The London Conference on Intelligence, an annual gathering of pseudo-academics interested in eugenics, is tempting to pass off as a fringe event. Its attendees range from Richard Lynn, who has advocated the “phasing out” of the “populations of incompetent cultures,” to Emil Kirkegaard, who has suggested paeodphiles should be allowed to have “sex with a sleeping child,” to Toby Young, the oh-so-brief Director of the Office for Students, forced to resign over misogynistic and otherwise malicious tweets. Its host at UCL, James Thompson, has argued women are innately less intelligent than men, and suggested ethnicity is behind the racial wage gap. “However shit your schedule looks today,” Marina Hyde tweeted, “cherish yourself a little for the fact that you will never create the calendar event Secret Eugenics Conference.”
The London Conference on Intelligence is clearly home to a hive of weirdos. But eugenics itself is far from the fringe of British politics.
The history of eugenics at UCL has been well examined by its students, if not by the university itself. Francis Galton created a research position in ‘National Eugenics’ at UCL in 1904, hoping to legitimise the application of Darwin’s theories of natural selection to human society. To Galton, black people were “lazy, palavering savages,” “the Arab” was “a destroyer rather than a creator,” “the Hindoo” was inferior to “the Chinaman,” and Jews were “specialized for a parasitical existence upon other nations.” Galton aimed to bolster the purity of the British race: “good specimens” should be encouraged to reproduce, in the hope that “inadequate” working men, unable to compete, would eventually die out. On setting up the position at UCL, Galton asked that “the stamped official writing paper of the University may be used.” It was a bid for the university to legitimise his racism as academic study in exchange for an annual donation. UCL began to advertise for the post sixteen days later.
A century on, a member of the Galton Institute, David Coleman, a Professor of Demography at the University of Oxford, continues to make similar arguments. This is despite the fact that we now know beyond doubt that there is no scientific basis for Social Darwinism. As Adam Rutherford has said: “Any two people of recent African descent are likely to be more genetically distinct from each other than either of them is to anyone else in the world.” But racialised theories of ‘improving stock’ have not died out. Although quick to dismiss the “Continental excesses” of eugenics (by which he means the Holocaust), David Coleman has not been slow to produce research arguing for both increasing reproduction in Europe, and decreasing reproduction in Ethiopia. Academic framing is used both to disguise and to mobilise racism. The BNP describe Coleman as “a very distinguished demographer whom we trust,’ their “friend at the immigration-reform think tank Migration Watch.”
Migration Watch UK is an institution that David Coleman co-founded. It produces ‘research’ with the sole aim of scaremongering about immigration, and encouraging xenophobia. Unfortunately, it has seen much success. Migration Watch reported in 2002 that immigration would rise by two million within the decade and the government should renounce the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Following this, in 2004, Migration Watch suggested that migrants entering the UK should be tested for HIV (but conspicuously, not returning British travelers). Co-founder and ex-diplomat Andrew Green was later invited to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2008 (“Sir Andrew, welcome. Can I ask you a general question first of all because, obviously, you are a key commentator on these issues. Do you think we have too many immigrants in the United Kingdom?”). By 2011, Andrew Green was publicly petitioning the government “to take all necessary steps to get immigration down to a level that will stabilise our population.” The petition gained over 100,000 signatories.
Then in 2016, in the months leading up to the Brexit referendum, Migration Watch famously claimed that leaving the EU would reduce immigration by almost two thirds. On its website, it set out the problems that migration supposedly created in the UK while stating that leaving the EU would reduce migration by 100,000 people a year. In accessible FAQ format, we saw the numerical ‘burdens’ that immigrants caused on housing, children’s school places, employment and wages. Dubious statistics were broken down: “If net migration continues at the present scale we will need to build 135,000 homes a year just to house new migrants and their families, that is 370 a day or one every four minutes,” or “there are almost 700,000 children of school age (aged 5-18) in the UK who have a parent who is a citizen of another EU country. By 2018/19 (three academic years time) there will be a shortfall in primary school places in three out of every five local authorities. This means that many disappointed parents will not get their first choice of school for their children.”
Migration Watch poses as an impartial, academic institution, as Galton’s ‘National Eugenics’ did at UCL. Too often, it is accepted as impartial by the BBC and the press. But, as Ian Dunt has argued, it “doesn’t produce academic research. It produces whatever logical contortion is required to turn facts about immigrants into a weapon to beat them with. They’ll say anything, or ignore anything, in order to turn the UK’s political debate against migrants.” Sarah Mulley, author of an IPPR report on Migration Watch’s statistics, stated it needed to “go back to its statistics textbooks,” in 2010. But Migration Watch has no interest in academic investigation. It is part of a long, well-funded tradition of British racism, which seeks legitimacy only.
The eugenics of the early twentieth century attempted to prevent racial mixing and promote white supremacy, all under the guise of academic study. In the public debate over migration, it has found its home in the early twenty-first century. Migration Watch and its ilk have created a discourse that has allowed for MP David Davies to suggest we check the teeth of child refugees to decide whether we allow them entry; it has allowed for the UK government to maintain an explicitly ‘hostile environment’ for migrants already inside the UK. Trump may try to build a wall in Mexico but we have already built our own in Calais. As Teresa Hayter has argued, Migration Watch does not acknowledge the real problem of immigration controls: “the suffering, deaths and human rights abuses which are the consequence of governments’ attempts to stop the movement of people.” We must prevent Great British racism from winning the debate on immigration.