British liberals are sheltered from the devastating impact of mass migration

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There is a certain type of commentator – generally with an inexplicable book deal – who delights in telling the British just how much better things are on the Continent. WS Gilbert described them as “the idiot who praises in enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this and every country but his own”. Though around for centuries, they’ve been particularly active since 2016, keen to portray the European landmass as an enlightened haven of liberal values compared to “rainy Brexit island”.

One such person, writing in the FT shortly before the shocking upset of the Dutch election, confidently predicted it would go the other way. “The Dutch don’t do wild political leaps. Not like certain countries I could mention”. (Ho ho – Brexiteers, this means you). He insists that “Far-right parties are on the margins of the Dutch picture”. The article notably mentions neither Geert Wilders, nor the concerns about radical Islam that helped propel him to victory.

Of course, all columnists get it catastrophically wrong on occasion (I know I have). Assessing the precise electoral impact of the October 7th massacre and its reverberations in Europe is tricky; but a visceral reminder of political Islamism’s threat to liberal values can only have focused Dutch minds and votes. Nevertheless, such myopia seems a feature not a bug of the liberal worldview. Not only is a rightwards shift gathering pace across Europe, the failure of establishment parties, institutions and state bodies to confront the strength of feeling on immigration and its genuine impact on the social order – means that there are surely many more Wilderses to come.

Our own national myopia is uniquely strengthened by a first-past-the-post system which suppresses extremes, but at the cost of insulating politics from public sentiment. In practice, voting means choosing between two parties which can’t, or won’t, reduce migration – though at every turn voters have expressed an overwhelming desire to do so. Even shock protest votes like the rise of Ukip or the Brexit Party, both inherently related to concern about mass migration, could often be ignored given their lack of direct impact at Westminster. Even now, despite a growing backlash from Tory backbenchers, there’s still no sign that No10 “gets it”. An official this week spoke of finding a “balance” between controlling migration, while protecting the economy and “Britain’s international reputation.” The Cabinet hanker for glitzy, high status policy – international AI summits for instance – but fundamentally their reputation lives and dies on whether they are actually capable of giving voters what they voted for.

In a crowded field, perhaps no one did more for open borders than Boris Johnson. As PM he immediately loosened the rules; aggressively liberalising student visas and non-EU immigration. He oversaw such unprecedented rises that, as Aris Roussinos notes, “Britain is now undergoing its most significant period of demographic change since the Anglo-Saxon migration.” So much for taking back control. This week, a surreal column appeared by one B. Johnson, criticising the migration committee for recommending a £26,000 salary threshold for work visas. The writer seemed rather displeased about this sad state of affairs; boy, I’d hate to be there when he finds out who was in charge of the country when the figure was set. Really, this is a pathetic acknowledgment of impotence. Why not just ignore the committee if it was so important? Did being prime minister and having an 80-seat majority really mean so little?

All this reinforces a widespread sense that elected politicians aren’t really in charge of major decisions, visible in everything from judicial mission creep to the growing influence of unaccountable quangos on our lives. This paralysis of our institutions has the same root as the explosion in immigration: the Blair government. The picking apart of ancient constitutional norms, from the PM’s powers of appointment to the presence of the judiciary in the legislature, has led to distant, disinterested institutions which no democratically-elected government can realistically hold accountable.

Alongside this baked-in constitutional impotence is the other great albatross: the obvious economic incentives. It stands to reason that to anyone from a poor country, the prospect of living in a far richer one with an expansive welfare state will be attractive. Given migration lobby rhetoric about the supposed economic boon of immigration, you’d expect to see a low take-up rate of social housing and other forms of welfare amongst migrants. Yet the opposite is true. Foreign nationals now hold almost half of London’s social housing tenancies. Certain ethnic minorities are massively over-represented; 40 per cent of Sub-Saharan African migrants in London live in social housing.

Sometimes the native-born population is sidelined to almost comical levels. For many young urban professionals, their twenties and thirties resemble a Hunger Games-style ordeal; spending half your income on rent (and much of the rest in tax) only to wind up in a gloomy flatshare with little chance to save for the future. Rather than increase overall supply, the state adds insult to injury, using tax money to subsidise migrants’ social housing. Sadiq Khan’s new “Council Homes Acquisitions Programme” aims to buy out 10,000 homes over the next decade, bringing them into council ownership – thus making private rental competition even worse. Many urge “build more houses”, which is obviously crucial, but with net migration breaching 700,000 a year, recent arrivals will quickly absorb even the most ambitious targets. And sadly, building anything in Britain is fraught with problems.

They understand this in Denmark, whose more muscular model addresses voters’ concerns. Though economically and socially left-wing, Danish lawmakers insist on integration and harshly punish wrong-doers; for instance, migrants who commit serious crimes can lose their social housing.

The slogan “Diversity is our strength” has become a quasi-religious mantra in progressive circles. But all available evidence suggests that too much of it has a corrosive effect on social trust. In Exodus, the economist Paul Collier identified a clear and intuitive trend – the larger the immigrant diaspora, the slower their absorption into mainstream society. The sociologist Robert Putnam famously found that greater diversity coincided with widespread atomisation and a decline of trust in civic life. Since high-trust societies broadly depend on homogeneity and shared values, liberals and left-wingers should be especially troubled by mass migration. A low-trust society may be less willing to tolerate high taxation and other hallmarks of social democracy.

The social mores which liberalism prizes are not always the norm for recent arrivals. Why ever should belief in free speech, tolerance of other faiths or sexual identities or a commitment to women’s rights magically materialise at the Port of Dover? A 2015 YouGov poll found that nearly twice as many Londonders believed homosexuality to be “morally wrong” compared to the rest of the UK (29% compared to 15-17%), making “liberal London” by far Britain’s most homophobic region. Recent events in Batley and Wakefield suggest the emergence of ‘de facto’ blasphemy laws in our society. Or contrast supposedly cherished ‘liberal values’ with the illiberal ones often seen at Palestine Solidarity marches.

Yet the terror of offending cultural sensibilities and (horror of horrors) accusations of “racism” or being “low-status” means it is mostly the Right pointing out these tensions. Discussions of controlling numbers are often dismissed as “scapegoating”. Many bridled at Suella Braverman’s anodyne observation that ‘multiculturalism’ (when understood as a right to persistent cultural separatism), far from promoting peaceful integration in a shared society, actively destroys it. The Rwanda policy’s failure triggered jubilation from the chattering classes. Thoughtful liberals, such as Matthew Syed and Jenni Russell, have highlighted the inherent contradictions between our open-ended obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and the survival of liberal norms.

For now, Britain’s political classes may be hermetically sealed off from the growing fears of their electorate. But for how much longer?

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