Old Britain, Meet New

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Juan Perón
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I've been reading Eminent Churchillians (1994) by the British historian Andrew Roberts, which has a chapter devoted to Commonwealth immigration. In it, Roberts argues that the Churchillian establishment at that time were responsible for unintentionally swamping Britain with hundreds of thousands of Commonwealth immigrants. In the chapter he gives a number of questionable passages:

"One of the unquantifiable by-products of immigration is the extent to which cheap labour slowed up the drive for greater productivity in British industry, to the long-term detriment of the entire economy. At a time when Britain desperately needed to move from labour to capital-intensive structures, immigration held her back." (p.218)

I'm not sure where Roberts gets this assertion from. No evidence of any sort is provided to back this up. From what I've read, the UK needed immigration after WWII in order to help rebuild the country, and generally made a positive contribution. I imagine that the Windrush generation would be deeply resentful of Roberts' claim that they held the country back as opposed to working hard to rebuild her from the rubble. Perhaps Roberts' political biases (he is an outspoken Thatcherite) have more to do with this assertion than respect for historical scholarship.

According to the report of the Home Secretary at the time, Maxwell-Fyfe, quoted in the book:

"The unskilled workers who form the majority are difficult to place because they are on the whole physically unsuited to heavy manual work, particularly outdoors in winter, or in hot conditions underground, and appear to be generally lacking in stamina...They are more volatile in temperament than white workers and more easily provoked to violence...Coloured workers are said to be all mentally, and the speed of work in modern factories is said to be quite beyond their capacity." (p.220)

Note the "is said". I am not sure what hard evidence this source is based on, and indeed, none is given. It is perfectly possible that some of the disparaging remarks made about migrant labour were motivated by racist prejudice rather than by observable fact. Similar statements and characterisations have been made about migrant labourers in modern times, for example, about Chinese workers in the United States. Roberts, disappointingly, does not bother to question such claims.

Then there is Roberts' quote from the Marquess of Salisbury, writing a letter to Swinton, the Commonwealth Relations Office's Secretary of State:

"I should not be satisfied with the legislation which you suggest. I feel that it would be only tinkering with what is really becoming a fundamental problem for us all, though it is only beginning to push its ugly head above the surface of politics. The figures which we have been given make it clear that we are faced with a problem which, though at present it may be only a cloud the size of a man's hand, may easily come to fill the whole political horizon...With each year that passes, and with the general improvement with methods of transportation, the flow increases. Indeed, if something is not done to check it now, I should not be at all surprised if the problem became quite unmanageable in twenty or thirty years' time. We might well be faced with very much the same type of appalling issue that is now causing such great difficulties for the United States. The main causes of this sudden inflow of blacks is of course the Welfare State. So long as the antiquated rule obtains that any British subject can come into this country without any limitation at all, these people work pour in to take advantage or our social services and other amenities, and we shall have no protection at all." (p. 226)

Here the old canard that migrants are swarming into the country for the welfare is repeated, with no evidence provided to back it up. Presumably Roberts expects us to take Salisbury's word for it. There is no mention of the fact that migrants did work hard and didn't just sponge off of welfare. At this point I am reminded of the uncomfortable fact that Roberts is a Brexiteer. During the EU referendum propaganda about EU migrants entering Britain only for the welfare were pedalled in an endless smear campaign against hard-working Eastern European immigrants, blamed for pressure on public services like housing and the NHS. It just goes to show that this isn't the first time that such prejudices have surfaced in British history.

Hypocritically, to disguise their prejudice, Brexiteers say that leaving the EU is good because it allows us to rebuild our relationship with the Commonwealth and reduce EU migration in favour of our "friends" from the Anglosphere. This is in spite of the fact that in the 1950s these same kinds of people railed against Commonwealth immigration by blacks from the West Indies. What they seem to really mean when they bring up the Commonwealth is that they want white, middle-class, English-speaking people like themselves to come in only. Not that they actually want Indians and Trinidadians or other coloured people.
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username1799249
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(Original post by Juan Perón)
Hypocritically, to disguise their prejudice, Brexiteers say that leaving the EU is good because it allows us to rebuild our relationship with the Commonwealth and reduce EU migration in favour of our "friends" from the Anglosphere. This is in spite of the fact that in the 1950s these same kinds of people railed against Commonwealth immigration by blacks from the West Indies. What they seem to really mean when they bring up the Commonwealth is that they want white, middle-class, English-speaking people like themselves to come in only. Not that they actually want Indians and Trinidadians or other coloured people.
Agreed. The Commonwealth isn't some cozy group of like minded people. It was a group of countries the UK took full advantage of in the times of empire. When people think of the Commonwealth they are thinking of New Zealand and Australia, seeming to forget about India, Pakistan, about half of Africa and a smattering of insignificant islands around the world. I find it bizarre that we want to ditch the well developed high value markets of Europe in favour of countries like Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa.
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