What Happened When We Tried to Debate Immigration

Matthew Goodwin and Eric Kaufmann in Quillette:

Immigration and diversity politics dominate our political and public debates. Disagreements about these issues lie behind the rise of populist politics on the left and the right, as well as the growing polarization of our societies more widely. Unless we find a way of side-stepping the extremes and debating these issues in an evidence-led, analytical way then the moderate, pluralistic middle will buckle and give way.

This is why, as two university professors who work on these issues, we decided to help organize and join a public debate about immigration and ethnic change. The debate, held in London on December 6, was a great success, featuring a nuanced and evidence-based discussion attended by 400 people. It was initially titled, “Is Rising Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?” This was certainly a provocative title, designed to draw in a large audience who might hold strong views on the topic but who would nonetheless be exposed to a moderated and evidence-led debate. Though we would later change the title, we couldn’t escape its powerful logic: On the night itself, we repeatedly returned to this phrasing because it is the clearest way of distinguishing competing positions.

Aside from ourselves, two university professors who between us have researched the issue for decades, the panel included Trevor Philips, the former Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (who is of African-Caribbean heritage), and David Aaronovitch, a liberal columnist at The Times. The debate was chaired by Claire Fox and co-sponsored by the Academy of Ideas, founded to provide a “forum committed to open and robust public debate in which ideas can be interrogated,” and the online magazine UnHerd, which aims to draw attention to stories and ideas that do not usually get covered in the mainstream media.

As soon as the title of the event was published it provoked a strong backlash. Rather than a genuine debate, it was interpreted as an open attack on immigrants and minorities.

More here.

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