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December 04, 2006

Not exactly a ray of sunshine: Time to Emigrate? - George Walden

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Time to Emigrate?
by George Walden
London: Gibson Square, 2006
Paperback, 8.99

George Walden used to be a politician. He was not merely a Tory MP but also a Minister. If this book is anything to go by he must have felt the constraints imposed by office on his ability to speak his mind very heavily.

While Walden is so unburdened he even takes a swipe at Birmingham. Noting that 350,000 left the country in 2004 he says:

Not a lot, till you remember that in three years that's enough to fill a town the size of Birmingham. I'm not saying Birmingham would be a loss.
As a Government Minister Walden will have had to keep saying the glass was half full, now he can slide contentedly into his natural mode of saying it is half empty. But this book isn't as depressing as it sounds.

Not only does Walden write beautifully with sardonic wit and ironic lapses into the modern idiom. He also retains a capacity for flashes of anger which is more attractive than those who smugly accept the inevitability of decline and failure - while making sure their own families have special arrangements.

What helps in his outspokenness is his humble origins. He rightly describes:

competing in the deprivation stakes [as] a favourite English pastime.
Here is Walden's entry:
I lived as a young child in Dagenham because my father had done a bunk, my mother was homeless and my uncle, a Ford worker, took us in. He lived with his wife and three kids in a small house on an estate.
Walden describes confronting a youth suspiciously peering into a car.

But after a row it was Walden who backed off. He says:

Remembering several newspaper articles about middle-aged men being left bleeding in the gutter after coming between a thief and his work, I forbore to insist and we disengaged. For a strange moment, it felt as if I was the interloper and he was the law. Which I suppose, in a manner of speaking, is the case.
Apart from the all pervasive yobbery in the streets there is the nagging fear of the terrorist spectacular. Walden says:
I had a certain amount to do with MI5 during my years in the Foreign Office, before I became an MP, and have a smell for when the Government are in control and when they're not.

At that time there was a swarm of Soviet agents about, we had almost no idea what they were up to, and the Home Secretary of the moment was in the habit of fending off awkward questions from colleagues by saying don't worry, the security services are keeping an eye on them.

This used to make the M15 people, who knew they were hopelessly overwhelmed, spitting mad. It took nine people, they told me, to keep tabs on a single intelligence agent, and till we summoned up the nerve to throw the whole lot out the Russians alone had over 100 based here.

Think how many security men it would take to keep track of our terrorist suspects, who unlike the spies can go to ground in a community unsympathetic to the police.

Then ask yourself how successful the security services are likely to be in the long-term, and whether it's surprising that they make mistakes - mistakes that are described by the communities that decline to assist the authorities as proof that we live in an Islamophobic police state.

Despite its title this book is more about immigration than emigration. Typically, Walden dwells more on problems than solutions.

He is certainly brave to raise the impact that immigration has had on crime and school standards, given the speed with which the term "racist" is used to silence such topics.

He asks:

If an Englishman is no longer at liberty to say out loud and in all honesty what he sees before him, as dear old Dr Johnson would have done, what's the point of remaining English?
But while denouncing "self censorship", Walden also says of immigration that he has:
never discussed the subject before [because] the public debate has been on such a name-calling or edgily evasive level you hesitate to become involved.
Walden is also terrified that by suggesting a link between crime and immigration he might be felt to be suggesting that Enoch Powell was right. So Walden, not very bravely, covers himself with a couple of cheap stand up comedy cracks at Powell:
whose voice in Parliament always sounded to me like a ghost trapped in a sepulchre, and whose ancient mariner's eye made even Tony Benn seem sane.
In fairness Walden also criticises Powell by saying that:
West Indians have indeed spilled a fair bit of blood in Britain, mostly their own.
Walden also argues that Powell failed to spot that religion rather than race would be the key strain arising from mass immigration.

There are some surprises. I was puzzled by the extent of Walden's pro-Americanism:

America has the best of everything, pretty much: The best scientists, universities, orchestras, films, popular television, literature, geography.
On our own country, Walden concludes:
The truest thing that's been said of contemporary Britain is that the Left has won in culture and the Right has won in economics. Put them together and a pigging-it lifestyle is what you get. Egalitarianism plus the market gives you the lowest behavioural denominator, plus the highest regard for cash.
This volume is concerned with problems rather than solutions, despair rather than hope. PG Wodehouse once said:
It is never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine.
He could have said the same about George Walden.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist.

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