Yasmin Alibhai Brown: Nick Robinson is wrong. On immigration, the BBC has a duty to moderate our national conversation

I want the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson to look me in the eye and tell me that it was a big mistake to let my people – the Ugandan Asians – into this country. A big mistake because the majority of Brits resented us coming, believed the “influx” would put intolerable pressure on jobs, housing, the NHS and education, and corrupt the national identity. Local authorities paid for full-page adverts in Ugandan newspapers asking Asians to keep out of their areas. Most of the media was maniacally opposed, just as they were when Jews arrived before the Second World War and in the centuries previously.

Mr Robinson is presenting a programme on BBC2 this week showing the scale of public concern about immigration. Instead of being an objective conduit, he has, in a jingoistic, right-wing newspaper, slammed the BBC for censoring anti-immigrant opinions – a big lie. These are the only views now dominating the papers and airwaves. Robinson was once an ardent chairman of the Young Conservatives. Possibly deeply-held political positions don’t just wash away when you get a top broadcasting job. If that feels like a slur, forgive me. But as an immigrant I feel slandered by the caustic populism now flaunted by respectable intellectuals and politicians.

Roger Mosey, previously a BBC executive, now the Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, made similar observations late last year. Others are on the same warpath. They seem not, or care not, to know the history of this eternal crisis. Here are a few of the facts which have gone missing in this so-called debate: In 1903, Cathcart Wason, the Liberal MP for Orkney and Shetland – no migrants there, even now – asked in Parliament: “What is the use of spending thousands of pounds on building beautiful workman’s dwellings if the places of our own workpeople, the backbone of the country, are to be taken over by the refuse and scum of other nations”? In the Sixties the people and many of their leaders complained bitterly about “aliens” living off benefits. Patrick Gordon Walker, a Midlands Labour MP, said in 1962: “This is a British country with British standards of behaviour. The British must come first”.

Not only David Cameron, and Theresa May, but Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper too are repeating that mantra. Remember the hysterics over migration from Hong Kong when it was handed back? The way Afghan refugees were treated when they came here? Migrant hatred is part of the complicated story of this country. And so is hard-won migrant love. The media surely has a duty to ensure social trust and tell the whole story.

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