn from a cuddly liberal to a swivel-eyed loon who spends every day making chutney (her) or perusing books about forgotten military campaigns (him).
Something’s gone wrong, then, because I’m the same liberal now that I ever was. I voted for our Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan because I didn’t think another member of the super-rich elite would represent ordinary Londoners, and I felt shame for the ill-advised smear campaign he ran instead of outlining his policies (even Goldsmith now admits that was a huge mistake).
The problem is that now the Remain and Brexit camps have reduced a complex question about trade, borders and control to one subject – immigration.
It would be stupid to deny that there are problems with economic migration in Britain – of course there are, from Romanian sex traffickers working in suburban Manchester to Volvo’s car wash employees who are forced to live in squalor.
But the past teaches us that you cannot hold back a tidal wave. In the history of the world there has never been a mass movement that has been successfully prevented with the imposition of restrictions. It’s better to control than to ban. We now live in an organic, free-flowing society where the young move to find work and learn new languages to do so, and this movement will continue to grow as the arrivals become second-generation.
Isolationist policies always backfire unless they’ve been imposed from the very start, as in the case of Switzerland, a country happy to bank Nazi money under the guise of neutrality. The concept of Brexit is the very embodiment of isolationism. One of the problems is where you stop. What do you ban? What do you allow? At this point arbitrary opinions start to cloud judgement and render the entire concept ridiculous.
In the 1980s censors attempted to control home entertainment and tied themselves in semiotic knots determining what people could see. It’s worth reading John Martin’s excellent ‘The Seduction of the Gullible’ for a good laugh about that disastrous campaign, and how it resulted in the virtual end of censorship. Same idea.
Clearly there are some very serious problems – not so much of the coming-over-here-taking-all-the-jobs-we-don’t-want type, but in the exploitative criminal underclass most of us are barely aware of. In the vacuum left by the collapse of manufacturing in Britain, change was desperately needed, and no-one likes to see their homes transform around them. But you don’t solve problems by building higher walls.
Right now the mood of London is inclusive, but outside the mood is one of exclusion, fostered by the way in which London gets preferential treatment in everything as grants are cut throughout the rest of the country. It’s summed up by the government’s food and drink czar, who announced that the ministry was a success because it was selling British cheese to China. It might have been better if she’d been able to announce that she’d ended hunger among British children. It’s less a question of leaving or going than what we prioritise, caring for all who live here or concentrating on overseas sales.
Britain is not exactly a stranger to new arrivals. It’s been going on for well over 2,000 years. It’s part of our nature to teach our ideals to those who arrive.