Immigration: a problem for the Good Times

May 9, 2013

It is no coincidence that UKIP’s rise is in line with popular concern about immigration. Or is it? It’s true that Britain hasn’t been quite this concerned with immigration since 2011, and everyone remembers those days two years ago when Farage’s face beamed from every channel twenty four hours of the day. We’ve taken as read that their rise means the British public is positively infuriated with the thought of dirty foreigners coming over here and ruining everything with their ethics of work. It’s possible that we might be wrong.

ImmigSource: Ipsos MORI

Concern about immigration is not bound up with concern about unemployment or indeed the economy. In fact, when times are bad and people are worried about jobs, they’re less likely to be worried about immigration. This is completely counterintuitive to anyone raised on a diet of history lessons in which the Nazis exploited fears about the economy to scapegoat the Jews. However, it would appear that we’ve drawn the wrong lesson from history.

Opposition to immigration, along with gay marriage, the EU and other things that UKIP is on record as not liking, is not driven by economic circumstances. Rather, it appears to be cultural: opposing all of those things appears to be what you do in order to signify your membership of the Fuddy Duddy Tribe. Like all cultural issues, it’s something people only have time for when they’re not worried about where the next meal is coming from. This leads us to an interesting quandary for the Conservative Party: the rise of UKIP is as a result of the Coalition’s stewardship of the economy no longer being quite so dreadful. This has given their former voters the freedom to vote with their ‘resentment of change’ hat on, rather than their ‘must be sensible’ hat. If we were back in recession, UKIP wouldn’t be doing so well.

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