The Right’s demographic anxiety

Racial anxieties are moving from the online far right to mainstream politics.

The results of the 2021 census are due to be released in May, but we are already seeing numerous right wing columnists displaying demographic anxiety about the UK’s low birth rate, despite supporting the policies that have resulted in this demographic decline for the last 50 years.

Not that we need to wait for the census data to see how the UK’s demographics are changing. The ONS releases data every year on things like the number of live births, which have been falling over time, and the nationalities of the mothers of newborn children. In 2020, about 29.3% of children were born to a mother born in another country.

There is evidence however, that the repressive immigration policies of successive governments and Brexit are making the UK a less attractive place to settle. The number of non-British nationals in the UK seems to actually be beginning to decline, according to ONS data.

James Kirkup in the Times says the costs of childcare are too high, but fails to specifically mention the cost of housing in his article, a point which commenters below the article picked up on. Kirkup says that an ageing population will only cater to the interests of the old, but that’s the society we already live in.

Writer Jonathan Portes noted that the article also failed to mention “the most anti-child, anti-family policy ever introduced by a UK government: the two-child limit in Universal Credit.” 

Poverty is another obvious factor in the decline in births. About 20% of people in the UK are in relative poverty (60% or less of the median national wage) according to a 2021 government report which notes that “poverty rates are highest for people in households where the head of the household is from the Pakistani or Bangladeshi ethnic groups and lowest for those from White ethnic groups.” 

Of course, the government has no reason to build social housing. Following the 2015 election, Nick Clegg even accused Chancellor George Osborne of not wanting to build social housing because it would “produce more Labour voters”. We are trapped in a political death spiral, where the Conservative Party stays in power by economically punishing the young in order to buy off their older voters and increase the value of their assets, especially housing.

Another right wing hack even more obsessed with the lack of procreation happening is Tom Harwood who says we need to have more babies in order to ‘Save the West’ from… uh… well, nevermind about that!

Tim Stanley, author of the ‘We must have as many babies as possible’ article in the Telegraph, is also highly concerned about the lack of babies other people are having. The obvious response to this kind of thing is simply ‘you first, Tim’. Boris Johnson, although he is trying, cannot repopulate Britain on his own.

The Social Market Foundation (SMF) also published a report in September 2021 which said Britain is facing a “baby shortage” that could lead to “long-term economic stagnation”. The SMF’s former director Danny Finkelstein once worked for John Major and the SMF was once described as ‘Major’s favourite think tank’ by the Financial Times. However, both Tory and Labour MPs consider the SMF as an influential think tank.

At one end of this trend is a demographic anxiety, concerned about the young not having enough children from an economic point of view, as covered by the SMF. At the other end, there’s a clear racial anxiety which at its extreme merges with the ‘great replacement theory’ promoted by online white supremacists. 

The idea that declining birthrates mean white people will be ‘replaced’ by immigrants has been gaining hold in online spaces for a decade, where white supremacists use it as a recruitment tool to push nativist, misogynistic messages. It was prominently discussed in the manifesto of the New Zealand mosque attacker who killed 51 people in 2019.

In France, where the ‘grand remplacement’ theory began, the idea is now seeping into mainstream discourse, where both far right Presidential candidate Eric Zemmour, and now centre right candidate Valérie Pecresse have used the concept.

The softer end of the spectrum is the laundering of these racial anxieties into articles in ‘respectable’ media like the BBC, Spectator and Mail Online.

It’s also the same kind of demographic anxiety present in Douglas Murray’s The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam (2017). Hannah Rose Woods, writing in the New Statesman, calls this anxiety a form of natalism, where largely men are telling women that they aren’t having enough babies.

To some extent these anxieties seem like a form of Future Shock. In the 1960s, Alvin Toffler wrote the bestseller ‘Future Shock’ about a society that was going through rapid technological changes, where people experienced a perception of “too much change in too short a period of time”. Racial anxieties seem similar to this to me, produced by the accelerating cultural globalisation of the late 20th century..

In last weekend’s newsletter I wrote about the demographic changes that took place in Spalding, Lincolnshire, one of the highest Brexit voting areas and safest Tory seat in the country. For people unused to rapid change, the influx of immigration produced a kind of future shock that was then directed into anti-immigration sentiment.

There’s no real reason that we need to have lots of babies to support older cohorts of the population. People react to economic pressures by doing things like having less children. The economic conditions created by modern capitalism and the inequality and austerity that it brought have signalled to people to have fewer children, and here we are.

Enoch Powell and his ilk have been promising that white people will be a minority in the UK any day now since the 1960s. Yet white people still make up 85% of the population, so it seems pretty unlikely to me that melanin deficient British people are going anywhere any time soon. 

If policymakers and columnists want people to have more kids, they should call for more social housing and pay rises. But if what they really want is for white people to have more kids, then they should get breeding themselves if they’re so concerned about it.

John Lubbock leads on the Right-Watch project at Left Foot Forward

Amendment: 22/02/2022, we have made the following changes to the article. The SMF is concerned with falling birthrates from an economic stand point and we do not want to suggest its motivated by racial anxiety. James Kirkup’s article, while it did not specifically mention housing, did mention asset values, which could include housing. The SMF think tank is considered influential by both Labour and Conservative MPs

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