The opinion poll finding reported by Roger Scully yesterday that the most important issue facing Britain and Wales is immigration should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever spent time knocking doors during an election campaign. And it’s nothing particularly new either – it was probably the one issue mentioned most often to me the last time that I was out canvassing around 6 years ago, as well as in a number of elections prior to that.
It’s an issue which has a different salience in different parts of Wales; whilst it was noticeable to me that many of those mentioning the issue in the southern parts of Pembrokeshire were themselves in-migrants (an irony which completely escaped them), it was by no means uniquely restricted to that demographic. And looking at some of the constituencies of the South Wales Valleys, there can be no doubt that this is as much of a home-grown problem as it is an imported one.
The question, though, is why? What are the factors which bring this issue to the top of the list for so many, especially in those areas of Wales where immigration is close to non-existent? It would be interesting to see some follow-up research investigating that; in the absence of hard facts, we can only speculate.
I don’t know how easy such research would be though.
I suspect that people would argue that their reasons for opposing immigration are largely to do with economics or services – sentiments such as ‘taking our jobs’, ‘taking our houses’, ‘living off benefits’, or ‘putting stress on our services’. But since all of these are, to a greater or lesser degree, at variance with the facts (and especially so in areas seeing little or no immigration), one would have to conclude that they are rationalisations rather than rational responses. But rationalisations for what?
We’re back to speculation, but my own speculation would be that there is an innate underlying suspicion (or even fear) of ‘others’, and that sentiment has been drip fed by years – decades even – of lies and half-truths from the tabloid media which is the main source of ‘news’ and ‘facts’ for so many. That, however, merely moves the root cause back a degree – I’m convinced that the tabloids know full well that much of what they say on this issue is exaggerated half-truth at best, so why do they do it? Sensationalism sells newspapers of course, but that’s a depressing reflection on the state of politics.