"You yearn for stability, cohesion and continuity. At bottom, you worry that the England you know is in terminal decline." Photo: Getty
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This is the open letter Cameron should write on immigration

Eric Kaufmann, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, pens a letter to the White British majority.

This article was originally published on May2015.com, our new elections site.

Ukip’s Mark Reckless is poised to win this week's by-election in Rochester & Strood. A major reason is immigration, ranked as the most important issue by the British electorate.

In a recently published report for Demos, my colleague Gareth Harris and I analysed census and survey data and ran focus groups to understand the White British response to ethnic change.

Rather than list the policy recommendations that might draw the sting from these forces, I've decided to phrase my recommendations in the form of a fictive letter from the Prime Minister to a friend swayed by Ukip, or a speech he might give.

The ethnic majority in England needs to be reassured.

The key point is that the ethnic majority in England, as in other European countries, needs to be reassured it has a future in an age of migration. When addressing minorities, the current narrative of ever-increasing diversity under an umbrella of shared British values is appropriate.

But when speaking to the ethnic majority a different narrative is required. This is not dishonest or two-faced, but represents a legitimate form of the diplomatic technique of constructive ambiguity, which recognises minority and majority Britons often connect to the nation in different ways.

Dear Ukipper,

I understand that immigration is your number one concern. I know from the extensive body of research on support for the far right and opposition to immigration that your concern with migration is primarily cultural, not economic. You feel the country is changing too fast. Your area remains overwhelmingly white English, but when you go downtown, or visit Birmingham or London, it feels like a foreign country.

Besides, you read in the paper that immigrants from Europe and beyond are entering the country illegally. You yearn for stability, cohesion and continuity. At bottom, you worry that the England you know - a land settled by people who have lived here for centuries, united by history, memory, traditions and ancestry - is in terminal decline.

Immigration is difficult to greatly reduce because, as part of the European Union, we must permit the free movement of people from other EU countries. As a signatory to human rights conventions, we have to allow a reasonable degree of family reunification - we wouldn't want to prevent British citizens bringing their spouses and children here to keep their family together. Tourists and students bring much needed export income to Britain, though we are working hard to ensure that people don't overstay their visas.

I'm not going to tell you immigrants put in more than they take out because I know economics is not your main concern.

Finally, skills shortages in certain sectors such as nursing mean it's important for us to admit immigrants to fill these jobs - at least until we can train up enough British people to fill them. So it will be difficult to reduce immigration much further - certainly as long as we are a member of the EU.

We could leave Europe, but this would make it much more difficult for English people to settle in Spain, France or other countries and may carry adverse economic consequences because overseas investors count on us as an English-speaking gateway to the continent. Pollsters tell us most British people still wish to remain in the EU. So while we must control our borders and restore faith in the immigration system, significant inflows will continue into the foreseeable future.

Hearing this probably reinforces your belief that the ethnic English majority of this country is doomed because England is becoming increasingly diverse through both immigration and a younger minority population. You notice this most of all in hospital maternity wards and schools, where ethnic minorities or European immigrants form a disproportionate share of the young people using these services. I'm not going to tell you immigrants put in more than they take out because I know economics is not your main concern. What I want to focus on is culture and identity in a time of change.

Above all, I want to challenge your pessimistic view about the English majority.

Our government, and previous administrations, have exacerbated majority fear by dispersing refugees and council tenants to close-knit, homogeneous areas instead of to places with a history of population turnover and diversity. We haven't considered how housebuilding and social housing decisions can accelerate local ethnic shifts. We will be more attentive to these dynamics in the future, seeking to build garden cities or dispersed development so as not to transform existing communities.

But above all, I want to challenge your pessimistic view about the English majority. A big mistake the media and government have made is to talk up ethnic change, emphasising how we are getting ever more diverse and how Britishness must change to adapt to this reality. Yet people forget that in many ways England is getting less diverse. This is a message the majority needs to hear more often because we know from American immigration history that it is only when the majority is confident in its ability to assimilate newcomers that the temperature of the immigration debate falls and social cohesion improves.

Read the full letter on May2015.com.

Eric Kaufmann is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck University of London. He tweets @epkaufm.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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