Last week I attended a debate at Conservative Party Conference in Manchester where I made a speech about immigration. You may have read about my speech in the local media or heard me talking about it on the radio.
Before I started my speech, someone talking about their own Town, somewhere in the north of England, said that when they walk into their Town centre, they feel like they are in a foreign country and they don’t like it. This person asked me whether it was xenophobic to feel this way. During my speech I responded to this and made my view clear. My belief is that feeling this way, in and of itself, does not make you xenophobic. If you walk into your Town centre, or City centre, on a regular basis, and come across large groups of people speaking foreign languages and or behaving in a way which isn’t in keeping with the way you’d expect people to behave in your Town centre or City centre, then it’s understandable you’d feel uncomfortable.
It has long been my belief that when you get integration, diversity can be a good thing. When new communities learn our language, make a positive contribution to the wider community and behave in a way which isn’t detrimental to the quality of life to others then it can be a force for good. However, when you don’t get integration, when people don’t make an effort to learn our language or behave in a way which is in keeping with what we’d expect, then clearly the consequences are problematic. Sadly, there are many examples of this.
It has also always been my strong belief that if you move to our country, you have a responsibility to integrate. There is of course a difference between integration and assimilation. There is no contradiction between enjoying different cultural events across the Town celebrating different traditions, be it religious and or cultural, but also wanting to live in a cohesive community with shared values and respect.
I honestly felt that what I’d said wasn’t particularly controversial. I spend large amounts of my time talking to constituents about these sorts of issues and I’m confident the majority of Ipswich residents think alike.
However, there are a number of people locally who think that immigration as a topic should never been discussed or debated. To have any concerns about mass migration, illegal migration and its impact on local communities essentially amounts to heresy. If you have the temerity to express any of these concerns, then you will be roundly condemned and smeared. We are therefore expected to pretend that every aspect of immigration over the past few decades has been an unalloyed success. Of course, most of us know that the reality is far more complex. But if you dare say this, you’re divisive and problematic. Best to pretend that everything is wonderful and there are no issues.
This has therefore led to an unhealthy disconnect between majority opinion on this issue and the prevailing views of influential people in our media, politics and civic life, both at a national level, and a local level.
The playbook with me is always the same. I’ll make a comment. And someone from the local media, will look to whip up a storm. The Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE) will then wade in essentially smearing me as a xenophobe intent on stoking up racial and community tensions. The desire is to silence me and anyone else who dares express nuanced views on mass migration and its impacts on our communities.
The Ipswich and Suffolk for Racial Equality (ISCRE). I’m sure they do some good work. In fact, I know they do some good work. However, sadly as a racial equality charity, I do believe there have been many occasions where they’ve strayed too far into the political arena. Time and time again they have become embroiled in complex political debates about migration where I would describe some of their views as being at the extreme end of liberal left opinion. Last week, they issued a statement condemning my comments without even bothering to try and understand them fully. They weren’t at the debate. In fact, the statement they issued appeared to be talking about a different topic from the one I’d actually been commenting upon. If they’d bothered to contact me and establish the full facts, I could have pointed this out. Shame they didn’t.
We then had quite a bizarre news story by Paul Geater. For some reason at the end of the story he chose to mention out of nowhere that last Sunday I hadn’t attended the 25th anniversary of BSC Multicultural Services. What was the reason for doing this? What was the reason for completely out of context dropping this into the story about my comments at Conservative Party Conference? I can only be left with the conclusion that he did this to try and imply to readers that my non attendance at the event was linked to the views that I expressed at conference. That I had deliberately shunned the event for political reasons. Why else would he have completely out of context dropped this bit in at the end of the story?
Of course, the boring reality of why I wasn’t at the birthday anniversary is because, you guessed it, I was in Manchester. This was likely the last Conservative Party Conference before the General Election, and I had a range of long-standing commitments on the Sunday that needed to be fulfilled. I only found out that the BSC Multicultural Services anniversary event clashed with Conference a week or so before the event. A fact I found very frustrating. If Paul had contacted me or taken a moment to look at my local activities over the past few weeks, he would have seen that the weekend before I was at the Hindu Ganesh festival in Ipswich and a Bangladeshi wedding ceremony. But hey, why check out the facts when you can publish a misleading news story.
I feel strongly that the public have been shut out of the debate on mass migration and its consequences for too long. I answer to my constituents, no one else. And I will continue to speak directly on this issue. However, I will do so with care and sensitivity. Our country has benefited from legal migration at sustainable levels over many decades. When you get integration, we can see many benefits. However, the level of net migration is in my view too high, and we should be intolerant when it comes to illegal migration. I also think there are many occasions where we should expect more from some of the people who have recently moved here. They have a duty and a responsibility to integrate.