After a decade of immigration, whose results can be seen in the extraordinary census figures. Labour has certainly been successful in changing the demographics. You only have to go to a primary school in inner London to see the impact. And they were right to think that this immense change would produce a backlash. There was an ululating why-o-why piece in one of the Sunday newspapers, under the headline “Alien Nation” – as though the country has been taken over by dolichocephalic space monsters with fangs. The author complained that the people of this country no longer have anything in common – no common religion, no history, no jokes, not even a shared language. Islam was on the verge of replacing Christianity as the official state religion, he said, and he was altogether very glum about this country and its future.
For the last four or five years, I have officiated at citizenship ceremonies for people from all over the planet, and it never ceases to amaze me that everyone wants to have their photo taken next to the image of the Queen. I have no doubt that there are plenty of scroungers and fraudsters out there, but in my experience what immigrants want the most is acceptance, and the chance to show their commitment to the society that has given them freedom and hope.
So we need to stop moaning about the damburst. It’s happened. There is nothing we can now do except make the process of absorption as eupeptic as possible. What matters is not the colour of your skin or the religion of your great-grandfather. It’s whether you speak English; whether you have a loyalty – a love – for the country that has adopted you.
We live in a society with high taxes and very generous benefits; and people will not support either if they feel they have nothing in common with the beneficiaries. So we need things that breed esprit de corps, a feeling of community, shared experiences. The Jubilee was great. The Olympics and Paralympics were fantastic. Then I might mention one other thing that all human beings share, in addition to a love of tradition and sport, and that is food.
Over the last four years, Rosie Boycott has been running an astonishing programme called Capital Growth. She has created 2,012 new growing spaces for food – in skips and along canals and in the centre of roundabouts, and she has unlocked the love of gardening that has united humanity since we were expelled from Eden. The scheme has been especially successful not just in the leafy suburbs, but in the more deprived inner London areas, where immigrant families – especially women – are engaged in an activity that brings them into contact with others for the first time.
Some of the growing spaces have morphed into small businesses, and about 750 of the volunteer gardeners have gone into jobs in the food sector. So far, the Capital Growth scheme has raised crops on 124 acres of disused land, and inspired 98,000 people to get digging and planting, and 71 per cent of them say that they have made new friends as a result.
London now has more urban agriculture than any city in the world, with the possible exception of Havana. Across a capital that boasts 300 languages, people are coming together to make a physical investment in the soil. If you want to get people to put down roots, then you might as well encourage them to plant carrots – and to do it together. Carrots, by the way: they originally came from Afghanistan and didn’t really arrive on British plates (at least in their orange form) until the 18th century. Kick ’em out, would you?