Nick Clegg’s illiberal hat-trick: now immigration joins ‘secret courts’ and media regulation on the pyre

nick cleggToday Nick Clegg made a speech on immigration. He was due to deliver it in February but decided to delay it until after the Eastleigh by-election: I guess it wasn’t an issue he wanted to stir-up for Ukip’s benefit. Or perhaps he realised that his position would be as well-received by many activists as a bucket of cold sick.

I have read it all the way through, which is more than it deserved. It’s a lazy, lazy speech. It genuflects in the direction of liberalism with some stirring phrases…

… if every member of an immigrant community suddenly downed tools, countless businesses and services would suffer. The NHS would fall over. And in a globalised economy, where talent is as mobile as capital. No nation can succeed by pulling up the drawbridge.

… before justifying the Coalition’s decision to pull up the drawbridge. “But don’t worry, it’s only been pulled up a bit,” Nick adds. (Actually he doesn’t, but it would be more honest.)

Having stated his clear personal and political belief in the benefits of immigration Nick then makes equally clear that he is personally and politically committed to halting those benefits in the future:

We are bringing immigration under control, and I will explain how.

The rest of the speech is a meander through the jumbled collection of policies which comprise the Coalition’s immigration policies. Tory illiberalism sits side-by-side with Lib Dem illiberalism, ‘but already it was impossible to say which was which’.

Think that’s unfair? Well, let’s quote Nick:

The immigration system must command public confidence. Since we came into government, net migration has fallen by a third. We’ve limited immigration from outside Europe. And within the EU, we have kept the transitional limits on Romania and Bulgaria, until the point where every member state has to remove them.

I expect that kind of litany from David Cameron or Theresa May. I don’t expect it from a liberal politician.

Much of Nick Clegg’s speech is dedicated to the managerialist aim of fixing the system. Once we’ve got a system that lets in the “good” immigrants and keeps out the “bad” immigrants, he seems to reckon everyone will be satisfied. Yet he must know that there’s no reasoning with papers like the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun and Daily Star, which will continue to peddle their xenophobic half-truths no matter what the true facts.

There are two policy ideas in the speech. Both are bad.

The first — ditching the Lib Dems’ earned route to amnesty because our opponents label it ‘soft’ — is weak leadership: yes, I’ve no doubt the Lib Dems took an electoral hit for putting it forward, that it helped deflate ‘Cleggmania’ in 2010. But instead of walking away from a sound policy — one being pursued by both Democrats and Republicans in the USA — we should be making the case for it, building alliances with sensible Tory and Labour politicians (they do exist).

The second — security bonds for immigrants from ‘high-risk’ countries entering the UK — is a measure riddled with complications (which countries and why? how much would they cost and why?) that seems designed simply to act as a deterrent. It’s a prime example of the speech’s dissonance: welcoming immigration and its benefits while looking to make it tougher for immigrants because of their harmful impact.

So what should the speech have said? Well, here’s my 3-points’ worth:

1) Immigration is good in principle — countries open to diverse cultures are more innovative, competitive and interesting places to live — and equally good in practice: we desperately need the economic growth that immigration will bring.

2) Immigration is a crucial growth strategy to address shared social problems. This country does not have an immigration problem. It has big problems that affect UK-born citizens and immigrants alike, in particular a lack of decent, affordable housing. Inventing a scapegoat does not solve the problem. The only way we’ll be able to afford the housing we need is through a dynamic wealth-creating economy.

3) Only the Liberal Democrats have the guts to level with the British people: we need immigrants, we need their determination to achieve, we need the wealth they create. Labour’s failure was not in letting too many immigrants in, it was in their failure to get the UK building the houses needed. The Tories’ failure is to claim they want supply-side growth and yet reject the supply-side measure likely to get Britain growing again.

No-one pretends this is an argument that’s easy to win. It’s not. But what we can’t do — and what no liberal leader worth his salt will do — is cede the ground to the anti-immigrant crowd. We may not win them over. But we should be trying a lot harder than Nick Clegg’s speech attempts to do.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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134 Comments

  • Well said Stephen. Time and time again I’ve worked hard for candidates I didn’t think really deserved to win by thinking to myself – “think of the Party”. This weekend I may not go out at all or at best it will be for the candidate. There is a lot of people who think tough on immigration is shorthand for lets be a bit a racist and abhore the populist debate on immigration – a lot of voters feel the same as us – this will only damage the parties brand and irritate the activists.
    My message to Nick Clegg – “I’ve defended you time and time, I’ve lost a lot of respect for you today.”

  • I think you are at odds with the majority of the population, who are concerned about unfettered immigration as it was under Labour. Tightening immigration controls does not make us less liberal. We are nothing if not pragmatists, or so I have always thought, and pragmatically, immigration must be brought under control.

  • typo “Deocrats and Republicans”

  • Old Codger Chris 22nd Mar '13 - 6:38pm

    Taking Stephen Tall’s arguments in turn –
    1. “Immigration is good in principle”. Very true – but only up to a point. There have to be limits, although there will always be a debate as to where the limits lie. The UK is very densely populated and the birth rate is very high.
    2. “Immigration is a crucial growth strategy to address shared social problems”. Housing is the biggest scandal in the UK, and has been ignored by governments since at least 1979. There are several factors driving the crisis but immigration isn’t helping.
    3. “Only the Liberal Democrats have the guts to level with the British people: we need immigrants” We do need some immigrants – partly because of failures in educating, training and motivating people born here. There are other immigrants who – frankly – we do not need.

