• Make Britain Great Again?

    Drumroll… Welcome to Great Britain

    I’ve walked through Heathrow Airport in London a few times lately, and it’s getting more embarrassing by the day. As Brexit looms, the airport’s advertising campaign welcoming the world to Great Britain feels increasingly desperate.

    The life-size posters of Beefeaters, bus drivers and nurses – suitably multi-ethnic, naturally – with their arms open wide, wanting to give the outside world a big hug, have a comfort-factor akin to forcing an acerbic relative to welcome the ‘foreign chap’ to tea. 

    I’m not from round here, honest

    I have skulked down the moving travelators – feigning to some nationality I might conceivably get away with… Dutch? German? Damn it, even Scottish will do – anything to divert from the idea that I might be a pumped up, delusional Englishman. 

    Brexit is surely the most humbling moment since they launched the London 2012 Olympics with a logo like a dad trying to breakdance at a party. At least that was the low point. For the rest of the show, Britain came off as quite a nice place to be. 

    Who knew that a mere four years away was a cast from some sitcom version of the English past? Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson being led by Theresa May. I don’t even need to spin these guys with adjectives.

    Let’s look forward, not back

    But let’s see Brexit as an opportunity to put Great Britain back on the map as a truly Global Britain. Let’s use it as an opportunity for genuinely innovative ideas…

    Here’s one: instead of the tired old ‘EU/non-EU’ binary at border passport control, let’s go for something more outward looking? Let’s have a fast track lane for Xenophobes?

    Anyone from anywhere in the world is welcome to use the lane, but they absolutely must be a xenophobe. All others must use the standard ‘Multiculturalists’ queue, sorry (losers). 

    Has my idea got legs? Simply vote in the readers’ poll with a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ and I’ll implement the results.

  • Is it your right to migrate?

    Close-up of ocean water with ripples and a setting sun against a blue sky

    Is migration a moral right? Not for birds or whales, but for people. It’s a given that non-humans can migrate, but can people? The knee-jerk response is usually two-fold:

    1. Are we talking about rich, educated people or poor, uneducated ones?
    2. I am a liberal or a conservative?

    Imagine you were this kind of migrant…

    You’re born in the wrong place

    You enter the world within the political borders of a state that’s not America, western European, Australia, New Zealand or a few others places. You don’t even have parents or grandparents from places like that. 

    Your parents are dirt poor

    Welcome to the majority! Dirt poor in the countries people like to get out of means no education worth mentioning. It means no college, no degree and sure as hell no semester away at an American or European institution. 

    Make something of yourself!

    Wherever you are in the world, so the free market aspiration goes, you can make something of yourself. What? Are there no entrepreneurs in Eritrea? Of course there are! But social mobility outside well-run functioning states is seriously stalled by small corrupt elites controlling most routes to wealth. 

    Can people globalise, too?

    If that were you, would you grant yourself the moral right to migrate? Or would it just be hard cheese? Make the most of Malawi, mate. 

  • 10 reasons to hug a Riace migrant

    two men hugging
    Let’s hug it out (Photo by Thiago Barletta)

    If you haven’t read this story about the Italian government’s latest “war on the immigration business”, it’s got the full tragi-comedic spectrum.

    1 People for terra nullius [just baiting ya, Matteo. But seriously, Italy has a major shortfall in human beings, and the ones it has got aren’t living in places like Riace]

    2 Southern Italy is now the Migration Innovation hub of Europe [how refreshing does that sound?]

    3 A Tourist Spectacle [look kids, Africans in Italy not selling handbags!]

    4 The Gene Pool just got all shook up

    5 The possibility of an Eros Ramazzotti-Naija hip-hop mashup a la La Haine

    6 Another middle-aged European just got Married [Ed – just how many marriages are of inconvenience?]

    7 More Tax Revenue [seriously, look it up]

    8 Young Workers [not retirees from Ruislip with dodgy hips]

    9 More on the Menu than ham & cheese baguettes at lunchtime [OK, it’s a cheap jab, but Italians can take it, we all know their cuisine is the best in the world!]

    10 They lured Matteo Salvini into looking even more preposterous than he already did


  • Britain isn’t what it used to be

    Terraced streets in small-town England
    Where have all the children gone?

    A few weeks ago, something extraordinary began happening on my street — a standard issue redbrick Victorian terraced street in a provincial English town. Children started playing among the crowded parked cars. Where there had been only silence interrupted by the occasional revved engine, suddenly there were children’s voices. But they weren’t speaking English.

