Monday, November 19, 2007

How to get an open, honest, informed debate on immigration

Nigel Hastilow, the Tory candidate who wrote admiring about Enoch Powell, claims to have discovered that constraints on freedom of speech are greater than he feared, above all because of 'the wrath of the PC police'.

I am struggling to see how this is an issue of freedom of speech. It sounds a lot more like 'I demand the right to say whatever I want without being challenged on it'. Hastilow wrote a column advancing a particular argument. Far from his ideas being suppressed, they were widely publicised. In reaction, lots of people disagreed with him, and said so. The leader of his party thought that they would lose votes unless he demonstrated that he disagreed with Hastilow, and acted accordingly. At which point was Hastilow's right to free speech infringed? What happened was that he lost the argument really, really badly.

He has some sort of case that the Conservative Party ought not to take action against candidates of theirs who speak out against party policy, even if they think it will do them electoral damage, but that is a question of political strategy, not of freedom of speech.

When people complain that it is impossible to have an 'honest, open, informed debate on immigration', it's worth remembering that the reason for this is that one side of the debate advances arguments which are based on prejudice, makes up stories to incite hatred, and when they get called on this, start whining about political correctness. Their complaints about how they are not allowed to make their views known, along with the content of those views, has been covered on a daily basis by national newspapers, and they've included amongst their numbers hundreds of MPs, from Enoch Powell to Bob 'Which part of 'send them back don't you understand, Mr Blair?' Spink.

There is something especially distasteful about this whinging when deployed in an attempt to hurt people who have genuinely suffered from restrictions on their freedom of speech and others forms of persecution. There are so many examples of this genre, but I just want to pick out this article by Geoffery Alderman, which achieves the considerable distinction of being one of the worst articles ever published on 'Comment is Free'.


Alderman's argument is that the reason why people don't like immigrants today is because of their impact on the social infrastructure, unlike one hundred years ago when his ancestors came to this country and there was no state support. To improve the reception and settlement of immigrants in our country, he therefore suggests cutting back on the support that newcomers to this country are entitled to by the state.


The main problem with this argument (or, one of the main arguments, anyway) is that resentment against immigrants at the beginning of the twentieth century was even more virulent than that which people experience today, from individual acts of violence to riots. Alderman knows this, because he writes about it at the start of the same article.

Truth is, anyone has the freedom to argue that 'Enoch was right'. But it's those people and their pitiful arguments who are preventing us from having a proper informed debate about immigration, not their opponents.

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