Book of the week : Strangers and friction

28th May 2004 at 01:00

Bloody Foreigners: the story of immigration to Britain
By Robert Winder
Little, Brown pound;20

Immigrants, as Robert Winder points out in this thought-provoking survey, are the less welcome flip-side of the intrepid, pioneering emigrants. We can deplore the famines or the land clearances that forced British emigrants to seek a new life overseas, and we can admire their courage, but you wonder about the reaction when they arrived in the United States or Australia: "I don't know, they come over here, taking our jobs, stinking the place out with their pie and chips"

Winder even imagines Norman Tebbitt as an immigrant in South Africa (and probably failing his own cricket test).

The whole point about immigration is that people don't usually choose to pack up everything and leave: it is forced upon them by events that could happen to any of us.

It's a sobering thought. It's hard to recall, with newspapers whipping up public hysteria about asylum seekers and the British National Party recruiting at the school gate and even in the staffroom, but the British used to take some pride in having opened their doors to those fleeing persecution abroad.

Sean Lang is research fellow in history at Anglia Polytechnic University and honorary secretary of the Historical Association nbsp;nbsp;nbsp;

Read Sean's review in full in this week's TES Friday magazine

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