It’s not often that a religious leader goes beyond platitudes and says something that is relevant. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, wrote yesterday in House magazine that British families are “entitled to fear the impact that enormous numbers of migrants will have on jobs, housing and health care.”
It’s the fear of impact on jobs mainly — particularly these days when the bulk of jobs are becoming increasingly down-skilled and thus able to be done by agricultural immigrants with few modern skills. Fear of impact on jobs — and thus ability to earn money for food, etc — is exactly the same as the fear of early hunter-gatherer tribes about losing their land — their only guarantee of food — when another tribe approached too closely.
The fear is strong and permanent enough to be called an instinct — so universal in all cultures it is, and so comprehensive it is at all social levels within every culture, whether of highly sophisticated professional institutions at the top or crude trade unions at the bottom.
But it’s also about tribally protected culture as well as tribally protected jobs. In post-industrial times most income-earners have now reverted to hunter-gatherer daily patterns in which we spend as much time and effort in leisure pursuits as in working. When faced with massive immigration from the outside, the way an indigenous culture might lose its own local ways of socializing and relaxing is as disturbing as the jobs issue.
It’s actually the cultural part of the problem that Archbishop Welby didn’t mention. As he must spend most of his time thinking of how Church of England churches can recover the congregations of the past — particularly of young people — but getting nowhere — the matter of cultural change must be a sensitive spot for him. “M’mm . . . I’d better not mention that aspect . . . !”