Skip to Content

Coffee House

SPECTATOR DEBATE: When did we stop caring about our national culture?

5 July 2013

4:50 PM

5 July 2013

4:50 PM

Peter Hitchens will be speaking at the next Spectator Event on 9 July, debating the motion ‘Too much immigration, too little integration?’ along with Ken Livingstone, David Goodhart, Trevor Phillips and others. Click here to book tickets.


I used to go on left-wing demonstrations against Enoch Powell in the Sixties, and I’m still glad I did. I was against racial bigotry then, and I’m against it now. So it has been an interesting experience to find myself accused of ‘racism’, in many cases by people who were not born in those days. Likewise, I’m one of the few people I know who has lived, by his own choice, in more than one foreign country; I’ve visited, as far as I can work out, more than 50 others. I was born abroad, and so was my wife, so my children (lucky them) feature in the totals of those with two foreign-born parents. So I’m amused to be accused of ‘xenophobia’, often by people who’ve never been anywhere but Islington, Heathrow and the English-speaking regions of Tuscany or Lot-et-Garonne.

Being a pedant, I noticed very early on that it was ‘racism’ I was being accused of, not the ‘racialism’ against which I used to campaign in the sunny days before we were in the Common Market and when there were still Student Grants.

And I have come to the conclusion that this is very important distinction. ‘Racism’ is very much not the same as ‘racialism’. In many ways, it’s turned out to be the opposite.

If there’s any hope at all (and I sometimes doubt it), it lies in the integration of different people in the national culture in which they live. When I’m asked on official forms for my ethnic origin (as recently happened when I applied, for goodness’s sake, for my senile person’s bus pass), I either refuse to answer or put ‘human’, in line with the old slogan that I always rather liked, ‘One Race – the Human Race’. Or, as Galatians 3:28 has it:

‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.’

Well, in that case, surely we’d be in favour of integration, of encouraging people to share, as far as possible, the same language, law, culture, morals, customs, sense of humour? But we’re not. In all these things we live increasingly apart. If I shout ‘help!’ in some parts of this country, I can no longer be sure that anyone within hearing will know what I mean. In my experience as a cyclist, we don’t even all ride on the left hand side of the road any more.

Despite occasional declarations about the mistake of multiculturalism, including from our current Prime Minister, our national policy is still resolutely turned that way. We seek (in a way horribly and paradoxically reminiscent of Apartheid South Africa and its obsession with race classification) to demarcate, record and perpetuate intrinsically meaningless skin-colour divisions, and ancestral divisions based on geographical origin, and to ensure either by inertia or by angry punitive outbreaks of political correctness that they continue to coincide with cultural divisions. Thus we perpetuate them.


Why? We have become so diffident about our national culture that we have forgotten what it is, and, asked to design citizenship exams, come up with questions so bizarre and irrelevant that long-established Britons cannot answer them. As to why we have become so diffident, I try to explain that below.

I have myself seen a fascinating proof of the primacy of culture over ethnicity in Japan, a country whose migration problems are rather different from ours, but still exist. Some years ago, facing a labour shortage, the Japanese state decided to entice thousands of ethnic Japanese families from South America, where their forebears had settled many decades before. The experiment was an utter flop. They were indeed ethnically Japanese. But in all other ways they were Brazilians, from a culture so different from Japan’s quiet and restrained way of life that their culturally Japanese neighbours couldn’t stand them and rudely started to demand that they be sent home to Brazil. As this coincided with an economic downturn, the authorities decided to give in to these demands. So, having paid them to come, the Japanese state is now paying the Brazilians to go away again. I challenge those who accuse opponents of mass immigration of ‘racism’ to think hard about this episode.

What is it all really about? For a veteran sixties anti-racialist, nurtured on calls for integration, The Macpherson Report into the Lawrence affair is one of the oddest documents ever to be published by government. It actually turns its face against ‘colour-blind policing’, which you might have thought an ‘anti-racist’ would actively desire. Again, thinking about this may be painful, but it is necessary.

Now we come to the immigration. At the same time as this official policy of creating solitudes continues without any real checks on it, the state encourages, or at the very least fails to discourage, the largest mass immigration into these islands in a thousand years.

