Should we give priority to Christian immigrants?

Lord Carey's comments risk stirring up pointless divisions

The former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, was at the centre of a controversy today after making comments to the effect that the UK should give priority to Christian immigrants.

He gave an interview to BBC Radio (you can listen to it here) after putting his name to a call by a cross-party group of MPs and peers for a cap on immigration to prevent the population from swelling to 70 million by 2029.

Here's the relevant excerpt from the interview:

Lord Carey: What I'm concerned about is that we should give priority to all those who are committed to our democratic values; a commitment to parliamentary democracy and understanding of our history, and certainly anyone who comes into our country must be committed to learning the English language.

Now it may be that as a result of that that those who really come from Christian nations or formerly Christian may be regarded as priorities, but I wouldn't want to put that -- I'm saying that it's the values that matter, not the beliefs.

Nicky Campbell: So because we want people with certain values, it's more likely that they will come from Christian countries?

Lord Carey: Exactly.

Now, I don't want to play the "racist" card here -- it's unproductive and precludes rational debate on the subject of immigration, which, as Michael White points out, we need to have.

But there is something profoundly uncomfortable about taking one faith and stating that its members are by nature more democratic, particularly given that Christianity is by no means monolithic -- a point that Dave Semple makes in an interesting discussion of the comments. Let's not pretend that Christians always, by default, do democracy. What about Nazi Germany, or Mussolini's Italy? Christianity is the dominant religion in Belarus, the last remaining dictatorship in Europe. So, too, in Zimbabwe.

The point I'm making is that generalisation along the lines of faith is completely unhelpful -- especially given that all indicators show that Britain is steadily secularising. Research has shown that 66 per cent of the population have no actual connection to any religion or church, despite what they write down on official forms, and that between 1979 and 2005, half of all Christians stopped going to church on a Sunday. In the light of this, Carey's comments start to look like they're stirring up pointless divisions.

Asked about "Islamification", the former archbishop said:

I wouldn't want to focus simply upon Muslim communities -- our country has always had a very strong commitment to inclusion and welcoming the stranger in our midst.

I'll ignore the "stranger in our midst" comment, although as my mother's family is from Pakistan it irks me (is it only the Christian former colonies that count?). But he goes on to praise Jews, Hindus and Sikhs for their integration, saying: "The Muslim community, less so."

I am not accusing Lord Carey of racism or Islamophobia, but comments like this -- particularly taken out of context -- can sound frighteningly reminiscent of those made by the far right. Blogging on the Telegraph's website, Damian Thompson, in a piece of classic generalisation and scaremongering, makes the throwaway remark that Carey must have "opened his eyes to the shared anti-Christian agenda of multiculturalists and Muslims".

The call for a cap on immigration is said to be motivated in part by a desire not to play into the hands of the far right. But stirring up divisions along religious lines risks doing just that.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Commons Confidential: Fearing the Wigan warrior

An electoral clash, select committee elections as speed dating, and Ed Miliband’s political convalescence.

Members of Labour’s disconsolate majority, sitting in tight knots in the tearoom as the MP with the best maths skills calculates who will survive and who will die, based on the latest bad poll, observe that Jeremy Corbyn has never been so loyal to the party leadership. The past 13 months, one told me, have been the Islington rebel’s longest spell without voting against Labour. The MP was contradicted by a colleague who argued that, in voting against Trident renewal, Corbyn had defied party policy. There is Labour chatter that an early general election would be a mercy killing if it put the party out of its misery and removed Corbyn next year. In 2020, it is judged, defeat will be inevitable.

The next London mayoral contest is scheduled for the same date as a 2020 election: 7 May. Sadiq Khan’s people whisper that when they mentioned the clash to ministers, they were assured it won’t happen. They are uncertain whether this indicates that the mayoral contest will be moved, or that there will be an early general election. Intriguing.

An unguarded retort from the peer Jim O’Neill seems to confirm that a dispute over the so-called Northern Powerhouse triggered his walkout from the Treasury last month. O’Neill, a fanboy of George Osborne and a former Goldman Sachs chief economist, gave no reason when he quit Theresa May’s government and resigned the Tory whip in the Lords. He joined the dots publicly when the Resolution Foundation’s director, Torsten Bell, queried the northern project. “Are you related to the PM?” shot back the Mancunian O’Neill. It’s the way he tells ’em.

Talk has quietened in Westminster Labour ranks of a formal challenge to Corbyn since this year’s attempt backfired, but the Tories fear Lisa Nandy, should the leader fall under a solar-powered ecotruck selling recycled organic knitwear.

The Wigan warrior is enjoying favourable reviews for her forensic examination of the troubled inquiry into historic child sex abuse. After Nandy put May on the spot, the Tory three-piece suit Alec Shelbrooke was overheard muttering: “I hope she never runs for leader.” Anna Soubry and Nicky Morgan, the Thelma and Louise of Tory opposition to Mayhem, were observed nodding in agreement.

Select committee elections are like speed dating. “Who are you?” inquired Labour’s Kevan Jones (Granite Central)of a stranger seeking his vote. She explained that she was Victoria Borwick, the Tory MP for Kensington, but that didn’t help. “This is the first time you’ve spoken to me,” Jones continued, “so the answer’s no.” The aloof Borwick lost, by the way.

Ed Miliband is joining Labour’s relaunched Tribune Group of MPs to continue his political convalescence. Next stop: the shadow cabinet?

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage