It’s hard not to cringe at immigration minister Phil Woolas’s interview in the Times. The ‘I’m not racist introduction’ leaves the reader waiting for the ‘but’, which begins with the suggestion that unemployment in the Bangladeshi community might be eased by training them up as chefs.
‘We all know they love to cook,’ Woolas might as well say. ‘And, hey, we’re not racist because we love their curry.’
Yet immigration isn’t a subject to brush under the carpet. One in five Britons describe themselves as racist (that doesn’t include buffoons who think like Woolas), while two-thirds fear racial violence, 60 per cent think we’ve too many immigrants and almost half want government to encourage them to leave. But the good news is that the trend is in the right direction; not so long ago nearly one in four admitted to being racist.
It is this prejudice in the indigenous population, together with high levels of economic illiteracy, that create racial tensions… and opportunities for populist politicians.
Back in 1978 Thatcher won over National Front voters by promising a ‘clear end to immigration’. It was pledge she did nothing to follow through, although it did fatally wound that fascist party. And the Tories tried the same trick at the last general election with the dog whistle poster campaign.
What we need from an immigration minister is not someone who offers a sly wink to prejudice, but someone who is going to go out and explain that we do need to import labour from time to time. Should the need to import workers decline, economic immigration will drop off anyway. Polskie Radio reports that Poles have already abandoned Iceland and are preparing to leave the UK and Ireland. Others will feel the same pressures.
Gordon Brown came close to blowing the dog whistle at last year’s TUC conference, where he felt a need to appease trade unionists frustrated that pockets of unemployment remain even in good times.
These pockets of unemployment are the by-products of cultures of worklessness to be found in communities devastated by deindustrialisation, where education is not valued, expectations are low and dependence on benefits is high. It’s no wonder that light of foot migrants have beaten these British workers to the front of the jobs queue.
In suggesting unemployed young people from the Bangladeshi community be trained as chefs, Woolas is probably trying to think along these lines, while recalling his department’s recent decision to import chefs from Bangladesh, but he dangerously simplifies the problem. Encouraging the Bangladeshi community to feel that making curry is all they’re good for, does nothing to promote racial harmony and can only discourage social integration.