In the coming year, I really want someone to stand up – and I really hope it will be Ed Miliband – to say something along the lines of: I’m a migrant, you’re a migrant, some of my best friends are migrants. Some came as children, some fleeing, others as students. They have brought things to us and have adapted to the ways in which we do things, strange though we have sometimes found each other.
Some of them came further back in the past, to fight alongside us when things were dark. They fought against an ideology that said that some people were made superior by blood and biology and that put millions to death to preserve this nonsensical pseudo-scientific theory of racial purity.
We, the descendents of those that fought together against it, refute that ideology completely. We know that although we are an island, we have never been insular. Rather, our influence has always extended beyond our shores. Our language has travelled around the globe and, despite the fact that our influence has not always been benign, our hope is that our words can become something of a unifier.
What would Britain be without immigration? Perhaps our roads would be muddier and wonkier, our castles made of wood, not stone, and large swathes of it might be forest, not farmland. More recent arrivals have brought food, music and literature: the joys of life. Migrants, their children and grandchildren, have nursed us through sickness, taught our children and built our houses. They serve as magistrates, stand as MPs, read the nightly news. They are as bound into the fabric of our country as a plant from the Americas is to our soil and our diets.
Anybody with any sense can see that strength comes from this, not some outdated, horrendous notion of ‘purity’ or ‘separateness’, but a blending and mixing of backgrounds, experiences and histories that creates a patchwork, linking us to Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. We are joined via great-grandparents who perhaps had to leave or perhaps chose to, and decided to come – perhaps a little reluctantly – to the industrial powerhouse that we were, leaving behind more pleasing scenes that would never entirely leave their hearts.
Perhaps those migrants came because they believed us when we spoke of our love of fair play and justice, of ‘live and let live’. They might have come because we never surrendered, never gave in to the jack-boots, because we fought on the beaches. That makes it even more ridiculous to me that today, the political descendents of those who did take money from fascist dictators, who donned their black shirts and silver flashes, who shouted ‘Death to Jews’ or trumpeted ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’, now seek to convince us that they hold the key to what Britishness is and that they are the keepers of the flame. It is rubbish.
It doesn’t matter if you drive a white van or a vintage Jag, if you believe that there is a ‘THEY’, who can be ‘SENT BACK’ to some imaginary ‘OVER THERE’ and all problems will be magicked away with them, you are being sold a pup. The problems that afflict our society don’t stem from Europe or the Middle East, or anywhere else. They don’t come from people of a different colour, or religion, speaking a different language to you. They have been caused by mostly old, mostly white, mostly men – certainly greedy – taking more than they are entitled to and leaving the rest of us to fight over the scraps. Migrants didn’t crash the banks, vote to sell off the NHS to healthcare companies they own shares in or spend your money on duck homes or moat cleaning.
We can continue down this road to the end, refuse every visa to every scientist researching medical cures, every student attracted to our universities, break apart more families, close the doors and say no more. Our country would be no richer and certainly far poorer. Or we can draw a line, say no more ground will be given to the racists and nationalists. Of course we need to set criteria, but they will be fairly applied. Of course we need to verify information, but you will be treated with dignity while we do. If you are looking for a base for study, for innovation, for entrepreneurship, to love who you want to, to raise a family in peace and freedom, as so many have done before you, join us. Welcome. We come from many places, but we all belong here.