Most members of the public are concerned about something. Maybe it's the environment, income inequality, the cost of childcare, creeping privatization of the NHS, unemployment, poverty, the punitive treatment of disability claimants, foodbanks, or the seemingly endless appetite of the British ruling elite for foreign military adventures.
None of these issues is likely to produce the kind of reaction that 'public concerns' about immigration invariably elicit from the British political class. Whenever the Coalition introduces some new cackhanded, reactionary, and morally repellent new piece of legislation to curb immigration and punish migrants for the crime of being here, it's always because the government is responding to these concerns.
When Labour politicians abjectly apologize for the fact that EU migrants once came here to work and pay their taxes in larger numbers than they expected, it's because they too want to recognize those concerns and show that they are 'listening'. When the smirking racists and xenophobes of Ukip present themselves as the authentic voice of the British people, it's only because their expressing their concern for the concerns that other political parties are not sufficiently concerned with or supposedly trying to suppress.
These concerns include the following components, whether merely implied or explicitly stated; that migrants are somehow responsible for the economic crisis, the housing crisis, and the debt crisis; that migration has cast tens of thousands of British workers into unemployment and lowered wages; that many, if not most, migrants are 'benefit tourists' and 'health tourists' intent on fleecing the British taxpayer; that migrants have taken away our culture and our national identity; that the majority of asylum seekers are 'bogus'; that the country has been inundated with 'illegal immigrants' living the life of Riley at our expense.
With few exceptions, British politicians have either tacitly accepted these assumptions or failed to challenge them, either because they really believed them, or because it was simply too politically inconvenient not to. Aided by a ruthless popular press that has left no gutter unexplored in its determination to appeal to the worst instincts of the British population, the current government has produced a stream of crowd-pleasing policies and unsustainable promises that have left this country a great deal nastier, as far as immigration is concerned, that it was when it came to power.
In doing so, the Coalition has not so much responded to public concerns, but shamelessly pandered to them and inflated them. Yesterday we saw this process in action once again, when the government finally released the joint Home Office/Department for Business Innovation & Skill report on the economic impact of immigration which it had previously showed itself reluctant to publish.
The reasons for such reluctance are not hard to find. The report effectively contradicts virtually everything the Home Office, Ukip, Migration Watch etc. have been telling the public about the negative effects of migration and suggests that public 'concerns' about its economic impact are largely imaginary and misplaced.
The report finds for instance, that
Our assessment is that there is relatively little evidence that migration has caused statistically significant displacement of UK natives fromthe labour market in periods when the economy has been strong. However,in line with some recent studies, there is evidence for some labour market disp lacement in recent years when the economy was in recession.
The study also found ' little evidence in the literature of a statistically significant impact from EU migration on native employment outcomes' and concluded that ' where there has been a displacement effect from a particular cohort of migrants, this dissipates over time.'
If this true, then what has all the fuss been about these last few years? Why did Theresa May once say that 23 British workers would lose their jobs for every 100 migrants? Why have Ed Miliband and Co. been going cap in hand to the Ukip confessional to apologize for having 'got it wrong' by allowing migration from the Accession 8 countries, when in fact there was nothing to apologize for?
Why in fact, is immigration a problem at all?
You might expect that a responsible and honest government, faced with empirical evidence that the 'concerns' it has supposedly tried to address are founded on false premises, would go and sit on the naughty step and think about what it's done, but that is not the kind of government we have.
And that is why the government chose yesterday of all days to launch the new immigration minister James Brokenshire - a name that surely comes from an Evelyn Waugh novel - into the stratosphere with a speech so fatuously dishonest that even the Institute of Directors was moved to describe it as 'feeble and pathetic.'
Harsh words, some might think, but Brokenshire's shameless populism deserves no better, with its grotesque attempts to attribute immigration ' to the wealthy metropolitan elite who wanted cheap tradesmen and services (like his predecessor perhaps?) at the cost of the 'ordinary, hard-working people of this country'.
As we all know Britain's 'hard-working people' are the salt of the earth to Britain's politicians, unless they're foreign, and Brokenshire is no exception. And so he had tough words for Vince Cable, whose position in the government is increasingly beginning to resemble Jane Eyre's madwoman in the attic:
'Vince Cable ... said rising immigration is 'good news'. Well, I've news for him. Mass immigration puts pressure on social cohesion, on public services and infrastructure, and - yes - it can force down wages and displace local people from the job market.'
'The winners are the haves like Vince, but the people who lose out are from working class families, they're ethnic minorities and recent immigrants themselves. Try telling them that rising immigration is good news.'
Ooooh burn Vince. Because James Brokenshire, former international corporate lawyer and defender of the working class, has just owned you.
What about the government's report, which says the exact opposite of what Brokenshire claims? Well those are just facts. We're talking about concerns here.
That's why Brokenshire still insists, even though it will be 'hard', that the government will reduce net migration to the 'tens of thousands', even though it nearly doubled last year.
It won't only be hard. It will be impossible. And even it was to happen, it would probably ruin the country. But when you've locked yourself into a downward trajectory, based on your ability to appeal to racism, xenophobia and baseless paranoia, it's difficult to pull out of it, and that's why you get men like James Brokenshire.
And make no mistake about it, this is a man who will go far.