In less than five months’ time there will be a general election in this country. Whether we like it or not, the election campaign will feature a number of issues directly touching upon Jewish interests, and not only in relation to foreign policy. Faith schools are more or less certain to be an issue. So are the calls being made from some quarters to extend the blasphemy laws — and from others to abolish them. Should the present government go ahead with its promise to restrict or even eliminate the right of private citizens to apply for arrest warrants against foreign (notably Israeli) dignitaries, this too is likely to become an election issue.
You might argue that, even if every one of these predictions turns out to be true, the issues in question are — at most — of the second or even third order of magnitude. Each of them might merit a few minutes of TV or radio time, and together they will surely be overshadowed by the perennial big issues, principally the economy, education and law-and-order. But there is one other big issue that will feature in the election campaign, and which will merit the attention of all British Jews — immigration.
Immigration, and its economic, social and political impact, will be a major topic of debate as polling day nears. This will be so not merely because the BNP will see to it that it is so. This will be so because immigration is of major concern to large sections of the British electorate. This will also be so because mainstream politicians, certainly from the Labour and Conservative camps, as well as other persons of status and influence in public life, have made it clear that they intend to recognise and address this concern. Pre-eminent among these notables is George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.
Last week, Lord Carey put his name to a declaration issued by the cross-party Balanced Migration group calling on mainstream political parties to make manifesto commitments to prevent the UK population reaching 70 million. That figure is the official projection of the population of the UK by 2029 and will be reached unless counter-measures are taken now.
Lord Carey and his co-signatories recognise that some net increase in population is inevitable, given birth-rates and increased longevity. But around 70 per cent of the increase will be due to immigration. This increase is not inevitable.
If it cannot be stopped in its entirety, it can certainly be lessened very considerably, even if this means abrogating European and international commitments and suspending rights (such as those of asylum) that actually did not exist a half-century or so ago.
Many British Jews — me included — find these possibilities very uncomfortable to contemplate. Every British Jew is or is descended from an immigrant. My grandparents came to these shores without let or hindrance. So what right do I have to bar entry to other immigrant families?
This is an entirely legitimate question, but to it there is an entirely reasonable response. To begin with, there are unmistakable signs that immigration levels are causing acute stress and damage to the provision of social and educational services.
Then there is what Lord Carey referred to in The Times of January 7 as the threat posed by immigration levels to “the very ethos or DNA of our nation”.
My grandparents did not just come to settle in Britain. They came here to be British. To quote the wise Lord Carey again, “democratic institutions such as the monarchy, Parliament, the judiciary, the Church of England, our free press and the BBC also support the liberal democratic values of the nation. Some groups of migrants, however, are ambivalent about or even hostile to such institutions. The proposed antiwar Islamist march in Wootton Bassett is a clear example of the difficulties extremists pose to British society… while we don’t expect groups to assimilate, there must be a willingness on their part to integrate with the rest of British society.”
My grandparents came to these shores to be British. And it is because I am British — as well as Jewish — that I share George Carey’s concerns. There should be a Jewish input into the debate that he has launched. It saddens me that there probably won’t be one, because few Anglo-Jewish clerics share Carey’s wisdom, and fewer still share his courage.