Free Movement turned 11 last week. The actual anniversary is 7 March (now that I have two actual children whose birthdays I need to remember, it’s harder to keep track of the blog’s).
I sometimes do a bit of a retrospective on the growth of the blog since then and my future plans for it. But I’ve recently done a Review of 2017 and look ahead to 2018, as well as a lengthy post setting out plans in response to feedback in the reader survey, so it’s probably not the time for extended navel-gazing. I’ll leave it at the observation that the blog is now on 12.2 million page views, which is roughly 12.2 million more than I ever expected when I started out.
But it’s also interesting to look back on the very first post I ever wrote on the blog (anonymously, at that time). In some ways, the world was not so different in March 2007: conflict in Somalia and the Congo, protests targeting the US President, England losing at cricket. In others, it seems like a bygone era: the Sri Lankan government was still fighting the Tamil Tigers, you could smoke in pubs and restaurants, and the Labour Party was firmly in power.
There is a tendency to see in Brexit an unprecedented outbreak of xenophobia. But the language used by the Labour government of the day about migrants was, if anything, worse than our current crop of politicians. The subject of that inaugural post was an immigration “crackdown” by the Home Secretary, Dr John Reid, accompanied by the following quote:
It is unfair that foreigners come to this country illegitimately and steal our benefits, steal our services like the NHS and undermine the minimum wage by working.
Whatever one thinks of our incumbent Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, you would never catch her complaining in so many words about immigrants coming over here to steal our benefits. And whatever one thinks of the current Labour opposition, it is impossible to imagine Diane Abbott boasting that “we are now throwing out more asylum seekers — failed asylum seekers — than ever before”, as her Labour predecessor did.
Am I being too sanguine? Possibly. There’s still plenty of toxic rhetoric around today, of course, and I don’t seek to downplay or excuse it. But on birthdays, you look for something to celebrate.