Friday, January 26, 2007

Snow thoughts from Abroad

I am waiting in a snowy Tallinn Airport waiting for my flight back to London.

As always, fun to spend time in the Estonian Capital, meeting with old friends and working on some interesting transactions. The construction boom is continuing apace, although more and more people are reporting a shortage of construction workers. Salaries are increasing, but clearly not fast enough to attract returnees from Finland, Norway or the UK in sufficient numbers to fill the gaps.

In general, though the Estonians regard a period overseas as a necessary part of any career. Gaining experience overseas and speaking English are not seen as optional - even for tradespeople- in this highly educated country. The assumption persists here that the time spent overseas though is not indefinite. Certainly there has been a turnover of people- with the average stay away being about 3 years.

With other countries, the flow has been a little less balanced, and in larger numbers too. However, even amongst the Poles and the Lithuanians, the countries that have seen the largest percentage migration, there has been considerable turnover. In the UK, there have been an estimated 600,000 Poles arriving in the UK since Poland joined the EU in 2004. However there is nothing like this number present in the UK now. Despite this we have seen small communities of Poles emerging in widely scattered places across the UK- and unlike many other groups who tend to settle solely in the larger British conurbations. Although the majority of the people in these communities will return to their homeland, it has been interesting to see the way that the communities have developed and it is probably true to say that some, through marriage or inertia will settle permanently in the UK.

As we saw from the recent story of a Yorkshireman with West African genes: "twas ever thus". Our islands have received many migrations over the years: Huguenots, Flemings, Danes, East African Asians and many other groups have come and eventually become assimilated. Indeed so it was with the wartime Poles: including my Great Uncle Wadek who fought in the RAF.

In the long term, this generation of Poles or Lithuanians who settle in the UK will assimilate too. In the short term, they may have some distinct political impact. Those that vote, (and all EU citizens are permitted to vote in local- including the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly- and European elections, though not for Westminster) tend not to be pro-Labour, whose colour scheme is too close to that of the despised Communist rulers of the past. The influence of the Roman church also remains powerful amongst Poles and to a lesser extent Lithuanians, and this tends to reinforce Conservative thinking. That being said the many and growing scandals besetting the Church in Poland have driven church attendance down, even in the "most faithful daughter of the church". Furthermore, people who choose to come to the UK tend to be more "Royalist than the King"- and resent those drippy creeps in local councils who abolish the Union Jack in order "not offend anyone". Almost by definition anyone who has the get up and go to relocate to a new country is a hard working self starter, and they resent as much as anyone the dependency culture of welfare addicts which drives up their tax bills.

So, on balance many immigrants are economically Liberal but quite often socially Conservative. Of course, it depends on the country of origin: Estonians tend to be socially more Liberal, Bulgarians less intolerant of the "Socialist" label. Another factor to consider is the voter participation rates for immigrant workers tend to be very low, so any effect is likely to be fairly marginal. Nevertheless at the last election the "ten Liberal points" were printed in Polish as well as a variety of other languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Chinese, Portuguese and about a dozen more on some leaflets. It will count in some places.

As a sit in the lounge I ponder: how diverse the UK is, and to a great extent it always was. Though in recent years the number and range of countries of origin of people in the UK has grown, Britain has always welcomed the world. We remain cosmopolitan, and it is one of our greatest strengths.


mel said...

And, Cicero, imagine this irony: our Polish, Lithuanian and other CEE friends gives Scotland its thanks for helping to set them free 15-18 years ago by helping Scotland to regain its independence. That would be sweet, and just, even if ironic...

Anonymous said...

Cicero if even half or being really conservative a third of the Poles remain that is a massive number. Noinetheless they are by word for hard work and industry, despite the barbs from their PM I certainly didn't recognise his description. But I raised a point twice with refernce to the Cold war and America's immigrant communities of the way it binds us to Poland and other places but Poland especially. Perhaps you can address a) The leadership opportunities for this country with these new ties and b) How Poles etc view us. Ironic that many decades ago France was the natural place to look for mitteleuropa and now it is us, We certainly won't tell them to shut up, but I do wonder how favourably they view us I think.


Anonymous said...

How do they view "us"?: Ask a Polish builder and he will think that we have been very patient to the point of unbelieveable indulgence with local laziness and corner cutting. But then, all these Anglo Saxons were all immigrants themselves (who didn't go back home, not even when the French arrived).

Cicero said...

Lepidus- I don't think a third will remain for ever- I just think thay are just staying longer- they are different from the short term work visitors.

Anecdotally, it does seem that Polish-British relations both on the ground here and internationally are pretty good. It is not only the idiocy of Chirac that has hurt France- it is also the fact that the English Language is so widespread (and indeed necessary).

The difference in work ethic though, is noted- and it has been the creation of Polish owned businesses to exploit British laziness and fill the gaps that it creates that has extended the stay of many Polish and other CEE individuals. As I have often said- if there was no need then the CEE work visitors would not be coming.