“Bloody immigrants…”

“Bloody immigrants, coming over here and stealing ‘our’ jobs…”
It was ever thus. And yet another immigrant has ‘stolen’ another job. This time, it was a rather big job: Mayor of London. But the new Mayor isn’t an immigrant at all.

Like me, he’s the son of immigrants, was born in London and is the product of colonial rule in the Jewel of the British Empire. While we may share a post-colonial identity and are members of the Labour Party, that’s where the similarity ends. He’s a practicing Muslim and I’m a non-practicing Hindu. He’s a lawyer-turned politician; I’m an academic.

What we are not is first, or is it second, generation immigrants. These terms try to entrench our outsiderness and suggest “you can never really be ‘one-of-us’”.

But we are British and we are one-of-you. So to see a mayor elected in London who is brown, not white, is my Obama moment – something I could not have imagined. And to top it all, the city where I choose to spend most of my time now, Bristol, elected a black mayor too.

A lot has been said about the negative campaign led by the incumbent Tory party in London. They used the new Mayor’s faith to imply all sorts of false claims about him, with our Prime Minister even joining in. The good people of London saw through this tawdry politics of division. Mind you, if the Tories had checked the population of London by ethnicity they would have realized it probably wasn’t a good idea.

But his opponent, Zach Goldsmith, is also the son of an immigrant – but not a poor Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, rather a very rich, Jewish immigrant, who fled the rise of fascism in Europe. The Mayor’s winning campaign saw no reason to mention Zach’s Jewish ancestry or that his sister’s children have a Muslim father. Why should they? It’s unimportant.

The more important story here then is that the son’s of two immigrant families, one fleeing religious persecution that ultimately led to ethnic cleansing, the other seeking a better life, one the son of a refugee and the other the son of economic migrants, were both candidates for the top job in London.

And this is a story we can all be proud of, but one that some, not only in this country but countries around the world, want to deny for future generations.

Migration, today, is necessary for our cultural, economic and political life. But people have always migrated; so it’s older, far older, than the idea of a nation state and the nationalism that comes with it.