Bringing welfare and immigration policy together.

Author:Somerville, Will

The British Dream

David Goodhart


Europe's Immigration Challenge: Reconciling Work, Welfare and Mobility

Edited by Elena Jurado and Grete Brochmann


For readers who take an interest in migration and identity debates, David Goodhart's The British Dream is fascinating and important. It's fascinating because in debates and newspaper articles Goodhart, who until recently edited Prospect and is now Director of the think tank Demos, often appears to brief against his own book (1), which is a more nuanced and balanced exploration of immigration and its consequences than one might expect. It's important because Goodhart sets out arguments that deserve debate and poses questions that challenge entrenched views.

The book is in essence an articulation of what a sensible centre-right position might look like. It takes a broadly centrist argument for limited immigration, embedded national citizen preference, and strong integration impulses, and marries it to a reduction in the power of individual rights and a plea for stronger national identities that celebrate a robust historical British identity. The book is enjoyable, reasonably fair-handed, and will open up ideas and debates to a wider, politically engaged audience. Overall, though, it may work better as a series of essays on a theme rather than the evidence-based tract it sometimes wants to be.

Goodhart is a journalist, not an academic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the book crackles into life in pursuit of a story or reporting from the streets of Bradford or Merton. He never knowingly pulls a punch and the text is superbly written and very engaging. The book is weaker when Goodhart attempts to rehearse, explain, and challenge academic and policy literature. The weakness comes from the choice of style and from depth of knowledge. On the first point, the author invites himself into many of the debates--he is the ever-present narrator and often writes intimately--but he also promotes views couched in 'neutral' reportage or 'consensus' academic research. The methodology behind the book is investigative reporting masquerading as policy academia. Second, he brings together arguments and evidence that range across academic disciplines and vast swathes of literatures (economics, philosophy, sociology and political science). It is a brave attempt but the academic reader might feel a strong sense of dissonance at the selective use of evidence and the lack of a consistent interrogation of the disciplinary foundations of views expressed. Frequently, strongly argued positions are contradicted by other passages (argued with equal conviction, often with personal anecdotes), leaving the reader unmoored.

Two examples may help illustrate the point. In the introduction and opening chapter, Goodhart skips through philosophical theories of justice as they relate to migration, seeking to critique the liberal left for an over-emphasis on universalist conceptions of justice and make the case for sovereignty-bounded justice. He starts by reporting on a conversation between a senior mandarin and a senior media executive over dinner in Oxford (with Goodhart, naturally). In conversation, they both suggest they owe more to a citizen of Burundi than to a citizen of Birmingham (2). Goodhart then shifts quickly to an assessment of the vast literature on the economics of migration, concluding that it brings no benefit to citizens and harms the working classes, making the point that immigration of recent years has neither a rationale of moral justice nor economic efficiency. But in both his discussion of theories of justice, and of debates over the distribution of economic benefits from migration, Goodhart is selective in the academic literature he cites.

Goodhart quotes Michael Dummett and human rights lawyers on one side of the open borders debate and Michael Walzer on the other. He misses out Joseph Carens...

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