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Immigration and culture

Immigration has all of a sudden become a hot issue for the left. Stung by the mass-abandonment of the Labour Party by ‘C2 voters’, they are grasping around for anything they think could be turned into the totemic issue for the lower socio-economic classes and so, naturally, have stumbled upon immigration. Partly this is to be welcomed; it has brought with it the genuine recognition that the benefits immigration brings for certain sectors of society must not always and necessarily trump the genuine anxiety it can cause amongst others. On the other hand, the danger is that Labour has begun to associate anti-immigration feeling per se with an angry ‘white-working class’, and this only on the basis of resources – predictably, this has enabled the Guardianistas to indulge in their favoured class war, writing off the ‘white-working classes’ as basically racist and bigoted, with nothing more sophisticated than a hunter-gatherer approach to quality of life, whose silence can be bought with a few well-directed resources thrown their way.

Now, I happen to think that the immigration issue is not chiefly about resources, though it is certainly also about that, but primarily concerns something much bigger: the loss of communality, of common concern and common endeavour, of shared identities and shared loyalties, of associative and reciprocal relationships. Aside from the atomistic individualism promoted by social-liberalism, I also think the multiculturalism of the metro-left has contributed to this situation, whilst cultural relativism has created it – after all, one can hardly offer a framework for shared identities if the particularities of the indigenous culture have already been denied as having any sort of authority in these lands. And if ‘British’ (in itself a diverse and multi-layered identity) culture has already had its primacy denigrated thus, so it cannot legitimately claim to be the overarching framework within which the rich and vibrant cultural expressions of various immigrant communities should situate themselves. All that is left is a vacuum, in which self-expression trumps commitment to any larger identity or loyalties – and the creation of endless ‘communities’ with no discernable cultural connection to one another or the place in which they reside.

I was thinking about this yesterday, after having attended Mass. The first thing to say about the Mass in Dundee Cathedral is that it is very beautiful (occasional Kendrickean abuses notwithstanding), but it is also very diverse, multi-aged and especially multi-racial. Yet the diversity and multi-racial element isn’t an end in itself, but rather a wonderful expression of the universality of that which unites us all; in this instance, our common faith, and our common expression of it. Our differences are celebrated under the banner of that which transcends and unites us – and for that reason we embrace the difference, and the genuine value it offers to our collective identity and culture.

Yes yes, all very gushing I know, but I think it illustrates well what I’m trying to articulate. And I’m not sure that the leftist intelligentsia, having debunked patriotic expression for at least a generation, have provided any alternatives that could perform a similar function in uniting diversity under a common banner. Again, cultural relativism has its part to play here, but in my experience this cultural timidity, some would call it self-loathing, is something very much confined to the left-liberal elite – I don’t think it affects the flag-waving working-classes so much (if anything it offends them) and my father-in-law, arriving from Calcutta in his teens, is very proud of this country, his country, what it stands for, and the particularities of its culture and history. And it is that particularity, the concrete expression of shared narratives and ideals (local, regional and national) that vague and fuzzy ideological buzzwords (equality, diversity etc. etc.) have been unable to replicate – as a result, the tribe of one particular ghetto (this in itself a legacy of multiculturalism) too often feel a million miles away from the tribe in the next one.

Of course, this is not easy, and being working-class, northern and Roman Catholic (with an Irish grandfather) means that I will no doubt have a radically different understanding of certain events in British history to, for example, a middle-class, southern Protestant. But this isn’t at all about jingoism, nostalgia, or excessive sentimentalism. It’s about organic connections to, and respect of, the transcending quirks of our culture and history and landscape and myriad other things, not to mention the many-layered identities bestowed through local, regional and national ties.  It seems to me that these things are to be celebrated, not scorned upon, and upon them can commonality be founded – if the immigration debate starts talking more in these terms, of Labour’s record of having sown seeds of division in the name of ‘diversity’, then I think it will inch closer to the nub of the problem.

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