You’ll find below the text of my speech for the immigration debate last Thursday at the Cambridge Union Society, alongside such luminaries as Godfrey Bloom, James Delingpole and Alasdair Macleod. So as the dust settles, you will undoubtedly be asking “Did you win?”. Dear Reader, we did not. It was an heroic failure. Like the Charge of the Light Brigade, we galloped into the very mouths of the cannon, and were roundly decimated.
We were, of course, not surprised. We were dealing with an audience mainly of students, who will instinctively embrace compassion with no thought for practicalities or consequences. A cynic might describe it as gesture politics, or virtue signalling.
I had already reminded my co-speakers of Churchill’s dictum: “If you’re not a socialist at twenty, you have no heart. If you’re still a socialist at thirty, you have no brain”. And they were mostly around twenty.
On the other side, the best speaker was undoubtedly the Jordanian Ambassador Mazen Homoud and he had a valid point. Jordan has shouldered an enormous burden in terms of refugees from the Syrian conflict, and while I don’t want to invite those refugees to come to the UK, nonetheless Jordan deserves our sympathy and our financial support. Indeed a key theme of our argument was that it’s better (better for Britain, better for the refugees, and better for the eventual reconstruction of Syria) if these refugees can remain in the region.
Their second speaker was a young woman called Josie Naughton, who has set up a successful charity directing aid initially to the Calais Jungle, but later to many areas including Greece where refugees are in need of help. She amazed me by using almost exactly the same words as I’d drafted into my speech: “If you woke up one morning and found a starving child on your doorstep, you’d feed it”. But of course my speech added “If you found a dozen, you’d do your best and maybe get the neighbours to rally round. But if you found thousands, you’d call the Army”. Numbers matter.
Their third speaker was Robert Verkaik , who tried to convince us that the overwhelming majority of German, and British, citizens were enthusiasts for immigration and keen to welcome them with tea and sympathy. In unscripted additions to my own speech (I was the last speaker) I asked if that was why Angela Merkel’s poll ratings had tumbled out of bed and why the anti-immigration AfD Party was doing so well in Germany. And I told him that when I knocked on thousands of doors during the recent Brexit campaign, by far the biggest issue raised spontaneously by voters was immigration.
Their fourth speaker, Labour MP for Cambridge Daniel Zeichner , was profoundly forgettable, and I shall say no more of him (except that he suggested that “there might be a few European citizens in the audience”, apparently forgetting that until Brexit, Brits remain “European Citizens” whether we like it or not).
Odd, isn’t it, the way you think of the best ideas after the event. After the debate, I wished I’d included something along these lines:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I suspect that the great majority of you here tonight come from the comfortable middle classes, from leafy suburbs or picturesque rural villages. If any of you come from a less-well-off background, then as Cambridge students you stand an excellent chance of joining the comfortable middle classes very soon.
“If you vote tonight to fling open our doors to unlimited numbers of refugees, who will pay the price? It will not be you, in your leafy suburbs. You will benefit from cheap au pairs and cheap car-washes. No. I’ll tell you who it will be. It will be the semi-skilled or unskilled British worker hit by wage compression caused by immigration. It will be the parents unable to get their children into a crowded school – and the children who find that their teachers have to concentrate on English-as-a-foreign-language rather than on teaching British children. It will be the single mother waiting months and years on the housing list. It will be the London council-tax payer who finds he’s helping to fund homes for immigrant families in properties that he himself will never be able to afford. It will be the Old Age Pensioner waiting indefinitely for the hip replacement or the heart by-pass – or even the doctor’s appointment.
“The price of your moral posturing will be paid not by you, but by your less-well-off fellow citizens. The phrase “Charity begins at home” may be a cliché, but it is utterly relevant in this context.”