On the Today programme this morning the Conservative MP Stewart Jackson did something sadly characteristic of people who bang on about immigration: he called for an honest debate on the issue before proceeding immediately to distort it. The distortion was in the claim that during the last Labour government, England became the most densely populated country in Europe because of immigration.
This is an old canard that has been insufficiently challenged. The figures that Jackson refers to are contained in this Daily Telegraph report, which states that England’s population density reached 395 people per square kilometre in 2008. I’m going to take this figure on trust, because it’s clearly attributed to figures obtained from the Office of National Statistics in a Parliamentary answer. In any case, although this number sounds like a lot, it’s not the source of the problem.
What the Telegraph did next was claim that England had become the most densely populated nation in the European Union. Unfortunately it based this claim on figures that appear to have been made up. Here is the key sentence: “Latest figures from Holland show that its population density was 395 a square kilometre in 2002 and 393 in 2005.” This is significant because the Netherlands (as it’s known to grown-ups) has for a long time been the most densely populated country in Europe (this detail has led to an ugly debate on immigration across the North Sea and spawned such Multatuliesque antagonists as Geert Wilders, but that needn’t detain us here).
Fortunately the Dutch, being a fastidious people, keep detailed records of these trends and the true figures took about five minutes to track down. According to the government agency Statistics Netherlands, the population density was 475 per square kilometre in 2002 and 483 in 2005, or around 120% higher than the bogus figures cited in the Telegraph. For the record, Dutch population density hasn’t been as low as 395 since 1972. Since reaching that level the country has largely prospered, and its current economic woes, as with the rest of the Eurozone, have mainly been caused by the failures of well-educated indigenous white men working in banks.
Anti-immigration campaigners often complain that they are unable to debate the issue because their concerns are dismissed as racist. I agree that such crass labelling misses the real issue. Because as Stewart Jackson demonstrated, there is a far more pressing need to dismiss their concerns as factually malnourished, alarmist crap.
Correction: This post originally attributed the comments made by Stewart Jackson to his fellow Conservative MP Rory Stewart. This was a case of mistaken identity for which I apologise.