While very high immigration has some economic benefits, at a cultural level it also tends to encourage a society where people draw their identity more from a sense of belonging to particular groups – ethnic subgroups, religions, sexualities etc – rather than identifying with the nation as something worth belonging to. It proposes to replace a democracy’s largest and most vital unit of belonging – the sense of a cohesive national community – with multiple communities united by not a great deal more than geography and happenstance.
You might say ‘so what?’ (after all this is what London is like nowadays and it works okay) but without an overarching sense of community, political solidarity is thin on the ground. Unless people picture their country and feel instinctively that they have a bond with its other citizens, that others are part of the same ‘us’, a group with shared interests within which compromises are desirable to ensure everyone can thrive, political solidarity and compromise is hard to come by. Witness the outpouring of venom from London against others in the nation who disagrees with them about the virtues of the European Union.
I’m on dangerous territory here, as this line of thinking slides into ‘blood and soil’ nutterdom if you’re not careful. Some migration is good and healthy, this must go without saying. But the core sense a demos has of itself: can that survive the addition of (say) 25% more people with entirely different traditions and histories? Certainly over time it can adapt to the new inputs, sure, but only if given time. If a city the size of Hull is added every year, the culture cannot possibly hope to keep up. I wonder if this has contributed into the degraded sense of politics-as-auction-to-interest-groups that has pervaded the national discourse since Blair: that increasingly no-one feels able to speak to the national interest, to the demos as a whole, because the demos’ own sense of itself has been steadily weakening.
I think this is reversible. Not by deporting people or closing the borders. But by a political leader who has the courage to speak to our country as an ‘us’, and to slow the pace of demographic change so that the culture and demos can catch up with what we are now. And who can do this while speaking to the new, nascent ‘us’ of 21st century Britain, to tease out a new sense of solidarity, while taking on the vested interests who undermine it: the gangmasters, property speculators, advocates for Sharia enclaves, policemen who wink at racist sexual exploitation and those in the gutter press who whip up xenophobia. The sweat shop capitalists recruiting overseas for their semi-indentured workforce. The twats who live in digital and geographic echo chambers and think the whole country should be like London. Everyone who tries to sell you identity politics as a substitute for a sense of broad community: the nativists and leftists both. The politicians who flog stale, selfish retail politics when the country is gasping for the cool water of honest debate about real issues.
All these people will tell you a cohesive national culture is a Bad Thing, because they instinctively grasp that it runs counter to their interests; but beware if they also tell you they’re for democracy; because they are against having a demos, without which democracy is just some rituals.