On 23 January 2014 the Oxford Union conducted a debate with the motion This House Believes postwar Britain has seen too much immigration.
One of the speakers in opposition to the motion was Baron Singh, a prominent Sikh and a distinguished commentator on a range of issues. His habitual media of commentary are print and broadcast journalism, so I was interested to see whether he had developed an equivalent level of accomplishment in public speaking.
The answer is apparently no. He may be able to deliver brilliant speeches, but he is not doing so here. What we see him doing here is trying to replace speaking skill by becoming in the most real and literal sense a Talking Head. He has written an article for us, and now he is reading it aloud. This is not a speech: this is a reading. The degree to which this lamentable practice is widespread among those thinking they are making speeches, doesn’t make it any better,
It is a pity, because what he could bring to this debate is important. Let us therefore turn to that.
Debates by definition tend to polarise opinions, and when seeing the motion I feared lest it descend into one side saying that a portcullis should immediately drop and prevent all further immigration, or – even worse – that the other side should wrongly accuse them of saying that. Worse than either would be accusations of what the other side really thinks, regardless of what they say. That really is the most scurrilous variety of argument ad hominem. I have already heard most of the speeches, this blog will cover some of them, and I am pleased to say that in the main it stays above that.
Singh however, does say, at 7:17, “The motion, suggesting that we close the door on immigration, …” Does it? Cast your eye back to my first paragraph for your answer.
At 5:40 he says, “Uncontrolled immigration can lead to social indigestion”. He also speaks of areas in a country being “burdened” with too much immigration. That being as fierce a position as we get from his opponents, we might wonder which side of the argument he takes. Could we be witnessing the result of sloppy thinking? With that in mind, consider that from 6:40 he calls for some enforceable international migration agreement that takes into account –
- Relative national prosperity
- Level of unemployment in the receiving country
- Gradient of economic disparity between countries
- Dearth or excess of relevant skills
Forgive me, but are not 2 and 4 very similar? And are not 1 and 3 essentially identical? And if so, do not symptoms of sloppy thinking abound?
I’m sorry, but Baron Singh did not distinguish himself here.