‘Vile views’ should be banned
Owen Jones, one of the Guardian’s most vocal political correctness advocates, has called for a crack down on free speech. In an article written on 21st February 2020, Jones complained about the BBC broadcasting and Tweeting the anti-immigration views of a Question Time audience member and suggested people with such ‘vile’ views should be banned from speaking in public. In his hysterical piece, Jones says the woman audience member ‘frothed at the mouth’ as she delivered a ‘lengthy racist rant’ about foreigners placing pressure on public services including schools and the NHS.
Jones then takes delight in quoting Question Time panel member Ash Sarkar’s response: “immigrants pay more in to the system than they get back,” she said, and then: “facts don’t care about your opinions.” Well that put the audience member in her place didn’t it!
For Jones, there are essentially two problems. The first is that allowing people to voice views that are oppositional to mass immigration allegedly creates a climate in which hate can fester and grow, leading to increased hate crime and, presumably, increased political support for anti-immigration parties. Secondly, he believes that the holding or expression of such views is a type of offence, like a crime, that cannot be dealt with through reasoned debate and instead needs to be shut down through any means necessary. The BBC, in Jones’s view, has committed an unforgivable error of judgement by allowing the woman to voice her thoughts on TV and Tweeting them to millions of people after the show.
Giving air time to people who oppose mass immigration or multiculturalism or some specific aspects of those phenomena, says Jones, “has only helped build up such monsters, seemingly oblivious to the fact that giving a platform to racism legitimises it, or that racism cannot be defeated by the Socratic method.”
After reading Jones’s piece, I was expecting to click on the link and hear the woman spew out poisonous, racist remarks about particular ethnic or religious groups.
In fact, she uttered not a single racist comment, nor did she so much as mention any national, ethnic, religious or cultural group. What she did say is that immigration puts our infrastructure under unbearable and unnecessary financial strain and that our borders needed to be completely shut down. To illustrate her point, she talked about tax payers having to shell out for translation and interpreting services for NHS service users who cannot speak English.
Her argument was hostile to immigration but not racist. Why did the Guardian publish Jones’s obviously incorrect accusations? Did they not check their facts before going to print?
Impact of immigration
How about Ash Sarkar’s comment that it’s ‘a fact’ that immigrants have a positive fiscal impact? Well, it turns out that Jones’s and Sarkar’s smugness is not well placed. According to fullfact.org and The Migration Observatory the data on this topic is incomplete and unreliable and studies that have attempted to estimate the fiscal impact of migrants have produced different results.
One study by the Migration Watch (2016) found that in 2014/15 both EEA and non-EEA migrants represented a net fiscal cost of £1.2bn and £15.6bn respectively, amounting to total deficit of £16.8 billion. Meanwhile another study, by Oxford Economics (2018), commissioned by the Migration Advisory Committee, estimated the net fiscal contribution of EEA migrants in 2016/17 at £4.7bn, compared to a net cost of £9bn for non-EEA migrants, leaving us with an unpaid bill of £4.3 billion. In common with all research on this subject, both these studies found that non-EEA migrants’ tax payments fall well short of the costs of the services they use.
It’s not all bad news for the smug Jones and Sarkar though. The majority of investigations have assessed immigrants’ tax payments to be either in surplus or deficit by less than 1% of GDP, meaning immigrants, taken as a whole, are just about covering the cost of the public services they use.
Yet even if this is true (and that’s far from certain) this doesn’t mean that public services are not being adversely affected by population change. Our system is not so efficient as to ensure that tax revenues are swiftly channelled to local services at the sharp end of immigration.
Of the public services or products impacted on by immigration none has been the focus of fiercer debate than that jewel in the crown of the British welfare state: social housing.
Liberals like the former leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas argue that immigration has no impact on the availability of social housing while others have suggested that awarding social housing to new arrivals makes it harder for British people to access council and housing association homes.
The liberals are correct only in so far as immigrants have not caused the supply of social housing to shrink. The supply side of the problem has been caused by the failure of governments and local authorities to build enough new dwellings coupled with Thatcher’s policy of allowing local authorities to sell council homes to private owners.
But immigrants have had a major impact on the demand-side of the problem, greatly intensifying competition for a dwindling supply of homes, especially in conurbations such as London. To argue otherwise doesn’t make a lot of sense. With net migration to the UK being around 250,000 per year and with 196,000 of these being non-EU migrants, 19% of whom live in social housing, how could immigration possibly have ‘nothing to do’ with the social housing crisis?
