Managing human population growth will be one of the biggest challenges of this century. Two years ago, I remember being alarmed to learn that, somewhere, the seventh billion human being had been born.
When we are struggling to provide work and homes – even in this still rich country – for our own British young people, how are we going to provide similarly for such numbers in its poorest regions? Even more worrying is that some pundits estimate the planet’s population will not level off until 14 billion has been reached (even in the best scenario, it is said to level off at around nine to 10 billion in the 2060s). Even David Attenborough has expressed his concern in a recent interview, describing the human race as “a plague” on the planet.
Ukip’s 2nd place finish in the recent Eastleigh by-election has been attributed by many to the party’s focus on immigration. And with the expected influx of Romanian and Bulgarian workers next year certain to add pressure to our already stretched public services, the British public has a right to be concerned.
Our own island serves very well as a microcosm of what is happening beyond our shores. When the Romans arrived here 2,000 years ago, it is thought that between 1.5 and 2 million people lived here. It took the whole fifteen-hundred-year period, right up to the reign of Elizabeth I, for that number to double. Yet in just the next 500 years it grew fifteen fold. If we already have a housing problem with strains on public services such as hospitals, schools, transport, only a person in denial would dispute that the expected influx of Eastern Europeans would not further exacerbate it greatly.
Like other developed countries around the world, the UK has a demographic time bomb about to explode; many would argue that a smaller and smaller workforce supporting a larger and larger retired sector is an even more alarming problem than that posed by rising immigration. Yet if Britons’ birth rate is insufficient, they say, we must bolster it with fecund young people from abroad. This, we have to admit, is a cogent argument.
What was needed (and still is) was a national debate in which all these issues could be thoroughly aired. But we didn’t get it. What we got from the Blair government instead was a sly and silent opening of the floodgates, which resulted in a totally unfocused rush towards this country of people with minimal skills and often a hostile outlook towards us. The flood was greater than any known in our history before. It was, in fact, a scandal, perhaps even a crime. What was actually needed was a measured import of those high in skills of the sort this country could have benefited from economically. What was not needed was what amounted to an assault on the working classes by importing people who would work for next to nothing and take the jobs which otherwise would have been theirs. The crime, as I see it, is here.
Yet I believe there was also another crime in pursuing a policy which has the capability, perhaps, of changing the character of our nation forever without securing the consent of the people.
I believe in being open and accommodating to people of all races. After all, no people on the planet have had greater experience of rubbing along with people from other cultures. Ours was the most benign, dynamic and just of all the European empires. Indeed, a local Algerian shopkeeper once told me he saw his own father shot dead before him by the French during their war for independence. Better, he said, had Algeria belonged to the British Empire. “Why? I asked. “Well, they were gentlemen,” he replied.
I’m not saying we never did terrible things: consider Amritsar in the Punjab in 1919, when Ghurkhas under a rogue British brigadier shot dead 400 people at an illegal protest gathering. But at least there was a hell of a public hullabaloo, and a court of inquiry afterwards.
Yet despite such isolated incidents, none of the other former empires have been able to inspire such warmth and a feeling of togetherness. We therefore have no need to take lessons from anyone in how to treat people from other lands. Except, perhaps, from that other former colony of ours which feels the greatest warmth of all to us, but which, strangely, does not belong to the Commonwealth: the United States. There, if you want to make that country your home you have to accept all its values; citizenship comes as a complete package. You must be an American first, and a Hispanic, Japanese or Pakistani second. The U.S. does, however, have problems with its own burgeoning population. But at least it enjoys the luxury of having 32 times more space than we have.
It seems certain that whatever measures the world takes, it cannot hope to stop that seven billionth baby being joined by another three billion others before this century is halfway through. But I believe that human resilience will win through in the end. This has to be by raising living standards in the Third World. Only by spreading prosperity will you put effective brakes on population growth. Show me a First World country with an out of control birth rate (except, that is, where out of control immigration has been allowed).
The greatest service we could do for Africa is to get rid of the protectionist and cruel Common Agricultural Policy. Our chance to do that is coming soon when the Euro nations need our agreement for treaty amendments in the years ahead. Plus, we must bite the bullet where GM foods are concerned. Contrary to what Prince Charles may believe, only with vastly increased yields will we have any hope of filling all those extra hungry mouths.
It is likely that I’m going to ruffle a few feathers here, but before I do I would like to say sincerely that I hope my readers have enjoyed their Christmas. The good news is that there is more celebration to come as New Year looms.
