A couple of days ago, I saw TV footage of the outspoken Labour MP Jess Phillips on the campaign trail, seeking re-election in her suburban Birmingham constituency.
She was asked which issues voters mentioned most often on the doorstep. Ms Phillips did not miss a beat.
‘Immigration comes up…’ she said thoughtfully. And then, as if remembering herself, she started talking about bin collections instead.
It was, I thought, an enormously revealing moment. For there is no issue so potentially dangerous as immigration. Many people have intense feelings about it, and many feel unable to raise them publicly.
Even in private, self-consciously tolerant people discuss immigration very tentatively, if at all.
The shadow of Enoch Powell — the Birmingham-born Tory who was cast into the wilderness after his controversial speech in 1968 about ‘rivers of blood’ (a phrase he never actually used) — still hangs over the debate.
A few years ago, I was at a lunch in London, sitting next to the former editor of a national newspaper and the editor of one of Britain’s best-known magazines, both of them highly educated and liberal-minded people. The subject turned to immigration.
‘It’s gone much too far,’ one said. ‘You’re quite right,’ said the other, ‘but of course you can’t say so.’
The journalist Douglas Murray has no such qualms. Best known for his acerbic columns in the Spectator magazine and his prize-winning book on the Bloody Sunday inquiry, he has just hurled a literary hand grenade into the debate about immigration and identity in today’s Europe.
Indeed, the opening lines of his new book, The Strange Death Of Europe, could hardly be more incendiary.
‘Europe is committing suicide,’ Murray writes. ‘Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide… As a result, by the end of the lifespans of most people currently alive, Europe will not be Europe and the peoples of Europe will have lost the only place in the world we had to call home.’
The causes, he thinks, are twofold. First, our political leaders have knowingly colluded in the ‘mass movement of peoples into Europe’, filling ‘cold and rainy northern towns’ with ‘people dressed for the foothills of Pakistan or the sandstorms of Arabia’.
Second, he believes Europe’s intellectual and cultural elites, including those in Britain, have ‘lost faith in its beliefs, traditions and legitimacy’. Crippled with guilt, obsessed with atoning for the sins of empire, they have lost sight of the historic Christian values that their people expect them to defend.
As a result of their deluded utopianism, Murray thinks, Europe is ceasing to be Europe. Indeed, he believes that European culture as generations have understood it — the culture of Michelangelo and Mozart, Shakespeare and Goethe, Dickens and Wagner — is doomed.
‘Instead of remaining a home for the European peoples,’ he writes, ‘we have decided to become a “utopia” only in the original Greek sense of the word: to become “no place”.’
You will not be surprised to hear that Murray’s book has gone down badly with the bien-pensant types at The Guardian, whose reviewer described it as ‘gentrified xenophobia’ and a ‘slightly posher’ version of ‘naked racism’.
In its way, that verdict tells you all you need to know about the intellectual blinkers of the liberal intelligentsia.
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