    The fruits of immigration

    The lament is a common one — not only among my more elderly English neighbours, but across the country. I’ve heard that the street isn’t what it used to be, presumably meaning that the people have changed, since the bricks and mortar certainly haven’t. I’ve also heard the dreamy reminiscence of when children used to be able to play in the street.

    Not anymore. Fear — of traffic, of strangers, of the generalised paedophilic threat — has emptied the street of most kids. But here were a whole host of kids — from late teenage right down to little nippers not much older than my son — riding every wheeled contraption they could find in and out of the parked cars. It was like the 1940s come back to life and put through a prism.

    “Listen to the cosmic laughter in the wind” Robert Newman, circa 1990s

    There is a beautiful irony to the fact that a street in this staunchly Brexit region has had a little slice of yesterday’s Britain resuscitated for it courtesy of its new immigrant arrivals. I don’t suppose it’ll stop the grumbles, but it can’t help make you smile. My son — still just too toddler to join in — thinks it’s the most exciting street entertainment he’s ever seen. Better than telly.

  • Stockholm’s integration problem

    Stockholm streets
    Even your favourite cities have their blind spots (Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash)

    I love Stockholm. I’ve lived there, worked there and been charmed since my first visit by a lifestyle that seemed to me the world’s best-kept secret. Why, oh why, did no one ever tell me about this place?

    We always see the weaknesses in the things we love. Places we’ve never been can be mocked with cliché, but a place known is revealed, and it came as no surprise when I read Monocle’s Annual Quality of Life survey this month — in which Stockholm always appears — and it sounded a note of caution.

    Among the 25 cities selected for the best quality of life on the planet, Stockholm came in a respectable 11th, with the caveat that:

    “segregation remains a serious issue that no one seems to have a solution for”.

    I lived there way back in 2001, in that distant pre-9/11 world, yet in my short time among Swedes in the city, I was struck by the integration problem. I was also confused. How could a country world-renowned for its liberalism and equality have such difficulties with the migrants in its midst?

    I lived among affluent, liberal, young Swedes. Their instincts were impeccable. They were warm, open-minded and thoroughly right-on. But they had a blind spot: Islam. They were tolerant of anything but that, by the simple logic that it appeared to them to be intolerant and oppressive.

    By an ironic twist of fate, the vast majority of migrants to Sweden at the time were from Muslim countries in the Middle East and South Asia. There is a suburb in Stockholm called Rinkeby and its name was a byword for the undesirable, the unwanted and the best avoided.

    It revealed a wider issue that perhaps permeates the relatively small and cohesive populations of Scandinavia generally — that if you weren’t ‘white’ or ‘native’ or ‘Swedish’ Swedish (whatever you want to call it), you could never be truly Swedish.

    This was true for me, of course, as an Englishman, yet I was aware that I was already more integrated (as a white European) than many non-white Swedes who had lived there much longer than me. It is sad to see that it is still being flagged as a serious issue in 2018.

    Disclaimer: Living in Brexit Britain, as I now do, this perspective is not offered from the comfort of superiority. I know Britain even better than I know Sweden, and as a result, know its weaknesses even more deeply.

  • Unrestricted avian migration

    robin in a holly bush
    Photo by Biel Morro on Unsplash

    In my son’s new book, Robins, Wrens and other British Birds, it reads:

    “In springtime, many of the birds you see will have come from far away. Each year, some birds, like swifts, make an amazing journey to find food and nesting places. This is called ‘migration’.”

    The word struck me at once. This was unrestricted migration.

    Swifts travel to the UK from sub-Saharan Africa, some as much as 3,000 miles in five days. The RSPB reckons the global swift population at 25 million. Thats just one type of bird. The problem is, official figures on the numbers of birds migrating into the UK are extremely hard to come by, since there are no border checks in place. This is not migration to escape persecution, but to obtain food and nesting places.

    Without control of UK borders, how can the country hope to control the numbers of migratory birds? It is acceptable, in fact beneficial, to welcome birds into the UK who can demonstrate that they will fill a need and not be a drain on resources, but at present, any bird can gain entry to the UK, entering and departing as they please.

    It seems only right that systems should be put in place to protect honest, hardworking British birds. A points-based system – similar to the one used in Australia to manage human migration – would seem to be a perfectly reasonable way of managing the flow of migratory birds into the UK from sub-Saharan Africa.

    Through the implementation of a points-based immigration system, birds wishing to migrate to the UK from abroad would first have to establish, in their country of origin, that they had agreed access to a specific food source or nesting place within a UK garden or green space, and the owner of that garden or green space would have to satisfy the UK government that in doing so, they would not be depriving a British bird.