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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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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