The Sunday Times
August 13, 2006
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Our murderous migrant Tower of Babel
Last week, at long last, Damilola Taylors teenage killers were convicted of manslaughter after years of incompetence in the criminal justice system. Also last week, at long last, after years of incompetence not to mention wilful blindness and dishonesty the government admitted that the immigration system wasnt working. The home secretary confessed as much in a speech on Wednesday. Even Polly Toynbee, La Pasionaria of The Guardian, at long last has agreed.
This coincidence isnt just striking; it is shameful. For although Damilola was killed by the two Preddie brothers, a large part of the responsibility for his death lies with the sanctimonious irresponsibility at the heart of Britains immigration policy.
The estate where he died in Peckham, south London, was, and is, a disgraceful monument to it and to the dishonest thinking behind it. The government has been either unwilling or unable to control, or to admit to, or even to estimate the vast numbers of new arrivals. Only now is it beginning to wonder whether this influx was an entirely good thing.
At the time of Damilolas death the ethnic composition of north Peckham in Southwark, where the estate lies, was 43.4% white, 15.9% black Caribbean, 26.6% black African, 4.1% black other, 7.9% Asian and 2.2% other. Today, in the borough of Southwark as a whole, about a third of the entire population comes from a black or ethnic minority community, as official figures so tendentiously put it, when the problem is precisely the lack of community. More than 100 languages are spoken in our schools and 43% of our pupils speak English as an additional language, says the council.
This shows, as the council says, a rich diversity and for many years in this country we have been required by the progressive establishment to celebrate this diversity. Yet such extreme diversity is quite obviously at odds with community. It is at odds with the development of shared culture and shared purpose, of shared language in shared school rooms and the creation of the ties that bind a community together.
To throw together such a hugely various collection of people from all over the world, in such numbers, from all kinds of different cultures speaking different languages, is to create a miserable, murderous Tower of Babel. So it has proved in Southwark and in other places like it. The result is racial tension of all kinds, bullying, crime and fear.
If you wanted to invent a way of demoralising people and setting them against each other in their deprivation, you could hardly have come up with anything better, short of bombing them. The ties of community are fragile; they are hard to weave but easy to break; they cant be drawn together by wishful thinking.
Community needs a critical mass of familiarity, shared language, shared tradition and shared moral attitudes. A strong community can accept outsiders and is often enriched by them, as ours has been, but it also needs a high degree of common purpose and common culture. That might seem blindingly obvious, yet immigration policy has been based on a determined refusal to admit the obvious.
Southwark today is still considered a high crime area by the Home Office and a high youth crime area. Its crime rate has been rising since Damilolas death, largely because crimes of violence against the person committed by the young and very young are rising. Violent crime there has risen from 10,000 incidents in 2000-01 to 12,500 in 2005-06, even though huge sums of money have been thrown at the problem.
The councils Safer Southwark Partnership report describes well established youth gangs shamelessly in place, detailing their ethnic make-up and precise territory. These gangs are made up of the most wretched children, rather like Damilolas feral killers uncared for, uneducated, unremembered and directionless in a Dickensian urban wilderness. To call such lost boys the scum of the earth, as the Preddies were denounced last week, is to be wilfully ignorant of what has been done to them of how they have been failed by society at every level, by their own cultures and by irresponsible political policies.
Meanwhile, it seems that Southwarks educational attainments are low, by this countrys already low standards. That is hardly surprising. It is difficult to teach children of different ability in one class, let alone children who speak little English but many other languages. Thats another obvious fact that is rarely discussed.
It must also be difficult to teach (or protect) children who have been uprooted from elsewhere, to try to cope in a new and harsh environment, like Damilola, a recent arrival himself. One of the problems faced by inner-city schoolchildren, many of them migrants or from minorities, is constant movement. They hardly settle in one school when for various reasons they move to another, full of new strangers. This is another serious problem in the education system that is hardly discussed.
It may be that large sums of money cannot solve these intractable, government-made problems, but certainly money is a part of any solution. Last week, for instance, it emerged that the Youth Justice Board has told prison governors to try to identify young offenders in prison who might be suitable for early release, because we are about to run out of prison cells. So boys like Damilolas killers, at an earlier stage of their criminal careers perhaps, could be set free. It defies belief.
Also last week Lord Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the Local Government Association, wrote to the home secretary saying that council tax might have to rise because of Labours inability to work out how many immigrants were coming here. The government has seriously underestimated the numbers. As a result there is extreme pressure on some schools and social services. The same is true of hospitals.
John Reid has, at long last, begun to talk of optimum levels of immigration. This sounds faintly encouraging but he will have to be courageous if he means to do anything. The optimum number, for some time to come, is not far from zero impossible though that would be. Damilolas fate, and the fate of his killers, ought to remind us forcibly that we are not really able to look after the immigrants who are here already.
