How would Britain cope with a huge influx of war-torn refugees? This is the question politicians have been asking in recent weeks - or, rather, the question politicians have been wanting us to ask ourselves. That is because it is a difficult question to answer: immigration brings complex social and economic challenges, which no sane person would think are easily and definitively answered. And so the natural conclusion for those asking these kinds of economic and Britain-centred questions is: we can't cope. And so our stubborn refugee policy stands proud, resolute and unmoved.
I used to be convinced against increasing immigration based on these economic concerns. I still acknowledge the difficulty of these questions, and I think economics is ethically valuable. How we organise and distribute our resources is one of the most important ethical issues there is - however stale and lifeless it sounds. Even thoughtful, compassionate, sincere people should think economically. And it is reasonable to be cautious about immigration - we've never experimented with open borders in modern Britain, and it is hard to predict the effects. It is too easy for those of us with privileged educations and strong job security to ignore the real concerns of those who feel at risk of losing their jobs to the competition immigration might bring. I am conscious that there is often an air of snobbishness and insensitivity to the pro-immigration rhetoric of those who will never have to worry about how to put food on the table for their children. And I remain firmly convinced that supporting limits on immigration does not mean racism - however racist some opponents of immigration might be.
But there is a way in which recent discourse on the refugee crisis has perverted these sensible economic questions. And that is how the questions have become all about us. How will it affect us as a country? What strain will it put on our resources? How will we be able to compete economically with Germany and France? Notice the focus of these questions. They are about us. And, more notably, they are about our place at the top of the world. While thousands of people are risking not only their own lives, but the lives of their beloved spouses and children, just to live a dangerous, lonely, morbid life at the bottom of European food chains, an alarming number of Brits think that the more important consideration is whether our pride can bear to have a lower GDP than our most affluent neighbours.
This is not about us. It is not entirely clear whether we would suffer from increasing our refugee intake. But suppose we did. How could we possibly lose anything close to what these families would gain from being here? And how is it that our being lucky enough to be born into affluence could possibly justify not sacrificing some of that for those born into warzones? How can we talk so much about our own economic growth and yet ignore the families torn apart around the world, who come humbly to us, knocking on our door for help? Economics is important. And practical politics is important. But it is all worthless if it is not put to the service of those who need our help most desperately.
I am a conservative, as are many of my friends. But most of us are conservative because we think that conservative policies help to deliver better outcomes for the most vulnerable in society. That is, for example, why we still think that economic growth is important. If we did not genuinely think conservatism helped the most vulnerable people in society, many of us would cease to be conservatives. So conservatism is no excuse for callousness or for selfishness towards those not lucky enough to have been born thousands of times richer than others in the world, as the average Brit is. There are parties we could have voted for if we wanted that.
So it is with sadness that I call on the party I once half-endorsed to cease their ruthlessness. To stop using reasonable economic questions as a way of turning attention from the challenging ones that call for our sacrifice. David Cameron tells us that 'the most important thing is to try and bring peace and stability to [Syria].' This may be true, but it is a diversion. Peace and stability in the Middle East is not going to happen any time soon, and there are thousands of people homeless, starving and dying right now. And it is hard to take these words seriously when Syrians and Iraqis were being slaughtered by ISIS long before the government stepped in. I, along with many other Christians, did our best to draw attention to the persecution and slaughter of Christians and other minorities in those countries long before President Obama thought it appropriate to do something. And, of course, it was far from the British government to do anything courageously selfless without America setting the trend first.
This government has occasionally used our country's Christian heritage in various ways. I am a conservative and I am a Christian. That combination makes me very unpopular in some circles, since Jesus had some challenging things to say. But one of the most challenging things he taught us was to love our neighbour, to welcome them and sacrifice ourselves for them. To be crucified for them if necessary. Losing some economic growth and facing the difficult challenges of a rapidly increasing population pale in comparison. This is not about practicality. It is about the privilege of offering life to those who desperately need it.
And that is why it is impossible for me to listen to our government extol the virtues of our Christian heritage: knowing that, when the history of our world is finally recounted, we will not be remembered for whether we had higher economic growth than Germany, but for whether we took care of the last, the least and the lost. It is time for those in power to hear us. We did not vote for ruthlessness. We did not vote to turn away our broken brothers and sisters. So let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.Suggest a correction