While sensible people were sleeping it off and sleepily sloughing off all the worries of the old dead year, I was up early on New Year’s Day 2015, to take part in a BBC radio show, hosted by Vanessa Feltz, discussing that continuing question of immigration which is certain to dominate political discussion over the next few months. I was asked to take part because I have recently left London and the programme producers wanted to discuss, ‘White Flight,’ the continuing evacuation of white middle class folk from the Metropolis.
While I waited to have my say I had to listen to all kinds of abominably stupid, obdurate and deluded guests describing the benefits to us of mass migration and the joys of London, which they like to call, ‘A World City,’ i.e not part of the UK.
There was someone from the EU and quite a few others who told us that without masses of foreign doctors our NHS could not function. When I said that in London the NHS is now a foreign service, run by foreigners for foreigners, Vanessa was scathing and accused me of being glib. Some of the members of the public, mostly pensioners ringing in from poor bits of east London, supported my view. Some had been pointing out how they missed being able to step out of their homes into local shops to have a chat. For them a bit of banter is now impossible as they can’t find anyone around who speaks English. While we were discussing the NHS I mentioned being on a ward a few years ago, where there were no English patients apart from me, and no British staff.
Vanessa was indignant with me again. ‘Well, couldn’t you talk to them?’ she asked, after I’d said they didn’t speak a familiar language.
‘Didn’t they have relations coming in who you could chat to?’
That didn’t make sense and foolishly I mentioned a Rumanian gypsy on our ward who had hoards of fervent relations, so dedicated to visiting her that they refused to leave in the evenings and had to be threatened by security staff to get them out.
‘How did you know she was a Rumanian gypsy?’ asked big Van challengingly,’ if you couldn’t speak to them?’
She had me there. How did I know? I think it was the memory of how they invaded the streets of Kensington and the tube system a few years back, begging by means of drugged baby and small shaven headed boys playing large musical instruments. I couldn’t have gone in to all that and what would have been the point. By now, leading up to the next General Election, everyone knows how they stand on immigration. Both sides are tooled up.
As far as I can tell the opposing side, those who favour mass immigration have some very weak arguments which they trot out again and again. Vanessa came out with one when she told me that there had NEVER been an indigenous English population. She said Britain has always consisted mainly of immigrants. I last heard that one from illegal immigrants in Wormwood Scrubs, but it holds good for the left apparently. The other argument I was prepared for as I have heard it so often.
One Dr. Heather Rolfe, Principal Research Fellow for the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, who has a BA in Sociology from Sheffield, and has carried out research into the effects of Romanian and Bulgarian immigration, trotted out that London had always been a city of mass migration because a small group of talented French Protestants once arrived here. She admitted that she didn’t know when or how many. But just the word Huguenot was enough; it is now the signifier of an whole argument if not a world view.
She’d gone by the time I got on the air so I messaged her later on Twitter to say that this comparison with the arrival of a few thousand Huguenots is utterly spurious.
‘My point,’ she replied, ‘is that successive groups of migrants have made London the successful vibrant city it is today’
I replied, @Heather Rolfe # They’ve made it the money laundering, sexual slaving capital of Europe. Also a place where I was obliged to eat halal meat.’
No reply to that yet. Big Van couldn’t understand my concern about halal meat at all, as she told me on air, ‘but Jane, it all tastes the same.’
The problem is, their world, their London, perhaps viewed largely from the window of a taxi, is entirely different from the one I knew for thirty years. I don’t know what kind of life Ms Rolf lives or where. I suggested on air that she is probably well off and unlikely to travel by bus. Our hostess was very cross about that, pointing out that I couldn’t possibly know, and for her it was not relevant anyway.
Wealthy Londoners have no idea just how significant bus travel can be. It seemed entirely pertinent to me, because the big divide in thinking about immigration is mainly between the have’s and have-nots. The fight that is coming will be between the bus travelers, the ones who Margaret Thatcher once ruthlessly designated as failures, the tribe I have unwillingly joined since I lost my well paid job, and the taxi-goers, the fast moving pace setters to whom I used to belong in the dear, dead days when I was loaded with lucre and had no idea how the average Londoner lived.