Very rare are the occasions when
I feel impelled to leap to the defence of my country or the actions of my
government and its agencies. If
barricades, real or metaphorical, are being manned, I am more likely to be
found on the side hurling the rocks.
Most of the time, though, my patriotic impulses are left to slumber
happily until disturbed by the sound of enemy tanks rumbling along Esher High
I hear no such tanks but of late an
insistent hum has caused an eyelid to twitch.
The source is an accumulation of
murmurings across Europe questioning the
integrity of my native land.
Last week, Britain was
said, by some senior factotum of the European Union (whose name I’ve forgotten
and can’t be bothered to look up), to be in danger of acquiring a reputation as
a ‘nasty country’. His remark followed
David Cameron’s statement that Britain would consider requiring certain
immigrants to put in a period of work before being able to claim certain
welfare benefits. Today, I read that the
Romanian minister of labour, one Maria Campeaunu, although she concedes she
does not entirely disagree with our prime minister’s position, thinks British attitudes
to immigrants from her country are racist and xenophobic, apparently for having
the temerity to express concerns about what happens when border controls are
relaxed in January.
“The UK,” she said, “should be grateful
that (Romanians) have come to live there.”
Our “generous” welfare system,
she asserts, may be the reason why “many British people do not access the
vacancies on the labour market for which Romanian citizens, for example, are
going to apply”.
Well, that may be true, or not,
but it is at least arguable. And arguing
the point is what is being done in Westminster
and beyond. But to attribute to the debate such base motives as racism and
xenophobism – and mismanagement of the welfare system to boot – is a mite presumptuous,
even if true. And, of course, it is
partly true. Some people are racist and
xenophobic, as they are in Romania,
the country that gave us the far from liberal, and far from nice, Nicolae
My objection to Ms. Campeaunu’s
comments, and those of her kindred spirit from the EU, is not so much related
to the question of whether restrictions should or should not be imposed on new arrivals,
or on the welfare payments of old arrivals, more on the high-minded moralizing tone. If Britain is a nasty country, it is no
nastier than any of the other EU members that already have such restrictions in
place, or than those thinking of introducing them – and saying so flies in the
face of the evidence. It is, by all
accounts, considerably less nasty than most.
Net immigration levels in Britain
are constantly rising, especially from EU countries, and at a time of high unemployment
must inevitably place a strain on the country’s social services – more so in
certain areas than others; Boris Johnson’s teeming metropolis, with a
population close to 50 per cent foreign-born, being one of them. Boris has said that he wishes to stem the
flow of immigrants into his hard-pressed boroughs. Is that racist and xenophobic? Only if you wish to make political capital,
and no doubt many of Boris’s liberal Londoners are doing just that. But that is just the politics of a democracy
(a phenomenon to which Romania
is relatively new).
Far from picking on immigrants, Cameron’s
government is trying to find ways of curbing benefits to British nationals. If he is being nasty, he is at least being
nasty without prejudice. And he is doing
so because it is the proper function of management of a country burdened with an
unsustainable public debt. If it is also
a matter of election politics as well, as cynics complain, then election politics
is what politicians do.
It is Ms. Campeaunu, I submit,
who ought to be grateful. She is
exporting a problem of her own, relieving herself of a burden in Romania’s malfunctioning
workplace. All those worthy,
hard-working Romanians thinking of upping sticks and coming to Britain are not
leaving a land flowing with milk and honey.
Otherwise, why would they come? They
are, of course, leaving a land in which those people fortunate enough to be in
work can hardly subsist on the wages paid – a land with no benefits to speak of.
If it had even milk, they would stay. They have chosen Britain because it offers better
prospects than Ms. Campeaunu’s government has been able to offer. If the exodus is likely to cause problems for
our economy, we are entitled to question it, and without being questioned by someone
who has contributed to it.
Britain may have got things all
wrong on immigration, as on many related issues. But Britain’s government, I submit, has
got things considerably, glaringly less wrong than the government that Ms. Campeaunu
Now, if you don’t mind, I shall
go back to sleep.