I was watching an old version of Our Europe on 18 Doughty Street today presented by the Young Briton Foundation’s Shane Greer with Doughty Street regular Michael Ehoize-Ediae, Natasha Harrison and Elisabeth Davies on the panel.
The discussion centred on immigration – not for or against as the general consensus was for, but the differing degrees and levels of which immigrates should pass into Britain. Michael Ehoize-Ediae gave a fair account of himself and his case for controlled levels of immigration. I like Michael and he often speaks well but I think a better argument and line he could have taken would have been to talk about the cultural and ethnic tension that large scale immigration causes rather than try and argue on purely economic issues against the rabid economists.
Immigration is not purely an economic issue; it is also a social issue. This cannot be ignored. We had the lovely Elisabeth Davies from the Adam Smith Institute arguing for even greater levels of uncontrolled and unrestricted migration, which from a liberal economist’s perspective would be of exponentional benefit to the consumer. While I see the argument that higher levels of immigration create new jobs in the economy which spurs on economic growth – blahdy blah, blah etc: I also see that uncontrolled immigration causes huge social problems – which this Labour Government’s tenure in office has more than proved.
Multiculturalism and widespread immigration causes tensions where cultures of vastly different values attempt to coexist (or not as the case may be.) Cultural tensions which in certain areas are more widespread than others can cause violence, crime and segregation – none of which is beneficial to society at all. What’s more, cultural tension does not only occur between the indigenous population and immigrants, but between differing groups of immigrants. For example Muslims and Hindus who have clashed in inner-city areas over their respective faiths. There is also the fact that not all cultures are equal. Whereas your skin colour is an accident of birth, culture is based on opinions and beliefs. These are open to ridicule and therefore no two beliefs can be equal. Again for example, most people I am sure would regard the old Indonesian and South American traditions of cannibalism as unequal to the modern western democratic belief that such practices are vile and inhuman. I believe that in many cases, the cost to society of immigration at uncontrollable levels is greater from the net benefit in terms of jobs created and economic growth.
Shane Greer as the presenter attempted to propose labelling this as "a kind of institutional racism or xenophobia" (institutional seems to have become the latest media buzzword at the moment) – which of course it is not. It is merely an acceptance of the fact that the highest levels of immigration Britain has ever seen can cause huge social problems that the supposedly liberal economic benefits will not negate, and can in fact aggravate.
With regard to Elisabeth’s point on infrastructure, the problem with the National Health Service today is that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown decided to throw billions of pounds in its vague direction without first reforming the system which would be spending this money. Effectively on the one hand the system could not cope, and on the other hand the financial management by government was appalling. For example, the Gloucester Health Authority in 1997 covered the whole area. However, when Blair came to power, he devolved the authority into four separate Health Unitary Trusts. This was of course incredibly bureaucratic, expensive, and at the end of the day just didn’t work. Labour have now amalgamated the four trusts back into one Gloucester Health Authority – back to where we were in 1997 with millions wasted in the meanwhile.
There is of course also the fact that Blair and Brown cared little about the actual outcome of their spending and more about the immediate impact it would have in terms of votes and favourable media publicity. However, that aside, while mass immigration was not the cause of all the NHS’s problems, it is certainly an aggravating factor.
We now see in this country increasing levels of NHS Tourism, where those of foreign nationality come to Britain with the purpose of gaining access to specialist and expensive treatments. For that in itself you cannot blame these people. However, when there are people already in Britain that cannot get treatment because medicine apparently "costs too much," or "the resources are unavailable," then why are we admitting even more people and straining the Health Service’s already over-stretched resources? The, "ah yes but those new migrants will create new jobs etc" argument fails I’m afraid. As Michael Ehoize-Ediae rightly pointed out, the number of health workers is increasing by less than is required.
Personally I also think Elisabeth Davies was incredibly naïve in saying that, "I think what we’ll find, in a couple of years; everyone will forget these issues ever existed. They’ll forget the headlines in the papers and they’ll realise that it’s been a good thing. They’ll just be used to having people willing to do a better price on a job or what not. It’s just not going to be an issue." I am sure she is a smart girl; being a final year student of law from Sydney in Australia, and I recently read an insightful piece on Free Market policy vs. the Wristband by her the other day. However, despite what she might currently think, people in many circumstances do not forget all that quickly, especially if the problems which I pointed out previously continue to escalate – which they will.
The discussion, though themed by immigration moves onto the welfare system. The panellists agree that something must be done with the currently failing system, but beyond simplifying it they do not expand much. I think we need to do more than merely simplify the benefits system, which only doing so wouldn’t solve all its problems. Currently the system rewards laziness, fecklessness and irresponsibility. While we must ensure that nobody slips through the cracks, the welfare system in this country needs to be a safety net – not something that people can permanently live off to a higher degree than if they were working. As the great Winston Churchill once said, "A limit beneath which no man may fall; no limit to which a man might rise." This should provide an incentive for more people to go out and work rather than sit at home and comfortably claim on the dole.
Later in the programme the panel discussed a German proposed EU-wide ban on Holocaust denial. They all agreed that the idea was preposterous; pointing out that such a ban would not achieve anything other than to drive voters into the hands of neo-nazi or far right parties, as has already been seen in many parts of Europe. Further, to my mind, what exactly constitutes as Holocaust denial? What, under an EU-wide ban would be classed as denying the Jewish holocaust? Denying every single detail, and there are still a few unproven facts – or just certain aspects of the holocaust? Either way, it sounds rather dangerous to me. David Irving (whose name escapes Shane in the programme) originally denied the holocaust outright, but just before his arrest, trial and imprisonment in Austria changed his story to saying he didn’t think that Hitler knew the full plans set out in the Final Solution. Under the EU ban, would Irving have been committing a crime under the later, since this is historically disputed fact? This law I feel would be an unneeded attack on free speech in Europe and this country - but then the EU Parliament who would have to vote in and implement such a law is hardly a great bastion of democracy and free speech itself. As I’ve said time and again, the sooner we leave the European Union, the better – then we as a nation can make such decisions ourselves.
Overall this particular edition of Open Europe was very good. I think that perhaps Shane Greer as presenter spent perhaps too much time talking. However, he was generally insightful and did well at keeping the panellists on topic.
While I did not agree with absolutely every comment Elisabeth Davies made, I would go along with her overall tone. She is a classical economic liberal, and I think not scared of speaking up for her beliefs. I expect the Adam Smith Institute realise that they are very lucky to have her as their research assistant.
Michael Ehoize-Ediae was once again sound in practically everything he said. His last but one speech in particular, regarding the hypocrisy of a European Union dictating freedoms to foreign nations while restricting them in its own dominion, was excellent.
Natasha Harrison, founder of the UK Law community did extremely well I think on her first Doughty Street appearance. It’s not easy sitting there having people talking at you quickly with little time to collect your thoughts, with the studio lights glaring down on you and knowing that everything you say is being recorded and going out live. Her online Law community project set for launch later in the year is a really worthwhile venture and I wish her the best of luck in its organising and launch. I am sure it will be very successful indeed.