Watching David Coleman
The co-founder of Migration Watch wishes to persuade us he is the victim of a smear campaign. But what about his views on eugenics?
Oxford university students have challenged demography Professor David Coleman. Coleman is co-founder of the anti-immigration pressure group Migration Watch, and a long-term member and sometime office-holder in the Eugenics Society and its successor the Galton Institute(thus renamed because the word eugenics, unsurprisingly, shocks).
Coleman’s figures on the many millions of immigrants who might come to Britain are catchy, clever PR stuff. They are, of course, gleefully picked up by the British National Party and by the tabloids. The BNP’s website, to “end on a cheery note”, refers to “our friends at the immigration-reform think tank Migration Watch” and describes Coleman as “a very distinguished demographer whom we trust”. Migration Watch also penetrates into more respectable parts of the media. Both Coleman and his co-founder Sir Andrew Green make frequent appearances in the media, including the BBC. Green was even one of three “expert witnesses” to a parliamentary investigation into the removal of asylum seekers.
The students’ aim is to bring out into the open the nature of Coleman’s opinions. Coleman, until their intervention, did not refer to his membership of the Galton Institute in his media appearances on immigration. The Migration Watch website contains no mention of eugenics or its founder, Sir Francis Galton.
The students have succeeded, partly, in flushing out Coleman’s allegiance to eugenics. Several newspapers have published articles about Colemen which mention the “e” word. But various members of the Oxford establishment and most of the media have come down heavily on the students’ supposed witchhunt and failure to respect the “eminent” professor’s right to hold and express his opinions. They cry free speech, as if that principle overrode issues of human rights and morality. (In any case, if there is an issue of free speech, it is arguably more to do with the suppression by some newspapers, advised by their lawyers, of the students’ and others’ references to eugenics; the libel laws are the real enemies of free speech.)
But, so far, the nature of Coleman’s allegiance to eugenics remains unclear. Coleman has been given a page in the Daily Telegraph to defend himself. He claimed that the Galton Institute is quite harmless and decried the “Continental excesses” in eugenics (Hitler, one supposes). He also told Cherwell, the Oxford student newspaper, that: “There are some aspects of eugenics that are regularly practised by the medical profession today, for example the abortion of foetuses that show signs of severe disability. Other aspects are deplorable.”
But Coleman has not yet, for example, responded to David Aaronovitch’sinvitation to him to disown the Galton Institute, nor has Coleman told us whether he subscribes to Sir Francis Galton’s definition of eugenics as the “science of improving stock – not only by judicious mating, but whatever tends to give the more suitable races or strains of blood a better chance of prevailing over the less suitable than they otherwise would have had”, or to Galton’s argument that democracies “must in self-defence withstand the free introduction of degenerate stock”.
Perhaps, when we do more research, we shall be able to find out. Meanwhile, we are reduced to surmising from a couple of juxtapositions.
First, we know that: a) Coleman is a eugenicist; and b) he is against immigration. He is, of course, in the company of many supporters of immigration controls who would not consider themselves racists (although many of us believe that immigration controls are inherently racist, and explicable only by racism). But the likelihood is that Coleman’s opposition to immigration is driven by a more extreme and conscious desire than is the case with most people to preserve some kind of notional purity of British stock.
Second, as Coleman points out with pride, one of the Galton Institute’s main programmes is to help Ethiopians to have fewer babies. At the same time, Coleman argues, in an article in the Galton Institute newsletter of March 2001, that European women should be helped to have more babies: “The root cause of excessive population ageing is very low birth-rates. An effective response must make the workplace, the tax and welfare system and gender relations as a whole more favourable to women, so they can fulfil ambitions, repeatedly stated, to have more than one child.” This chimes with a classic argument of the eugenicists: “better” stock should have more babies, “worse” stock should have fewer.
As for Sir Andrew Green, he says he has no problems with Polish immigration; it is immigration from the “distant cultures” of Asia and Africa that he is against. So much for overcrowding in this “small island”.
Coleman cites an article he wrote with the erstwhile progressive economist Bob Rowthorn in the Population and Development Review of December 2004. In it, they try to knock down the strawman that the British establishment wants mass immigration, by saying that its benefits for the British economy and public finances, though they exist, are exaggerated. The giveaway is in the conclusion. After 31 pages of statistics and economic argument, they say the “more important effects” of mass immigration would be “new and intractable social divisions and a corresponding weakening of national identity and cohesion, with the prospect of an eventual eclipse of the population receiving the migrants and of its culture”.
For different reasons, I, too, think it is wrong to argue for or against immigration controls on the basis of the economic self-interest of the rich countries. Such arguments carry little more moral justification than the arguments of the racists.
But, as far as I know, Coleman and Green never refer to what I believe are the real problem of immigration controls: the suffering, deaths and human rights abuses which are the consequence of governments’ attempts to stop the movement of people. They presumably believe that this is a price worth paying for the preservation of British “national identity and cohesion”. In the case of the government and other more liberal, well-meaning people, it is hard to see exactly what they think justifies the levels of brutality and inhumanity that characterise the escalating repression involved in trying to enforce immigration controls – apart, of course, from the wish to appease the racism and xenophobia drummed up by Migration Watch and their likes.
The problem with migration, if there is one, is that much of it is not free, but forced – by the actions of the rich countries the migrants go to. If the British and other governments genuinely believed that immigration was a problem, there would be things they could do, or not do, which would be more humane and possibly less expensive: they could refrain from invading other countries, stop supplying weapons to the participants in civil conflicts, to repressive regimes or anybody else, stop imposing cuts in public spending to raise money to service an unjust foreign debt, and stop stealing other countries’ wealth.
And immigration controls could be consigned to the dustbin of history, as a cruel 20th-century aberration.