We learn from history that man can never learn anything from history

It’s a bit un-nuanced to simply say “history repeats itself”. I’d be arguing with Marc Bloch (“it is impossible to find two events that are ever exactly alike, because the conditions from which they spring are never identical”) and Jacques Ellul (“any philosophy which asserts that human experience repeats itself is ineffectual”) for a start, which seems silly. I’d rather agree with good old Hegel, quoted in the title, because when things happen that echo events of the past, it doesn’t suffice to say “history repeats itself” – people are way more depressing than that.

I reflect on these things on the basis of this morning’s news of new research from UCL that EU migrants actually add to the British economy far more than they take out, to the tune of around £5 billion, as well as being generally better educated than the average Briton and serving as an essential prop to an NHS that couldn’t function without them. It’s good news for the economy of course, but also in that it provides a much-need foil to the current anti-immigration narrative. Unfortunately for most political parties, it flies in the face of the public image they’re presenting for themselves – tough on immigration, even tougher on immigrants. I include Labour in this, sadly, who seem to be bent on providing an opposition based on different coloured ties rather than different policies to the Tories or even UKIP.

We’ve always had consensus politics in this country, with minor interregna. A century or two ago and you’d find few voices in any positions of power dissenting from the general climate of capitalism. Some arch-Tories perhaps, the occasional Radical, but in general if it kept the economy flowing it was good. So it is today, with even fewer opposition voices. But in fundamental ontology, the two parliamentary parties had quite different outlooks. For the Tories, change was a scary thing, to be avoided if possible. They had admitted the principle of free trade, but generally if they didn’t like the sound of something new, no go. The Whigs were somewhat different – they were the party representing the Enlightment, rationalism, the embrace of change towards progress. While I can’t agree with much Liberal economic thought (although my own views would have been an anachronism 200 years ago), they at least embraced science and what research can add to society.

These days the Tories remain tory, alongside UKIP – their politics are reactionary, based on what feels like it must be true. If migrants are coming in to this country, surely they are taking British people’s jobs, surely they are draining the economy. I hope that others can stand up and point out the difference between what it feels like must be happening in your little corner of England, and what the truth of the matter is. I feel remarkably old-fashioned talking like this – truth is a tricky subject, and no doubt the UCL research is presented in a certain way to garner a certain impact. But I hope that at least some politicians will be able to stand up and argue with the horrible, xenophobic tendency that’s rearing its ugly head of late.

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