Wednesday, May 26, 2004

English Are Saying ENough on Immigration: Will this summer's Al Qaida strike finally spur American outrage?

A divided nation ready to say 'enough is enough'
By Anthony King
(Filed: 26/05/2004)
from :

Millions of Britons are feeling seriously beleaguered, YouGov's survey on immigration for The Telegraph makes plain. Large majorities in all sections of society clearly believe the number of immigrants coming into Britain has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.

Hostility towards continuing large-scale immigration is especially widespread among manual workers - the traditional "working classes" - and supporters of the Conservative Party. Business people, professionals and white collar workers tend to be somewhat more relaxed on the issue.

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The same gap shows itself among readers of different newspapers. Readers of broadsheet papers such as The Telegraph and The Guardian are much readier than readers of the popular tabloids to take a benign view of immigration and even to see it as socially and economically desirable.

However, the nationwide preponderance of anti-immigration sentiment does not translate into any generalised hostility towards immigrants and immigrant communities.

For example, more than half of YouGov's respondents believe that people from other countries coming to live and work in Britain should be free to speak their own language and follow their own customs.

Nor does widespread hostility towards large-scale immigration automatically translate into support for the Conservative Party. Although a mere 14 per cent of voters think Labour has the best policies for dealing with immigration, the figure for the Tories is not much higher at 25 per cent.

A large slice of the electorate appears to despair of both parties. YouGov's findings give an indication of how much importance voters attach to the immigration issue.

The figures shown in the chart suggest that people place immigration much higher on the national agenda than on their own personal agendas. Fully 56 per cent of voters regard immigration and asylum as one of the four "most important issues facing this country" and on this test immigration ranks ahead of any other national concern.

However, when the same respondents were asked to identify the four issues that "mattered most to themselves and their family", only 27 per cent cited immigration and the issue fell from first place to seventh.

Whatever importance people attach to immigration and asylum, the sense that Britain cannot absorb many more newcomers clearly dominates public thinking.

Ministers insist that serious labour shortages in Britain will go on necessitating high levels of immigration, especially of skilled workers, during the coming decades. But the figures in the chart show that the politicians have not even begun to persuade most voters.

Fewer than one in five of YouGov's respondents adheres to the "we need more immigrants" school of thought. Nearly four times that proportion reckons Britain is already overcrowded and has too many people out of work. In the majority's view, we should "do all we can to prevent large numbers of people from other countries coming here to live and work".

As the figures in the chart headed "Too many immigrants?" also show, similar proportions believe there are already more than enough immigrants in Britain and that too many new ones are entering.

Anti-immigration sentiment might be even more widespread if Britons were fully aware of the sheer scale of inward migration in recent years. YouGov asked respondents to say how many people from other countries they thought come to live and work in Britain each year.

Fully 40 per cent of those questioned clearly have no idea how many migrants are now coming in and refused even to hazard a guess. Moreover, as the figures in the chart show, those who guessed were mostly wrong.

In 2002, the last full year for which official figures are available, more than half a million newcomers - nearly 513,000 - came to Britain. Only 16 per cent of YouGov's respondents came anywhere near that figure. More than twice that proportion, 38 per cent, erred grossly on the low side.

However, opinion is more evenly divided on the question of whether the many immigrants who have come to Britain since the Second World War have "made Britain a richer, more diverse and more agreeable country."

Roughly one respondent in three thinks that they have, while one in six reckons their arrival has not made much difference to British life. That total - exactly 50 per cent - exceeds the total of 40 per cent who reckon that large-scale immigration has made Britain "a poorer, more divided and less agreeable country".

On this question, the middle classes, broadly construed, appear readier than manual workers to enjoy the company of new arrivals. The fine print of YouGov's data - not shown in the chart - also indicates that pensioners and people in late middle age are more likely than the young to think that large-scale immigration has been a curse, not a blessing.

Not only are a large majority of Britons hostile to continuing immigration, they view the Government's approach to the issue with profound suspicion. According to YouGov, nearly three quarters of people, 71 per cent, believe the Government has deliberately withheld important facts about immigration that it did not wish the public to know. A similarly large proportion, 72 per cent, reckons the Government takes account of the public opinion on the issue "only occasionally" or "not at all".

The press fares equally badly in the public's eyes - and may inadvertently help to create a wider climate of suspicion. Only a quarter of YouGov's respondents believe that most British newspapers report issues relating to immigration "accurately and fairly", with 56 per cent believing that newspapers seek to create a climate of opinion "favourable towards immigrants and immigration" (11 per cent) or a climate of hostility (45 per cent).

Sentiments of this kind apparently do little to persuade people that either major party would handle immigration better than the other. Asked to say whether the Conservatives or Labour have the best policies on immigration, over half of YouGov's sample responded "don't know" (25 per cent) or "neither" (32 per cent).

A more complicated pattern emerges from the section of the chart headed "Entitlements and assimilation". A large majority clearly does not see newly arrived immigrants as part of the British national community and do not believe new arrivals should be entitled to the same benefits as everyone else.

They believe, instead, that immigrants should be treated on a par with longer-term residents "only if they have lived here for some years and shown a willingness to live in accordance with British laws and customs".

At the same time, there are high levels of support for what might be called ethnic diversity. Just over a third of YouGov's respondents, 38 per cent, want all immigrants to assimilate fully to British ways, including their language and clothes.

A considerably larger proportion, 52 per cent, are evidently content to allow people to speak their own language and follow their own custom - provided they adopt British values concerning such matters as marriage and freedom of expression. A few people, five per cent, even seem prepared to allow immigrants to form what would be separate communities.

Tony Blair's Government has shown a willingness to back so-called faith schools, but most people clearly think they are a bad idea. More than half of YouGov's sample, 53 per cent, believe the Government "should encourage the parents of all faiths to send their children to the same schools" and another large proportion, 29 per cent, take a broadly similar view but have no objection to continuing state support for schools with a Christian emphasis.

In contrast, only a small minority of people, seven per cent, believes the state should encourage the parents of children of minority faiths, such as Hindus, Muslims and Jews, to send their children to separate religious institutions. Although not in favour of forced assimilation, most people clearly want immigrant communities to become integrated into the wider society.

YouGov was also curious to know which parts of the world people would be happy to see new immigrants come from. The most favoured nations are places such as Australia, New Zealand, the Unite States and Canada, closely followed by western European countries such as France, Germany and Italy.

Less predictably, large numbers of people would prefer newcomers to Britain to come from the West Indies rather than from China and ex-Soviet countries such as Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Taken as a whole, YouGov's findings suggest that, while no national explosion of outrage at continuing immigration is imminent, the feeling among voters that "enough is enough" as regards immigration is both widespread and deep.

The Government will be under mounting public pressure to develop a coherent immigration policy, to say what it is and then to convince the electorate that it is in Britain's national interests. The task of persuasion will not be easy.

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