When British citizens emigrate, it's largely for economic reasons; between 2008 and 2010, 89% of people emigrating were of working age; 72% stated they were going to find work. Even the Daily Mail reported that in 2014 over 1 million British citizens emigrated to Australia, 700,000 to the U.S.A. and 300,000 to Spain.
It's only our vast sense of entitlement and that lingering imperialist hangover that thinks that the restrictions and prejudices we'd like to place on people fleeing war zones shouldn't apply to us because we fancy better weather.
But among the African and Caribbean diaspora there should be no surprise at the anti-immigration rhetoric being displayed, and the hypocrisy that supports it. The British Nationality Act of 1948 was effectively a permission slip for unchecked economic migration, as this country bolstered its railways and health service. Polish families were also on the first Windrush trip. Open borders were absolutely fine until the Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962, when the government of the time decided that there might—MIGHT—be too many of us (for reference, we make up 3% of the population).
But that decision was based purely on perception; not information. And that perception partly came from a hard-right group called the Monday Club. As you can read, the Monday Club initially brought together "supporters of White Rhodesia and South Africa", who were strongly against immigration and decolonisation. Of course, they were members of the same party that signed off on the British Nationality Act. This perception was made possible only by Britain's status as a colonising power, and the institutionalised grief at the loss of that power.
So, when we talk about how people feel about immigrants, remember that we're not really dealing with facts/numbers; but a 70 year-old perception that quite simply refuses to go away. To talk about money and numbers is to talk around the problem, I think—although it certainly comes out of the problem.
I feel that the main issue is grief. The loss is of power and entitlement, and the way this grief — which is very old — is expressed is through indignation and proscription. Members of a diaspora will have many local experiences of this.
Here's a scan of an old textbook from 1972 called "The Developing Nations" by Neil Dagleish.
Although more up-to-date information exists, this is to show some of the thinking of the world in context. The part of the text I'm interested is this:
Politically, the Third World contrasts with both the communist world and the free, western world. It is non-aligned: that is to say, politically independent, not lined up with of the groups of nations centred on the two super-powers of the day, the Soviet Union and the U.S.A.
Maybe thinking about how the "groups of nations" aligned themselves and why would give a better understanding of Britain's grief.
We can read that Britain allied itself with the U.S., partly through the war loan that was finally paid off in 2006. Indeed, we get that sense from "the special relationship".
The United States had its own internal ideological struggle after WWII: between combating imperialism and fighting communism. It chose to battle communism, thus allowing Britain to continue its imperial aims. When Poland signed the Warsaw Pact, it was inexorably aligned to the Soviet Union. This led to anti-Polish sentiment in the U.K.
This sentiment had nothing to do with jobs or economics, but political alignment. We have to remember that Polish people were here not just because of WWII; some of them came on Windrush. Talk to anyone who was in sub-Saharan Africa between the Fifties and the Eighties, and see whether they were allowed to be "non-aligned".
My point is that some of these sentiments come down to an older argument. It is unlikely that many remember Thatcher's many promises to Mugabe about land reform over the years; or the trade agreements the U.K. and U.S.A. have over Jamaica that makes selling its own local sugar more expensive and keeps the country mired in debt. But we now live in a world where these countries want a say: not just "a collective say" as Dagleish asserted, but an individual say; and free of the previous imperialism. Their independence is a form of defiance, as the empire lost its grip. And governments/nations are able to pass that loss on to its citizens.
I became interested in The Reverend Blagdon–Gamlen when I joined Derby Libraries and began researching the roots of Derby West Indian Community Association, about which I know more than most people suspect I do. Blagdon–Gamlen is famous for publishing a book about his favourite parish churches; but to my mind, he's the chap who wrote this in 1962:
Now that Jamaica has been given independence, let the Jamaicans return home... Jesus died for all... and we must love them as individuals... but that does not mean that there must be inter-marriage.
This appeared in the parish magazine (St Bartholemew's in Allenton, if you're interested); and also Combat, the publication of the BNP which had formed just two years before. This creates an interesting time-line:
- The League of Empire Loyalists became National Labour Party; and it morphed into the BNP in 1960.
- The Monday Club formed in 1961.
- The Commonwealth Immigrants Act was given assent in April 1962.
Was any of this based on economics? No. Numbers of people? Not in any factual sense. People stealing jobs? Clearly not, since the reason people like my grandparents came here was that Britain wanted them here. All three of the aforementioned groups were created as the "sun set" on The Empire. With independence spreading across sub-Saharan Africa, the loss was on an almost continental scale.
In short: you cannot talk about any of these things on immigration unless you're prepared to talk about later years of Macmillan; and the creation of the far right in this country. This is where the grief comes from: people that wanted to maintain the "special relationship" and opposed decolonisation shocked at the realisation that the world had changed without them.