Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Home Thoughts From Abroad....

...was of course the title of Roy Jenkins' 1979 Dimbleby Lecture in which he first floated the possibility of the breakaway party that eventually became the SDP. Well, staying at my wife's cousin's cottage in South Normandy over the past week or so, I've been having a few home thoughts of my own.

As anyone who has ever been to Northern France in August will surely know, the place is pretty well deserted at this time of year. Much of the population heads for the South at the height of summer, and over recent days we have driven through fairly sizeable villages where there is not a soul to be seen.

The autoroutes are much the same. We made the journey between Calais and Rouen - a distance of 205km - in just under 1hr 40 mins, the equivalent of driving from Sheffield to the M25 in a similar time. It just couldn't be done in Britain any more, but in France, you can do it without even breaking the speed limit.

The overwhelming impression - from driving anyplace or simply from looking across the fields from the garden of our cottage - is that this is a country with a lot of that precious commodity, space.

You can get Radio Four longwave over here too, so we have been listening in each morning to catch up on the news from home and to express mild disappointment if not surprise that neither Prescott nor Blair have resigned yet.

In fact all the stories in our first week over here were about something else entirely - the influx of Eastern European immigrants into the UK, and Ruth Kelly's big speech, echoing john Reid, echoing Michael Howard, confirming that it is no longer "racist" to want to have a debate about immigration.

Personally, I think the Government has been pretty shameless in reaching this position, giving its denigration of Howard over the immigration issue during last year's election campaign, but nevertheless, it is the right one.

The debate about how many more people we should allow into the UK is no longer about race. It is about infrastructure, about space.

We are an overcrowded island. I have, increasingly, come to the reluctant conclusion that continued large scale inward migration into Britain, which may be desirable for all sorts of social, cultural and economic reasons, can only be achieved at further massive cost to our environment, to those remnants of rural life that remain.

Doubtless in some eyes to express sentiments such as these will make me a reactionary old Tory, one of those misty-eyed Daily Telegraph readers who wish the country was still as it was during the 1950s.

But what you get when you come to France - with a similar population to the UK's, but about four times the area - is a glimpse of a rural idyll of a much older vintage, the lost England of Thomas Hardy, of Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie before the coming of the roads.

Is it so very wrong to want to preserve at least some of that back home?

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Jimbo Jones said...

It is amazing the sudden swing in media and public opinion on this issue. I wonder how much last year's tory election campaign has created this effect or whether this is just people hearing polich being spoken in the high street and the terror threats and have jumped to their own conclusions.

David Gladwin said...

Immigration is like drug abuse. It's going to happen, so you can either have the legal, regulated sort, or the illegal variety involving criminal gangs and international terrorists.

MorrisOx said...

Paul, what you glimpse in France is partly the CAP at work.
That's no criticism - personally, I think the French have been magnificently selfish.
As for the clear autoroutes...time we had a bit more 'peage' over here.
But a very bucolic picture you painted, I must say. Pass the pastis...

skipper said...

Like you, I have very reluctantly come to the same conclusion over immigration. People like Frank Field and even Polly Toynbee on this issue have to be taken seriously when they urge the same thing. And the same goes for multiculturalism too.