Last night I went to a debate hosted by The Spectator; ‘Immigration; enough is enough’.
As I’m an Irish immigrant, I wanted the debate to convince me that mass immigration is good for Britain. The auditorium in the National Geographic Society building was filled with about 350 people. The contentiousness of the topic showed; in the audience there were lots of furrowed brows and tensely crossed arms.
Proposing that immigration should be restrained was Frank Field MP. He was sincere that immigrants make a very valuable contribution and that he had married an immigrant from Brazil. He made it clear that he wasn’t anti-immigration, but that he didn’t think ‘the current scale of immigration’ was sustainable. He also pointed out that as a politician who wanted to lessen immigration; he had found it difficult to be a member of the Labour party.
Jenni Russell of The Evening Standard was in favour of high immigration and gave a very entertaining speech. She opened with an anecdote about how she was nearly late because her taxi-driver was an immigrant who didn’t know the way to Kensington Gore. This made her re-think her pro-immigration stance. But just for a moment.
Russell gave a very heartfelt description about the days in the early 90s when she couldn’t find people to mind her children or builders to fit her bathroom. ‘Because I’m a soft leftie,’ she said smilingly, ‘I was willing to pay well over the going rate, but it was so difficult to find anyone.’ Russell spoke glowingly about ‘the wonderful Polish builders’ who’ve made her life much easier.
David Aaronovitch tried to paint the other speakers as hypocrites because they were either the daughter of an immigrant (Kiran Bali) or the husband of an immigrant (MP Raab and MP Field).
When they opened the debate to the floor, I rose to my feet and said, “well I’m an immigrant…from County Cork…” This got a titter or two. “But I’d like to say something about charities who only help illegal immigrants, refuse to help people who aren’t immigrants, but don’t advertise this fact. Let me furnish this with an example. Some time ago, I brought a girl who was in extreme danger to a women’s charity that advertised that they helped women like her find safe accommodation. I brought the girl to see them. They let her sit in a room. But did nothing to help her. I hung around their offices and kept asking. Nothing. Finally, I had a meeting with the manager, who bore an unfortunate resemblance to a lifer in a maximum security female prison. She tartly told me; ‘if you want us to help her, I’ll be looking to you to pay.’ She told me that her priority was illegal immigrants and that she wouldn’t help the girl – because she was an EU citizen. The charity in question might do good work with illegal immigrants, but it does not advertise that they don’t give the same assistance to EU citizens. Surely it is dishonest that they take money from donors, without telling them of this bias.”
I never got an answer from the panel as to what should be done about charities that discriminate against native Brits and EU citizens.
Other people speaking from the floor mentioned that they were worried about the reported signs (and crimes) of witchcraft – and questioned if they would increase with increasing levels of immigration?
Then the moment came when the side in favour of high levels of immigration well and truly lost the debate. A very calm midwife spoke from the floor and said, ‘there is an excessive demand on medical services for women who have suffered genital mutilation…It’s already desperately hard to provide healthcare for these large numbers of women. How would the panel answer the question of how we will cope with more women coming, when we have not cared for the women already living here, who need so much medical attention in order to hopefully repair something like genital mutilation?’ The midwife was asked, in her experience, where the women were coming from and she said, ‘Ethiopia…Somalia…a good measure of African countries.’
David Aaronovitch tried to answer her question – but was clearly rattled. He lost the respect of the crowd when he began roaring and finger pointing, ‘I’m against female gender mutilation! And it’s illegal!!’
You see, David Aaronovitch must surely realise that it’s not enough to be against genital mutilation and it’s not enough to state that it’s illegal. Everyone knows that already, Dave, so give your vocal cords a rest. If David Aaronovitch wanted to reassure people about immigration – he would have illustrated how the rising levels of immigrants from all countries and not just African ones - will not mean that more pressure will be put on overstretched medical services. But does he even know if that’s possible?
Something that Jenni Russell said earlier came back to me; ‘immigrants have made my life much more pleasurable.’ It had sounded cheery when she said it, but now it just sounded subjective. The objective fact of the matter is this; is it really fair to the Ethiopian and Somalian women who are, in 2012, barely getting the medical attention they need in the NHS, to further overcrowd the healthcare system with new immigrants?
My mind was made up. I agreed with the motion and it was passed. Until such time that we can passably/adequately provide healthcare for the women already in the system, then it’s time to say enough is enough.