A recent study found that one third of the fall in the likelihood of British people securing social housing is attributable to immigration and changes in allocation rules. The new rules, introduced in the 1970s and 80s, caused social housing to be allocated on the basis of need rather than length of residency, with homelessness and family size being key features of the criteria. This has had the effect of prioritising new arrivals from outside the EU as they are more likely to meet the criteria.
And there is evidence that immigration has other negative economic impacts as well. It worsens economic inequality by depressing the wages of the lowest paid people and it contributes to house price inflation, a source of intense misery for millions of British people. On the positive side, immigration keeps the wheels of our economy churning by addressing labour shortages in particular sectors and by replenishing our aging population with fresh supplies of working-age people.
Immigration though is not just a matter of pounds and pennies. It brings with it profound changes in culture that affect everything from the food we eat and the way many of our animals are slaughtered to the way we talk (especially in London) and our ability to have free speech on religion.
The truth is immigration has both positive and negative consequences. How someone is affected by it and how they feel about it will depend on their circumstances and characteristics including their income, housing needs, area of residence, age and their personal life-story.
Under article 10 of the Human Rights Act we all have the right to hold our own opinions and express them and yet Jones and his ilk believe that feeling negative about immigration or discussing its various pitfalls should be outlawed. It’s a chillingly authoritarian, fascistic stance which is supported by other Guardian/Observer journalists such as Kenan Malik and Andy Beckett.
One of the reasons Jones gives for his position is that free discussion about immigration allegedly leads to increased hate crime. In fact, a sober assessment of the data reveals that the major reasons for spikes in hate crime over the last several years are improved data collection by the police and hostile reactions to terrorist atrocities.
One thing that on a superficial level gives Jones’s account some credibility is that hate crime also rose during and after the 2016 EU referendum when immigration from Europe was a hot topic in the media and the living rooms and pubs of the nation. But it would be illogical to suggest that these discussions caused the anger that found legitimate expression in the leave vote or illegitimate expression in hate crime. Much more logical is the idea that people had been resentful about immigration for many years prior to the referendum and they expressed their pent up fury as soon as they had an opportunity to do so.
This is where Jones’s anti-free speech argument really comes unstuck. Why were people so full of resentment given that strategies had been put in place for decades prior to the referendum to stifle debate about immigration, with the aim being to crush dissent and force people to unquestioningly accept population change and multiculturalism? The strategy involved the demonization of dissenters by simplistically labelling them ‘fascists’ or ‘racists’ and the punishment of those straying from the designated path through public shaming, sackings, trolling, intimidation and physical assaults.
One of the key architects of this suppression during the Blair years was Trevor Phillips, former head of the Commission for Racial Equality and then the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who has said in a ground breaking documentary that his team believed that if they stopped people expressing illiberal ideas, they’d eventually stop them from thinking them too. Thought control was the goal and Phillips has publicly admitted the approach was both wrong and ineffective.
According to Jones, Malik and Beckett, these authoritarian methods should work a treat. Beckett in particular pines for the time when the BBC banned Oswald Mosely, Britain’s early/mid 20th Century fascist leader, from its broadcasts from 1935 to 1968. Crush dissent, stifle debate and you achieve social harmony so the thinking goes.
Quite apart from the moral issue of whether it’s right to silence people to force through a particular world view, there is the question of whether or not it actually achieves its goal: complete conformity of view. And the answer here is that it very clearly doesn’t.
In the ‘Golden era’ referred to by Beckett, racism in Britain was rampant. Race riots raged in West London, racists words were bandied around as freely as casual looks at pretty girls and people were turned down for jobs and housing on the basis of their ethnicity. Mosely, meanwhile, held Britain’s biggest ever indoor political rally in the Earls Court Exhibition Hall in 1939 (four years after the ban), with 30,000 people in attendance.
Thankfully, support for racism eventually faded in Britain, but legitimate concerns about immigration and cultural change still remained. Fast-forward to the 2016 referendum and we can see that decades of attempting to stifle debate on these issues had utterly failed to force the population to adopt a liberal position on them. If anything, the refusal of the mainstream media and politicians to listen to people’s concerns (aka Gillian Duffy) has simply intensified their resentments.