Many Britons spend their Sunday mornings enjoying a cup of Earl Grey along with the highlights of the previous Saturday's Premiership games. The 'Match of the Day' programme, hosted by ex-footballer Gary Lineker is one of the regulars on the BBC. Yet, Mr Linekar has recently been in the news not so much for his goals or TV presentation skills, but for backing a statue of Mahatma Gandhi over his own in his hometown of Leicester.
'sick to death of it all they have all they want and still ask for more who do they think they are'
This was one of the 606 comments posted on the online petition started by Lee Ingram, a local resident adamantly against the Gandhi statue. Another read:
' leicester total waste haven't the Indians taken over leic with out the land in leic'
The bottom line seemed to be the following message:
'no statue, no more forced "integration'
I wonder whether the term 'British Asian' holds any meaning whatsoever for some of these people. For them, everyone with a brown skin remains an Indian, no more no less.
The debate is no longer about the merits of putting up a statue of Gandhi or Linekar or Joey Orton (demanded by 33 people on another petition). It has been hijacked by people who simply want to vent their anger at foreigners supposedly taking over their country (emotions conveniently forgotten during the days when the sun never used to set on the British Empire !).
In April it was 40 years since Enoch Powell made his infamous speech where he foresaw 'rivers of blood' as a result of overflowing immigration resulting in racial tension. To many Brits this speech forced immigration off the political agenda, and foreigners have been taking advantage by swamping Britain .
A recent BBC/Mori poll of 1,000 people suggested that 60% thought the UK had too many immigrants and about half wanted them to leave. Around 75% thought that race relations were so poor that tensions were likely to spill into violence, whereas 20% were brazen enough to describe themselves as 'racially prejudiced'.
The shifting attitudes are being reflected in official policymaking. In the 2008 Budget, the chancellor Alistair Darling announced a flat rate tax of '30,000 a year for rich foreigners who have lived in the UK for more than 7 years but claiming non-domicile status for tax purposes.
This spring Britain introduced its Australian style points-based immigration system where each applicant scores a number of points based on his/her qualifications and the job they are planning to take up in the UK . Only if you have secured enough points will you be let in.
Both Labour and the Conservatives are falling over each other to sound tough on immigration.
Note, however, the little attention paid to recent reports that suggested that immigration has done nothing to reduce British incomes, and foreigners are no more likely to commit crimes than natives, two most common misconceptions.
What is not pointed out by media reports is the difference between an EU (e.g. Polish) and a non-EU (e.g. Indian) migrant. Whilst the former does not need a work permit to work in Britain , the latter does. This means that a Polish worker is far more likely to compete for low-paid jobs than an Indian, since the latter will not be able to score enough points to qualify in the first place.
Britain will be a lot poorer without foreign financiers creating wealth in the City of London and Canary Wharf , or without Indian doctors working in the NHS. The value added by skilled immigrants from countries like India is consistently downplayed in the media. The media would do better to focus on the millions of natives who claim state benefits and remain out of work citing one excuse or another. Immigrants are willing to do the sort of low-paid jobs most Brits look down upon.
What is ironic is that all these tough measures usually do not prevent illegal immigration. If an employer is prepared to submit papers to the Home Office, claiming that the person he is employing is an IT wizard, the application is usually accepted without further checks to see whether this candidate can even hook up your DVD player to the TV. The recent crackdowns and sting operations will similarly have a very limited effect.
The solution remains in talking to the large immigrant communities in Britain and to gain their trust so that they feel comfortable about assisting the authorities on illegal immigration. The work permit regime must be made easier for people who have spent time in the UK studying and getting a degree. There must be more wide-ranging checks for people coming here to work in sectors where illegal immigration is more prevalent. An interview for each Highly Skilled Migrant Programme applicant would be useful in filtering out cheats who lie on their application form about their skills.
There is, of course, little Britain can do about its EU migrants who form the bulk of the immigrant population that comes into the country. However, having foreign workers in the economy may not necessarily be a bad thing.
Foreign workers reduce inflationary pressure in the labor market, allowing companies more breathing space particularly in today's difficult economic conditions. They bring a plethora of skills to an economy desperately short of them in key sectors. More native workers would be able to secure top jobs were the education system to train them adequately for the global job market, or were the family structure not in meltdown resulting in these workers never completing their education as children.
Britain, it would seem, has lost sight of the real issues around immigration. Blaming others for your own mistakes is a convenient way to bury your head in the sand.