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Scarlett Nation » Immigration » Eastenders: an allegory for modern life

Eastenders: an allegory for modern life

For the benefit of those of you who do not watch Eastenders:

A little while ago there was a storyline in which the evil Archie Mitchell basically lied, cheated and robbed his way into a fortune. He managed to take Peggy’s beloved pub from her through deceit and betrayal, only to be murdered in it. His daughter Roxy inherited his many ill gotten assets, including a yacht, two houses, £3,000,000 and, of course, the Queen Victoria Pub. Roxy hated her father almost as much as anyone, and had become a close friend and confidant of ‘Auntie Peggy’ as his wicked schemes came to light. When her unexpected windfall came in, she assured Peggy that she could live in the pub for as long as she wanted.

Please, please tell me that I’m not the only viewer who was yelling ‘just give her the pub back!’?

Of course, I appreciate that Roxy didn’t HAVE to give the pub back to Peggy, morally or legally. Her father was a monster, but she had no part in his evil schemes. His procurement of the pub, while ethically bankrupt, was legally sound. Ergo, even though she was already set up for life, even though she wouldn’t even have had this asset had it not been for the awful actions she herself denounced, there is no solid reason she HAD to give that pub back – but you just would, right?

I’m talking about immigration, by the way.

Yes, I know that you can’t be held responsible for the crimes of your grandfather, and in real terms the rape of the developing world during colonisation has absolutely nothing to do with you. But you wouldn’t have the liberal democracy you’re trying to keep exclusive, or any of the resources you’re so jealously guarding, had it not been for those actions. Yes, it’s unfair all round, but I think probably more unfair to those people who are fifty, a hundred, a couple of hundred years behind us, developmentally speaking. Keeping in mind, I’m not suggesting a straight swap here. I’m not suggesting we give everything we have to allow equal quality of life for all people (perish the thought). I’m just saying at the very least we could give them the damned pub.

What confuses me about the immigration debate is not the conclusion we reach. I’m aware that immigration is a complicated political issue and we must weigh up the economic, moral, practical and social arguments in order to come to the fairest outcome. I’ll be frank, I’ve not done this and I don’t know what the fairest outcome is. But what gets me is the debate itself, which seems to be framed entirely around the question of ‘how much can we hold on to’ and not ‘how much can we help’.

Although you could ask why you should be punished – why anything should ever be taken from you, ever – as a result of a crime you didn’t even commit, you could also ask yourself how you would behave if you were given the opportunity to go back in time. If you were standing there, alongside your grandfather, about to commit all of these crimes for the first time, would you stop it? Because either you say, no, it’s not right to abuse and marginalise millions of people so that my good fortune may be better still, in which case you accept that the benefits we’ve accrued as a result are just not that important and we’ll have to live without. Or else you say, yes, I have to make sure that these things happen so that my generation will have those benefits they absolutely need, in which case you’re as guilty as your granddad was and you’re just lucky no one asked you. On an individual level, I think this would bother most people. If you met another person and found out that your family’s good fortune was entirely down to that other person’s suffering, even if you were completely innocent of all of it, I think the human reaction would be to see if you could help. But when we’re talking about millions of people, suddenly the response gets all defensive.

For a start, I’m owed a bigger share of the earth’s bounty because of where I happen to have been born. I can therefore be annoyed when an immigrant takes a job I am qualified for or claims benefits, because they weren’t even born here. I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t asked before I was born which country I would prefer. I didn’t put in additional effort as a foetus. I was just born here, lucky me. And someone born in a Bangladeshi slum was just born there. Through no fault of his or her own this person will not have the same access to education, clean water, medicine, political representation or anything else that we demand as our basic rights. And if this person works their actual or metaphorical bollocks off to overcome all of this adversity, fund and make the trip to the UK, turn up with an education they fought tooth and nail for and a willingness to do the job to a high standard and comply by the laws, we say ‘sorry, should’ve thought of that before you chose to be born somewhere else’. Say what? I wasn’t born in London, but if I’d been told ‘sorry, you can’t work in London, it’s only fair we save these jobs and houses for the London born’ I’d’ve thrown a fit. So this argument of ‘right to be here’ doesn’t ring quite true to me.

What it sounds like is a toddler shouting ‘but it’s my game!’ louder the second time, because someone is trying to make them share the ball. I understand this toddler – after all, he really, really likes the ball. And as he grows up, he’ll learn that it’s not just his ball, he’ll learn how to empathise with the little girl he just stole it from, how to accept a just-less-than-perfect playtime if improving it comes at a cost to others. He’ll have that down by the time he’s six. But we’re still yelling ‘My game, my game, my game, la la la la’ to the world. We’re still trying to limit both immigration and the fear of immigration – surely we should be extending it as far as we can? Shouldn’t we be cheering when the government informs us that this year we’ve successfully upped the number of immigrants we can handle? I’m not saying go further than that, I’m not saying take food from your children’s mouths or lower the basic standard of living.

I’m just saying give them the damned pub.

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Co-founder and contributor to Scarlett Nation.

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  • http://twitter.com/RobotTory Myles Nester

    I basically agree with everything that’s written here, although I think your reading of colonialism is a little simplistic. The issue is I don’t think what’s nice is the main concern of those opposing immigration, in fact I don’t think they would ever consider it.

    I think there is an incredibly strong economic case for open borders and a lot of the issues associated with immigration, i.e. social cohesion, pressure on public services, etc, are down to poverty, and the link to immigration is actually incredibly weak.