The plot thickens around “Neathergate” (as no one is calling it yet). As the Telegraph reports:

Opponents of immigration could be racist, warned advisers a decade ago

People opposed to immigration in to Britain could be influenced by racism, a previously unseen Government paper signalled.

The draft paper, drawn up for the Home Office, said “anti-immigrant sentiment is closely correlated with racism” but the message was removed when the document was finally published, fuelling suggestions it was considered too sensitive a point to make. It was contained in an early version of an analysis of the impact of immigration on the UK first written in 2000 and published the following year.

Labour has now claimed the “it’s not racist to talk about immigration” line as its own, in true Stalinist fashion, despite being the ones to throw that slur at anyone who ever dissented over these past dozen years. But what especially interests me is this:

The latest draft to be unearthed said: “Recent research shows that anti-immigrant sentiment is closely correlated with racism rather than economic motives.

“Education and people’s personal exposure to migrants make them less likely to be anti-migrant.

“The most negative attitudes are found among those who have relatively little direct contact with migrants, but see them as a threat.”

It said it was “correct that public opinion favours relatively restrictive policies on immigration” and advised ministers to adopt a “clear strategy for public opinion and public debate” to change views – but they were removed from the published version.

Of course anti-immigration sentiment may be motivated by racism – it certainly is in some cases – just as anti-bankers’ bonuses sentiment may be motivated by envy, or anti-socialist sentiment by greed. But to suggest that any of these arguments are therefore invalid because some of their supporters are secretly motivated by dark motives is a logical fallacy.

So is the belief that hostility to immigration is correlated to a lack of education. Poor people may be more hostile to immigration, because they bear all its costs, but even then they’re often not: the white working class are more likely to intermarry than any other group in Britain, apart from African-Caribbeans. Likewise, anti-social or violent individuals may show more hostility and aggression towards members of other groups – but they also show more violence towards members of their own group as well. This does not mean there is any corrollation between anti-social, violent behaviour and hostility to diversity, or that diversity makes people less anti-social.

People’s exposure to migrants may make them less hostile to migrants where friendships are formed, but otherwise the increasing diversity of an area will, in fact, make more people more hostile and distrusting to all their neighbours. Sometimes what the political class call “racism” is racism; sometimes it’s just a recognition that large-scale immigration can unsettle an area, what Robert Putnam found about the downside of diversity:

Across local areas in the United States, Australia, Sweden, Canada and Britain, greater ethnic diversity is associated with lower social trust and, at least in some cases, lower investment in public goods… immigration and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital… People living in ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ – that is, to pull in like a turtle.

Diversity has diverse consequences, and many people had social as well as economic reasons for opposing it. But the Government’s “clear strategy for public opinion and public debate” to counter this feeling was to shout “racism” at anyone who objected, even when opinion polls showed black and Asian Britons hostile to high levels of immigration.

But Whitehall officials were obviously too unsure of their own arguments to stand up this allegation of racism in public. Instead, the final document published in 2001 had all Labour’s hidden “social” motives taken out, and merely argued for the economic, rather than social, benefits of mass immigration.

But, as the House of Lords found in its 2007/2008 report, those economic benefits are virtually non-existent.