I feel for the migrants who arrived in Britain this week. They smiled and waved for the cameras, happy to see a warm welcome, unaware of the hatred their faces would inspire. Maybe some of them are lying about their age. It’s unsurprising given the circumstances. Maybe some of them have bad intentions. I don’t know their souls. But it’s probable that most of them just want a better life. I don’t think that all such people should be allowed into Britain but who could resent them for wanting the opportunity?
Liberals think it ludicrous that people are angry about such small numbers of migrants. (And, to be fair, some of the reactions are ludicrous, such as the Sun calling for a sports pundit to be fired for condemning anti-immigrant anger in a private capacity. This kind of censoriousness is as obnoxious from the right as it is from the left.) There are reasons for concern about our selection process, the most obvious being that there are rapists at large in Calais, and, while it is probable that none of these young men were among them, it is not unreasonable to expect caution. But I’m not sure people are angry about them per se. I think they are angry about the millions who came before them, transforming Great Britain, in the face of consistent, concerted opposition. I think they are angry about seeing terrorism, hate preachers and street grooming – and while it is of course true that such crimes are committed by a small minority of immigrants, and that there is a small risk of being affected, this does not stop people being angry, and scared, because they did not want to make such strange, disturbing calculations – and they do not know how future factors might change the results. At the risk of being patronising, I think most conservatively minded Britons are neither splenetic bigots or scholarly observers of the literature on labour markets, social trust and cultural assimilation. They are, like everyone, people with local attachments and familiar affections, who have watched the undeniably radical and unprecedented change in their society with increasing consternation – as well as, of course, the even more troubled and troubling changes in other European countries. I suspect that Brexit has indeed encouraged people to express these fears and frustrations. A reaction has been just as inevitable as hot soup boiling over.