None of us can say whether there will be more good news as the year progresses, however. We know there is unpleasant belt-tightening up ahead. But will our sacrifices start to pay off? I believe they will. We, unlike Uncle Sam, are pressing most of the right buttons, though more on growth is necessary. What we have to do is hold our nerve on shrinking the state’s share of GDP.
An economy cannot take off if the state grabs too much. The great imponderable, apart from said Uncle Sam’s actions – or inactions, which might push him over the fiscal cliff with who knows what consequences for us all – is Europe. Will its terrible economic travails rain seriously on our, hopefully, improving parade? Again, no one can say.
Europe has been sticking its nose in our affairs for a very long time now. It started with the Romans; then it was the Angles, Saxons and Jutes; then the Vikings; and then the Normans (who weren’t actually French at all, but a gang of settled down Vikings). It ended there – at least where foreign occupation was concerned. After that it was our turn; the boot was on the other foot. Indeed, we have been sticking our nose in their affairs now for almost a thousand years – much strengthened, I have to admit, by this mongrel-mixing that we had to endure – and most effective our interference has been.
It has been our cardinal aim never to allow a single dominant country to conquer and overawe the rest, and so present us with an accumulation of power to which, notwithstanding our island status, we would have no answer. Many times we came close to disaster. Philip of Spain – with his Armada – almost overwhelmed us. Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’, nearly pulled it off but Churchill’s famous ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, did for the Sun King and smashed his hopes at Blenheim in Austria. Then came the terrible Napoleon; but Herculean efforts – aided by our burgeoning Industrial Revolution – spread over twenty years, which almost bankrupted us, finally brought him to ruin at Waterloo.
For a hundred years after no power on earth could threaten our supremacy and we went on to build the greatest empire known to man. But nothing lasts forever. A powerful rival in the form of the Kaiser’s Germany came up on us and the accumulated wealth of two hundred years and a bloodletting on a scale never before experienced had to be deployed to frustrate his hopes. Twenty-one years later, what was left of that once incredible wealth, plus more blood, was expended to crush Germany’s revanchist ambitions once and for all. And that is where we are today. We have no more treasure to deploy and we will not send our young men to their doom anymore in such numbers. Luckily, neither will any of the others. All of us have had enough; hence the European Union.
We all wish to prosper in a continent of harmony. We wish to concentrate our energies on getting richer as well as fairer and more compassionate. And as with Japan, the appetite for large-scale war has been successfully eradicated. So far so good.
We on this island, with some understandable difficulty, have come to accept that we cannot any longer play the world’s diva. We are, as a consequence, prepared to join forces with our European neighbours to resurrect Europe’s power and prosperity in the world which it foolishly threw away. But this is conditional on this great union being fully democratic, truly accountable and non intrusive in sensitive areas best handled at home. That is not what we see. This octopus which operates out of Brussels seeks to spread it tentacles into every nook and cranny of our national life. Its servants run a gravy train of quite stupendous generosity and corruption seems to be endemic. For eighteen years its auditors have refused to sign off its accounts. And the worst of it all is that we seem unable to control it. A reckoning is overdue.
Proud nations cannot be dictated to in matters which properly should be decided at national level. In this take on the Union’s shortcomings, we are not alone. We have natural allies in Scandinavia, the Netherlands and, most of all, moneybags Germany. They are desperate for us to stay. Our problem is that with our frustration we allow ourselves to flounce off, with all the terrible risks attendant on being out of the loop.
Outside of the Union, we cannot hope to control which direction it moves in. With such an accumulation of population, wealth and power, its development could be inimical to our interests; and it could even end up threatening us. As the most successful, internationally, of all the European powers, we must have confidence to know that our voice will be heard. Things cannot go on as they are. We have, for instance, finally brought sense to the Common Fisheries Policy which was decimating our fish stocks. Forward now to the Common Agricultural Policy which so harms the poor nations of the world and keeps food prices at home higher than they need be. Forward also with repatriating those many powers which should never have left these shores.
I glory in the diversity of our continent and am confident it will never go away. Italy will always be Italy and France, France. If I mix with the boisterous crowd wearing lederhosen at the Munich Beer Festival, they look (lederhosen excepted) just like me. Our church-driven culture down the centuries has made us – despite our fascinating differences – one civilisation with a single European culture and we cannot, indeed must not, marginalise ourselves and walk away into the sunset. And how gratifying it should be to us that the multilingual family of nations we are fashioning our future with have looked to our language to be their language of choice in order to make our latter day tower of Babel function smoothly. What an advantage that gives us.
So my plea is this: have confidence and believe in yourself. Just as through your earth-shattering Industrial Revolution you touched the face of humanity and left an indelible mark, go out and do the same in Europe. Only please, please don’t be a ‘Little Englander’. It doesn’t become you.