Before Attacking Foreign Workers Look at Your Christmas List

16/12/2013 11:57 GMT | Updated 14/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Within his book of short stories about the nuclear age, Einstein's Monsters, Martin Amis mentions arguments between himself and his father Kingsley. Amis states that the arguments often ended with him looking forward to "old bastards" like his father dying off so that younger generations could get rid of nuclear weapons.

An equally distinctive perceptual gap to that which existed between Martin Amis and his father apparently exists in relation to Europe. Research by the non-partisan thinktank British Future, released this week, suggests that Brits under 25 are more pro-EU than older people, and many worry that leaving the EU would undermine their future job prospects.

Of those polled, 41 per cent of the 18 to 24 age bracket were either firmly in favour of EU membership or were edging towards support. Some 32 per cent of that age group took the opposite view. Of the over-65s surveyed, 60 per cent were either strongly against continued membership or leaning towards that position, while 25 per cent were in favour of the EU.

Martin Amis' approach to dealing with his curmudgeonly father isn't quite the right approach to take when dealing with troubled older Ukip types fearful of Europeans coming to Britain. If we wanted to emulate Martin Amis' exasperated bluntness, we might say something like "Why do you care? You will be dead soon and, in any case, you don't work. How does the presence of Bulgarians in Kent or Cambridgeshire stop you enjoying Countdown?"

This approach, however, won't stop many Europhobes from being Europhobes and it is more likely to exasperate any generation gap that exists. The fact is we do have an ageing population and some pensioners do feel drawn to Ukip - as do some younger people. Therefore, if you are pro-Europe, it isn't simply a case of waiting for Europhobes to die off but understanding their anxieties and hoping they don't manage to bring down the EU between episodes of The Archers.

Of course the depiction of pensioners sitting around shaking with indignation as they read the Daily Mail in front of daytime television, is a gross generalisation and as flawed as right wing media depictions of Romanians and Bulgarians. Given the size of the senior citizen electorate, Ukip would have numerous seats in the House of Commons if older people were generally xenophobic and small-minded. Today's over-65s have lived through some of the biggest changes in human history and appear, in the main, to have taken these all in their stride.

Many of our pensioners fought the Nazis for fellow Europeans. Others were part of an extraordinary transformation of society in the 1960s. Let's face it, Ukip has been around for two decades and it hasn't got a single MP, so we must conclude that pensioners are not as hostile to cultural diversity and change as is often claimed.

In the wake of the interesting British Future study, newspapers will spend days banging on about generation gaps and the comments below online reports will be littered with hostile remarks towards those Europeans expected to be "flooding" into Britain in 2014.

Given the profile of those who spewed xenophobic bile below some of my previous pieces on Ukip, I would suggest that those posting much of the misinformed drivel to news sites are less likely to be Werther's-chewing pensioners as working-age people whose lives are not going as they would like - and are seeking scapegoats.

One of the arguments sometimes heard in pubs for "getting out of Europe" is that European workers take low-skilled jobs from British people. This, however, is only a tiny part of two larger - some would say monstrous - issues. Globalisation and the blind lust for an endless array of shiny gadgets are what have removed many supposedly-prized low-skill jobs from Britain.

Most products Brits get for Christmas will not have been made in Britain - whether by Anglo-Saxons, Poles or Laplandian elves. Furthermore, Britain produces only 60 per cent of what it eats. However, it is perhaps easier to bleat on about Eastern Europeans working on British farms than grapple with the unsettling reality that much of 'our' meat increasingly comes from countries where many children go to bed hungry each night.

The ability for non-Brits to come here to work is actually one of the more positive aspects of globalisation for Britain. As a relatively wealthy country, migration benefits Britain more than the countries migrants come from. For example, without foreign health workers the NHS would have considerably less capacity than it does now. On the other side of this equation is the reality that less developed countries - often with greater health crises - have their clinicians poached by relatively prosperous places like the UK. Given that many of these doctors and nurses are non-European, the issue - once again - is not the result of the EU but of globalisation.

Debates about globalisation examine impacts on all concerned - whether importers of labour, food and goods or those countries losing key workers, giving up their food or being turned into polluted assembly lines. Debates about the EU and migration which lack that level of empathy - and concentrate purely on what Britain is supposedly losing - simply miss the point. The real split is not between the old and the young in Britain but between the powerful and the powerless everywhere.