Thursday, January 07, 2010

Seventy Million

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has backed (Metro, p14) the "70 million is too many" campaign from the Cross-Party Group on Balanced Migration.

Like a huge number of Brits, I have some sympathy with their cause. Immigration under Labour has been a shambles, apparently by design. This has overloaded public services, skewed demographics and the housing market, and created feelings of disaffection and culture shock across the country - leading to greatly increased support for organisations such as the BNP.

These issues need to be addressed, and controls on migration - from the EU as well as from the rest of the world - are almost certainly necessary.

The much-vaunted points system is not the answer - under current regulations I wouldn't qualify as a "highly-skilled migrant" despite ten years' experience and a master's degree in IT, so toughening it up will just create a wider disparity between the skilled people coming in and the unskilled/semi-skilled labour from the EU and the native population, leading to more resentment. Bit of an own-goal, really.

I don't agree that there is a fixed, finite limit to the population. Not within an order of magnitude, anyway - Tokyo ticks over with a population density (January 2009 figures) of 5847/km2 - nearly 15x the density of England and 20x the UK as a whole. While high-rise living and working is restricted to city centres, and conjures up Ballardian imagery, it is perfectly reasonable.

The main problems are ones of infrastructure: places to live, places to work, places to play, and moving millions of people between them. The country simply cannot cope, as its infrastructure is inadequate - and crippled by a small amount of snow, as we've seen this week.

Culture is a secondary problem, but of profound importance to the older generations who rarely travelled internationally (except, perhaps, to war) - uncontrolled immigration has resulted in some areas of cities producing the same sort of culture shock that a tourist would experience in Cairo, Delhi or Tokyo: foreign-looking people jabbering away in a strange tongue, weird writing on signs and posters, and nothing that looks familiar - or familiar things that are subtly wrong. It's scary (and exhilarating) when you're in a foreign country, but to someone for whom a week in a caravan in Bournemouth is exotic, getting those same feelings walking down the high street must be deeply unsettling.

In summary, a steady and controlled flow of immigration is likely to remain tolerable for decades - but this needs to be a conscious decision, and substantial efforts must be made in infrastructure and assimilation.

- KoW



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