Globalisation is like a rising tide; we’re all living in our separate ponds with their own little social ecosystems until the floodwater starts to rise and turns them into one big lake. Many fish, especially, the big ones, are going to benefit but many will suffer in this frightening new world. It is that fear which Ukip’s new posters are aimed at addressing (or exploiting, depending on your view).
Sure, Europe is about free movement of labour, but that movement is highly imbalanced and has been for a number of years. Far more people are seeking to come from southern and eastern Europe to work in Britain than vice versa, and therefore that puts pressure on some British workers (let alone the question of infrastructure). If British plumbers and builders were moving to Poland or Lithuania in equal numbers then, yes, free movement would be beneficial to all. That is not the case.
Between first world countries migration is heaviest among the talented and successful, who have always been more mobile, and this gives people a misleading impression. Although migrants are more likely to be university educated than the natives, Britain still exports more graduates than it imports (at the last count), and migration varies drastically by country of origin. Migration from the second world (as much of eastern Europe still is) and even more so the third world has a totally different nature to that from, say, the United States.
And media types who lament the ‘protectionist’ nature of Ukip rather ignore the fact that their jobs in the media are automatically protected from foreign competition because they require culturally specific skills; the BBC is not going to sack the Today team and replace them with some guys from Bangalore, however well they read English. That’s partly why people in the media are overwhelming in favour of globalisation.
More generally, support or opposition to Ukip’s brand of economic and cultural protectionism divides along class lines; the wealthy and educated have the most to benefit from free movement, and suffer almost none of the downsides (those new houses we desperately need aren’t going to be built on Hampstead Heath).
But the wealthy in Britain, more than in any other country, have also lost the idea of concentric loyalty, that is the belief that they have a duty to look after the interests of a compatriot more than that of a foreigner. This is sometimes called pathological altruism and has wider repercussions for levels of social solidarity and our ability and willingness to pool resources; although that term can be misleading, as it can be quite a selfish worldview dressed up as liberalism.
And people who feel morally superior for welcoming or employing an eastern European might want to ask them how they feel about it. Lots of Poles who came here in 2004 would like to return but feel trapped because of jobs, mortgages or relationships; that’s the nature of migration, a temporary thing that can become permanent and is often disconcerting and unhappy. The chaps who hang around my local park drinking Lech at 11 in the morning aren’t ‘winners’ that we Brits have benevolently chosen. Perhaps that’s why one in 10 Poles here who have chosen a party say they intend to vote for Ukip.
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