Why did they do this? Why do they persist with it? Do they, did they know what they were or are doing? We know from the blurtings of the former New Labour apparatchik Andrew Neather (one of the most astonishing glimpses of real politics in the past decade, and so largely unreported) that someone inside the Blairite high command thought he understood what they were doing when they launched this process. In an article for the Evening Standard headed ‘London needs Immigrants’, Mr Neather was wonderfully uncoy.

He wrote:

‘What’s missing is not only a sense of the benefits of immigration but also of where it came from. It didn’t just happen: the deliberate policy of ministers from late 2000 until at least February last year, when the Government introduced a points-based system, was to open up the UK to mass migration. Even now, most graduates with good English and a salary of £40,000 or the local equivalent abroad are more or less guaranteed enough points to settle here.

The results in London, and especially for middle-class Londoners, have been highly positive. It’s not simply a question of foreign nannies, cleaners and gardeners — although frankly it’s hard to see how the capital could function without them. Their place certainly wouldn’t be taken by unemployed BNP voters from Barking or Burnley — fascist au pair, anyone?’

And then he said this:

I wrote the landmark speech given by then immigration minister Barbara Roche in September 2000, calling for a loosening of controls.

It marked a major shift from the policy of previous governments: from 1971 onwards, only foreigners joining relatives already in the UK had been permitted to settle here.

That speech was based largely on a report by the Performance and Innovation Unit, Tony Blair’s Cabinet Office think-tank. The PIU’s reports were legendarily tedious within Whitehall but their big immigration report was surrounded by an unusual air of both anticipation and secrecy. Drafts were handed out in summer 2000 only with extreme reluctance: there was a paranoia about it reaching the media.

Eventually published in January 2001, the innocuously labelled “RDS Occasional Paper no. 67”, “Migration: an economic and social analysis” focused heavily on the labour market case. But the earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural.

I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended — even if this wasn’t its main purpose — to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. That seemed to me to be a manoeuvre too far.

Ministers were very nervous about the whole thing. For despite Roche’s keenness to make her big speech and to be upfront, there was a reluctance elsewhere in government to discuss what increased immigration would mean, above all for Labour’s core white working-class vote. This shone through even in the published report: the “social outcomes” it talks about are solely those for immigrants. And this first-term immigration policy got no mention among the platitudes on the subject in Labour’s 1997 manifesto, headed Faster, Firmer, Fairer.

The results were dramatic. In 1995, 55,000 foreigners were granted the right to settle in the UK. By 2005 that had risen to 179,000; last year, with immigration falling thanks to the recession, it was 148,000. In addition, hundreds of thousands of migrants have come from the new EU member states since 2004, most requiring neither visas nor permission to work or settle. The UK welcomed an estimated net 1.5 million immigrants in the decade to 2008. Part by accident, part by design, the Government had created its longed-for immigration boom.

But ministers wouldn’t talk about it.

In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn’t necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men’s clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland.’

I’ll say. We learned how much they didn’t want to have that debate when Gordon Brown had his unfortunate ‘bigot’ moment with Mrs Gillian Duffy in Rochdale.

All this stuff is so interesting I could spend hours on it, just as I could spend hours describing my visit to Boston, in Lincolnshire, a town more affected by migration than most, where I spent some enthralling days a couple of years ago.

But I think Mr Neather’s words; ‘mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural’ are crucial. The Left in this country did not and do not like Britain’s socially and morally conservative culture. They have always seen it as an obstacle to their deeper project – egalitarian, republican, and ultimately globalist, as a left-wing utopia must be. And when they use the word ‘racist’, the intelligent Left do not mean that the target of this abuse is a racial bigot (though they are happy to give this impression and know that the smear will frighten most opponents away).

They mean that the object of their wrath is what might be called a ‘culturist’, one who continues to believe in a British national monoculture. David Goodhart, who is of the left, is too intelligent and observant to hide the truth from himself. He can see that there is a real problem and that non-bigots can be worried about it. But even he does not grasp the full, driving ambition of the project, which is to turn Britain into somewhere else, pretty much at any cost. The Left do not like this country as it is, as its very existence undermines their own political position.

They would rather it ceased to exist as a sovereign state and a defined culture, than that it continued to survive as a free, law-governed proof that an ancient, tradition-bound, Christian monarchy is more successful than any of their artificial utopias ever have been, or ever will be. Who cares if it works in practice? It doesn’t work in theory, so it must go.


Show comments
Close