Reflections on social attitudes on immigration


The report of the 29th British Social Attitudes survey by NatCen was published yesterday ( According to the survey, 75% of people want immigration to Britain to be reduced, and 60% think that immigration is ‘bad for Britain’. Even of those who rated the impact of immigrations as ‘good’ in both cultural and economic terms, over half thought immigration should be reduced. Significantly in class terms, the biggest increase in people considering immigration as bad for the economy and bad for culture was among those who felt themselves to be struggling financially. In objective terms, 62% of people in the bottom quartile for earnings and 61% of those in routine occupations considered immigration to have a negative economic impact (compared to 39% for the top quartile and 40% for people in professional occupations), and 54% and 56% thought immigration had a negative cultural impact (compared to 37% and 37%). The survey also found a class dimension to people’s attitudes to different categories of migrants, with much higher levels of hostility toward unskilled migrant workers, and to students with lower grades, possibly reflecting people’s identification on some level with the needs of British capital. There was also a difference in attitudes to migrants based on racialisation, with higher levels of negative attitudes to immigration from ‘Muslim countries like Pakistan’ than ‘East European countries like Poland’. Also reported this week (, a YouGov poll for the Extremis Project found that 41% of people would be more likely to vote for a party if it promised to stop all immigration, with only 28% less likely to vote for a party because of such a policy, and 37% of people would be more likely to support a party if it promised to reduce the number of Muslims in Britain and the presence of Islam in society, compared with 23% who said it would make them less likely.

These are sobering results, and indicate a huge political and ideological battle that needs to be taken on by all those opposed to racism. Given the failure of the left to build any significant opposition to the cuts, it is unsurprising that many working class people are turning, in despair, to nationalist and divisive ‘solutions’. Labour leader Ed Miliband’s comments in June this year, calling for tougher immigration controls, have helped to fuel this process, as has the willingness of Labour councils to implement cuts at a local level, and the refusal of most of the British left to criticise them for this. Changing this situation calls for a united struggle against the cuts and against racism – in the fullest sense of the term, not limited to a narrow conception of racism as Nazism that diverts attention from the centrality of racism in mainstream British social and political life. The call for students to be removed from immigration statistics, that have been backed by the leadership of UCU the NUS and the TUC Conference, are the exact opposite of what is needed, implying both an ignorance of the fluidity of modern migration flows and an acceptance of divisive ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ immigrants, which in reality turn out to be those who meet the needs of British capital and those who do not. Instead we need a movement based on solidarity with all those whose rights are denied on the basis of country of origin, as part of a process of building unified opposition to the ruling class offensive. If that is not achieved, then the current picture of Greece, where austerity has reached an extreme level and the fascist Golden Dawn has grown in support at the polls from 7% at the last election to 10.5% today, may be an image of Britain’s future.


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