"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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Cambridge Analytica and the digital war in Africa

Across the continent, UK expertise is being deployed online to sway elections and target dissidents.

Cambridge Analytica, the British political consultancy caught up in a huge scandal over its use of Facebook data, has boasted that they ran the successful campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. In a secretly filmed video, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told a Channel 4 News’ undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s party.

Cambridge Analytica boasts of manipulating voters’ deepest fears and worries. Last year’s Kenyan election was dogged by vicious online propaganda targeting opposition leader Raila Odinga, with images and films playing on people’s concerns about everything from terrorism to spiralling disease. No-one knows who produced the material. Cambridge Analytica denies involvement with these toxic videos – a claim that is hard to square with the company’s boast that they “staged the whole thing.” 

In any event, Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

The work of this British company is only the tip of the iceberg. Another company, the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, has apologised for stirring up racial hostility in South Africa on behalf of former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged financiers – the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger has since gone out of business.

Some electoral manipulation has been home grown. During the 2016 South African municipal elections the African National Congress established its own media manipulations operation.

Called the “war room” it was the ANC’s own “black ops” centre. The operation ranged from producing fake posters, apparently on behalf of opposition parties, to establishing 200 fake social media “influencers”. The team launched a news site, The New South African, which claimed to be a “platform for new voices offering a different perspective of South Africa”. The propaganda branded opposition parties as vehicles for the rich and not caring for the poor.

While the ANC denied any involvement, the matter became public when the public relations consultant hired by the party went to court for the non-payment of her bill. Among the court papers was an agreement between the claimant and the ANC general manager, Ignatius Jacobs. According to the email, the war room “will require input from the GM [ANC general manager Jacobs] and Cde Nkadimeng [an ANC linked businessman] on a daily basis. The ANC must appoint a political champion who has access to approval, as this is one of the key objectives of the war room.”

Such home-grown digital dirty wars appear to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the rest of Africa. Most activities are run by foreign firms.

Ethiopia, which is now in a political ferment, has turned to an Israeli software company to attack opponents of the government. A Canadian research group, Citizens Lab, reported that Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins.

Citizens Lab says it identified the spyware as a product known as “PC Surveillance System (PSS)”. This is a described as a “commercial spyware product offered by Cyberbit —  an Israel-based cyber security company— and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

This is not the first time Ethiopia has been accused of turning to foreign companies for its cyber-operations. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists since 2013.

Much of the early surveillance work was reportedly carried out by the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. More recently it has turned for more advanced surveillance technology from British, German and Italian companies. “Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System,” wrote Human Rights Watch in 2014.

Britain’s international development ministry – DFID – boasts that it not only supports good governance but provides funding to back it up. In 2017 the good governance programme had £20 million at its disposal, with an aim is to “help countries as they carry out political and economic reforms.” Perhaps the government should direct some of this funding to investigate just what British companies are up to in Africa, and the wider developing world.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea and, with Paul Holden, the author of Who Rules South Africa?