Nick and Margaret – Too Many Immigrants? attempts to bring white-haired reason to a debate which, as radio phone-ins attest, tends to generate slightly more heat than light. Their goal, says Mountford, “is to make people think, and to open minds”.
It’s also to deal with notions that the country is full up, that schools, hospitals and housing are collapsing in the face of a foreign siege, that you can’t get a job on a building site unless you speak Polish. They’ve talked to the experts who have the stats at their fingertips. Take Tower Hamlets in east London, with its large Bangladeshi community. “The population density is 50 per cent of what it was in the 1950s!” says Hewer. “Crowding is not actually an issue.”
The format of the two programmes is to pair up Britons with immigrants who embody their inchoate fears to see if anxieties can be allayed. The cast list includes a Filipino who runs a care home, a young French waitress, a Pakistani who runs a language school. All of them to a greater or lesser extent are able to break down English resistance to their presence. But there are a couple of exceptions.
One is Mohammed, a Somali refugee who fled the war in his own country. He has eight children and no interest in integrating. “I struggled with him a little bit,” says Hewer. “He had his own Somali community. It’s a very safe place to be. It’s close-knit. Why take any risks?”
Mohammed’s intolerance of otherness seems as deeply ingrained as any indigenous Brit featured in the film. So is it a fault in Western liberal democracy that we must throw down a welcome mat for bigotry and isolationism?
“We have to,” says Mountford. “What does this country stand for? It stands for tolerance and the rule of law. It’s safe, it’s welcoming, it’s open…”
* * *
And how long do you think it is going to remain “safe, welcoming and open” at this rate? Maybe not your lifetime, but try projecting ahead fifty years or so. The climate scientists are allowed to.