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Read all comments ( 12 )
Excellent article. In Malm in southern Sweden the city community chairman Ilmar Reepalu has declared his proudness of the 128 (!)languages spoken in his town. Unfortunately his insanity is shared by all big Swedish papers and all 7 (!) parties in the parliament. (The “Riksdag”.) It is all very strange because polls show that at least half of all Swedes would prefer a reduced immigration. Democracy? Very funny.
Swed Swedeson, Stockholm, Sweden
The problem is not “throwing them together” per se; it's doing so without any unifying basis whatsoever. In the USA, it's the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that all are created equal (no matter how it works out in practice); you become a citizen of an idea, and of an ideal, if you are to integrate. Of course there are those who would rather not integrate, and that's where our problems come from (among others).
Grimmy, MD, USA
Zero immigration would be a very desirable thing on a number of levels. We shouldn't be taking qualified professionals away from developing countries, and we certainly have no need of further immigration by people who have no skills to offer. We should also be helping people to return whence they came if they are a drain on our society. People with the skills we need could get work permits. We do not need, in any circumstances, any more people from cultures which are incompatible with ours; we have seen the so-called “benefits” of the multicultural experiment, and it's an unmitigated disaster. We need far tougher immigration controls and a determined policy of removal of those who should not be here. I wonder how many of those now inhabiting the hell of that Peckham estate ought not to be here in the first place? It's time to put the British people first and stop being the world's milch cow. The Government must get a grip or there will be blood on the streets before long.
Jane, Reading, UK
Why not tackle immigration problems at the root? War, poverty and better opportunities abroad drive millions of people out of their native countries. Mexicans and South Americans are pouring into the USA. Asians and Africans are teaming into Europe. We don't see the opposite of millions of Europeans or Americans rushing off for the chance of a better life in a Third World country do we? We are seriously diluting our own resources at home and undermining our way of life by allowing mass immigration.
Michael Pearson, Nantucket, MA, USA
Well said, Minette. I wish our politicians had as much sense as you, then perhaps we wouldn't be in this mess.
June, Reading, Berks, UK
Your correspondant might be well advised to visit Southwark. To suggest that London's ethnic diversity represents a “a miserable, murderous Tower of Babel” is to sincerely misunderstand the capital's greatest strength.
Steve Edwards, Camberwell, London
Ms Marrin is stating the blindingly obvious. Our political classes have simply “looked away now”, not wishing to “know the score”, after all they are well housed and pensioned well away from the very nasty Tower of Babel estates. But why should the bulldog words of Mr Reid on immigration be trusted any more than those of the Sheffield growler Mr Blunkett's, whose rhetoric was fine but who never enacted it at all? Michael Howard and William Hague were vilified for pointing to this mounting crisis, the BBC acting as bagman for New Labour very effectively. It is hard to see how the meltdown can be contained at this advanced stage.
I have lived in Southwark for the past nine years. The problems we face are all tied up in poverty – whether this be local, nationwide or global. However, this is not to say that there is not a strong sense of community in areas of Southwark – the areas I refer to are not the gentrified ones, but the “frontline areas” such as certain estates in Walworth and Peckham, where we try to live in harmony with each other, and mostly succeed. Of course there are as many racists living in Southwark as anywhere, and they continue to do their worst, whether this be by stirring up hatred in their own front rooms and poisoning their children's minds, or by refusing to accept that many immigrant populations are forced to live in absolute squalor. But whilst we have poverty we do try to raise our children to have a sense of community – that is our “common purpose.” To blame immigration for Damillola's death is obscene. It is poverty that kills – and ignorance.
Sam, london, UK
A brave and courageous article. The dreams of multi-culturalism have turned to dystopia all around us, and the indigenous community's anger and resentment has been belittled and patronised for too long. No other country, and certainly not the US, has allowed such “laissez faire” to hold sway for so long. Since 1948 a long-hours, low-wages low-skill economy has needed a continuous supply of migrant labour when there was another road that could and should have been taken. The de-industrialisation of the UK is one of the massive costs that have been paid for that failure.
Tom MacFarlane, Blackpool, UK
It seems to me that the best way to integrate new arrivals to the UK is the make the point that all business is conducted in English. This simple starting point would ensure that over time there would ba a possiblity to create a community.
Billy W, Livingston, UK
Well said Minette Marrin. I regularly travel to Germany and on my last flight from Munich to England I sat next to an Indian lady who has lived in London for 25 years. She said it had gone down the pan because of unacceptable levels of immigration. So it is not only the indigenous population who have been totally betrayed by the present excuse for a Government, but existing settled members of ethnic minority groups too. Sadly, things have gone too far to get back to where we were ten years ago, but as a first step we have to throw this rabble of a rump of an excuse of a Labour Government out as soon as possible.
Richard Marriott, Kidderminster, UK
An excellent summation of the problem, Minette. New Labour's insane policy of allowing uncontrolled immigration has left us in a very long, dark tunnel. And there is no light at the end of it.
Brian Carroll, Hong Kong, China