on 5 October 2015
Dream or Fantasy? David Goodhart’s The British Dream
Goodhart’s study of the “successes and failures of post-war immigration,” as his subtitle puts it, is a substantial, responsible attempt to describe and analyse the background to migration to the UK, the current situation and its problems, and to suggest solutions and predict outcomes. The book tries to present a balanced picture, neither demonising nor sanctifying immigrant or native. In all of this, Goodhart has considerable success, but there are problems.
One source of difficulty is both the privileges and limits of Goodhart’s identity as an Old Etonian, university graduate, director of the think tank Demos and son of the former MP Sir Philip Goodhart. Such a background provides David Goodhart with the education, resources and connections required to do research, to write up his findings in clear expository prose and to get published. However, the same background precludes direct experience of life as, say, a member of the native white working class or underclass in a South Yorkshire mining town or Lancashire mill town, where the former industries and manufacturing base no longer exist. In these parts of the country—and elsewhere—mass migration has resulted in possibly irreparably divided communities and, for example, large-scale child sexual exploitation where organised gangs of immigrant males from South-Asian cultures prey on the children of the “kaffir,” as they so insultingly call us. Goodhart’s only recognition of this specific major problem with the culture clash caused by immigration is a two-and-a-half-line footnote (197).
His “three […] English stories” (317) of immigrant success in England and his quoting the claim of a country that “has finally found a role: just being England” (Andrew Sullivan, Sunday Times 24 July 2011, qtd 318) are carefully chosen and exclude the voices of millions of natives, especially in the North, whose lives and prospects, already limited, have been further degraded by the effects of immigration. Goodhart should have spoken to a young Englishman who, catching the bus to sign on at the Job Centre, finds the driver is Polish, or to a survivor of the mass rape of white children by Pakistanis in Rotherham. His book acknowledges problems and does criticise the one-sided views of the “immigrationist school” (for example 320ff), but does not admit directly the voices of those dispossessed and damaged by rapid mass migration into a small, overcrowded country that, until recently, had a high degree of homogeneity in its population, though with a healthy degree of diversity among the natives themselves. The shock of arrival for the immigrants is more than equalled by the shock for the natives.
Many of Goodhart’s proposed solutions for problems are sensible. For example, he suggests training natives to fill shortages in the labour market rather than hiring trained people from abroad (322), criticises the assumption that “British workers are always less good than foreigners” (324) and argues “for relatively low and highly selective immigration, especially at the lower and middling skill levels” (323). On the other hand, when he claims that “everyone benefits from downward pressure on wage inflation and costs” (320), Goodhart is less credible. Capitalism benefits but low-paid British workers do not, particularly when the downward pressure comes from hiring foreigners as cheap labour.
Goodhart, of course, is writing about current events and contemporary history, always subject to change and producing new challenges. His solution to the current migration crisis with hundreds of thousands of people from all over Africa, Asia and the Middle East simply walking into Europe, with millions more to come, suggests both the difficulty of the problem and the unreality of the measures proposed to deal with it. On a recent BBC2 Newsnight programme, Goodhart advocated the establishment of migrant-processing centres in Morocco. The multiple reasons for the uselessness of such a proposal are too obvious to require listing.
The closing pages of The British Dream paint an optimistic picture of a near-future Britain successfully absorbing its immigrant minorities. But this picture, “a short history” of “a more benign future” (336), does not entirely convince. For example, Goodhart claims “Islamic radicalism began to die away as a significant force in Muslim Britain” (338) and yet, back in the real world, TV news has recently announced that the last twelve months have seen the largest ever number of arrests in Britain on terrorist offences. Understandably, Goodhart wants a happy ending, both for his book and for Britain; in the absence of a real happy ending, he invents one. But the device backfires. For the native reader experiencing the actual history rather than Goodhart’s “more benign future,” the gap between the two is only emphasised by the author’s presentation of fantasy as reality. Utopias are always elsewhere or elsewhen. For those of us living with the actual effects of immigration, particularly the native white population of the North, comfortable integration and mutual acceptance between native and immigrant are a long way off. Adding to the challenge by the importation of more migrants, whether from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa or Asia, will simply magnify and prolong the problems. We already have one in eight of the population foreign-born. Surely that is more than enough?