Immigration and the outrage industry

David Goodhart's report for Policy Exchange on the ending of free movement has provoked a predictably hysterical reaction from those who seem unable to deal with any discussion of immigration in a fair and rational way.

David Goodhart’s report for Policy Exchange on the ending of free movement has provoked a predictably hysterical reaction from those who seem unable to deal with any discussion of immigration in a fair and rational way.

The report itself is neatly summarised in this Telegraph article (paywall):

Much of the reaction on Twitter ignored the substance of the argument and instead took issue with the language. In particular, some people objected to David’s use of the word “stock” (as in “EU stock”) to describe the cohort of EU migrants in the UK, complaining that the word was objectifying and dehumanising.

Of course, “stock” is a standard descriptive term in the social sciences and economics and there is nothing degrading about it (if you recognise the concept of “social science” at all, you will accept its slightly impersonal language).

So if a word is used frequently in discussions about migration flows and labour markets, and no one has been outraged before, why are people taking offence now? One suspects it is a bad-faith attempt to close down the debate rather than engage meaningfully with an uncomfortable argument.

If people disagree with David’s proposals, let them disagree rationally and by counterpoint, rather than affecting emotional or moral outrage as an excuse to run away from the discussion.

Those of us involved in setting up this blog have different views on immigration but we all believe that it should be debated openly and without censorship, legal or otherwise. That is democracy.

As for my own view, I think David makes sensible, practical points about the drawbacks of free movement (a phrase which has the reverse problem of sounding benign while hiding a multitude of problems) and sets out a meaningful alternative which retains a sense of openness in the system, addresses the inequalities between EU and non-EU migrants and responds to the wider economic issues of labour shortages and the productivity crisis.

Another point on outrage: this is a very good piece by Radio 1 Xtra presenter, Ashley “Dotty” Charles, on why outrage has become a “currency” of our times.

It’s a very witty description of the self-satisfied bubbles of moral vanity which exist on social media. I think she hits the nail on the head about the shallowness of today’s political outrage industry.

I’d make one additional observation. This aspect of the culture war is asymmetrical. Quite simply, the political left is far more obsessive about using outrage as a tool to police and constrict the boundaries of debate.

A few days ago the Liverpool University Labour Club utilised its official Twitter account to propose killing the Queen. It was a clumsy celebration of the regicide of Charles I accompanied by a professed desire to repeat the act today.

A few sensitive souls complained and the tweet was duly deleted. And that was it. Most people laughed it off as the idiocy of youth (and in my view it merited no greater punishment than that).

As a thought experiment, can you imagine what would have happened had a Conservative student society done an almost identical tweet proposing the assassination of, say, Barack Obama or Polly Toynbee? There would have been endless outrage on social media about the inhumanity and insensitivity of Tories, invocations of Jo Cox, questions asked in Parliament about arrogant toffs followed by cringe-inducing apologies by Theresa May and the university authorities and, of course, the naming, shaming and condign punishment of the callow youths involved.

Perhaps if there was a political price to be paid for whipping up artificial hysteria we might have more reasoned debate.

Munira Mirza

  • Has the author been sleeping through the annual witch-hunt of people not wearing poppies then?

    I think the Daily Mail do a fine job of keeping outrage stoked. Don’t do their sterling efforts down.

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