  • Helen Tedcastle 22nd Mar '13 - 6:46pm

    I can only assume that Nick says all this as part of a positioning strategy for the next election. I am rather surprised seeing as it is at odds with party policy but lets face it, it’s part of a pattern.

  • Andy Williams 22nd Mar '13 - 6:46pm

    Why isn’t this article headed under ‘opinion’ as that is all it is.?

  • Good article Stephen. At first glance it seems odd that his speech has caused so much disruption and upset in the party when it’s not as huge a policy change as some of those we’ve seen in the past few years. But it has indeed caused concern. Like you said it does seem to play to the anti-immigration crowd. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s moved us to an illiberal place, but it has turned us round to face the illiberal direction and suggests further movements in that direction. On immigration it’s one of the few areas of policy where there had been a strong, distinctive Lib Dem policy. We shouldn’t cede this ground and we should fight the anti-immigrant voices head on. Spirit of the Olympics!

  • Well sorry, no I completely and totally disagree with your standpoint. I am distressed that there are people who are so determined to bury their heads in the sand that they do not recognise that things have changed and we have to wake up to voters’ genuine concerns.

    As someone who was happy growing up in multicultural London alongside a wide mix of people from all around the world, but who has seen my city radically changed in the space of 15 years, I have now come to the conclusion that we’ve got to get a grip on immigration. Nick is right. Being tough on immigration is not racist. It is about protecting the interests of the electorate and responding to their concerns. Up to a point, immigration is enriching, but unless it is controlled you get to a stage beyond that point, which has already happened in many areas of London, where British people are now a small minority. I do not believe I am the only person who finds this situation not a little concerning.

    When we talk about problems of housing and youth unemployment in this party, there is a sham debate going on. How can you possibly talk about the housing crisis in the capital without mentioning why demand is rocketing? How can you talk about unemployment when, despite massive numbers of jobs being created, the number of jobless people rises because the workforce is increasing in number? How can you discuss the shortage of school places in the absence of a recognition of the reasons why the birth rate is rising?

    In response to your points I would say:
    1) A small amount of controlled immigration can sometimes be beneficial in bringing skills to the UK but it would be better if we trained our own people and improved the skill base here in the UK;
    2) Very high figures for net immigration are causing the UK population to rise. This is exacerbating a problem we have in densely populated areas like London and the South East where land is scarce and there are major planning constraints that are holding back new development;
    3) Only the Liberal Democrats have until now pretended there aren’t major problems emerging because we refuse to accept that it is legitimate that people should question this situation.

  • Richard Dean 22nd Mar '13 - 7:02pm

    More rubbish from LDV. Neither Caron nor Stephen seem to have actually read the speech. Both seem to be more interested in slagging off the leader, inventing their own policies, and claiming they are official party policy.

    Nick’s speech says that experience is showing that the LibDem manifesto policy would damage public confidence in the immigration system. He’s therefore asked for a review. He’s also floated a couple of off-the-wall ideas. What’s wrong with that? It’s what a leader is for.

    Caron and Stephen may have their own ideas , but they should have the honesty to present them as such – ideas which may be interesting to explore further, but which are not necessarily good ones, certainly nothing to criticise Nick with, and not formed into anything approaching a practical immigration policy.

    Stephen for instance seems to totally ignore the practical need to have the general population on board; without general support immigration will simply lead to social strife.

  • Charles Beaumont 22nd Mar '13 - 7:03pm

    The biggest problem with the speech from my perspective is he doesn’t give the hard case for the value of immigration. Yes, lots of stirring, heartwarming stuff about how great immigration is for diversity and cultural something or other, but where does he say that immigration is not just about the skills we need, but it’s about the money immigrants bring to this country? Take the example of the fall in immigration, largely due to a reduction in students. Even if you take into account the arguments about bogus colleges (and London Metropolitan University is pushing back strongly) the fall in the number of students doesn’t match the number of “bogus” colleges closed down. Which means that a large number of overseas students, who would pay money to UK universities, who spend money in shops and who would then leave Britain with a lifelong sense of what this country can offer, have gone somewhere else (probably Canada or the USA). cui bono? And why is the coalition celebrating it as a success?

  • I was going to comment “Cue a lot of people saying how much they agree with Clegg”, but I see I’m too late already.

  • “Neither Caron nor Stephen seem to have actually read the speech. Both seem to be more interested in slagging off the leader”

    This is fairly silly. If anything my criticism of Caron (in the nicest possible way) is that she is incredibly strong in her defense of Nick.

  • If the British truly wanted to keep their precious stone set in the silver sea as “a fortress built by Nature,” immune to all outside influences, then perhaps they should never have invented the steam engine.

    Which is another way of saying that carping about immigration is a particularly pointless form of populism, crassly calculated to appeal to the xenophobe vote, which has no hope of achieving anything concrete without imposing totalitarian population controls. Let’s start by keeping the heathen Norðhymbre out of Stoke-under-Grime!

  • Richard Dean 22nd Mar '13 - 7:36pm
  • The policy to give amnesty to illegal immigrants who had lived In the uk for more than 10 years was a good, sensible idea. I’m disappointed that Clegg has now ditched this. Clegg seemed to have a voice and a personality in 2010 . I just can’t believe the way things have changed. The tragedy of power I guess.

  • Robin Bennett 22nd Mar '13 - 7:55pm

    We must tackle the problem of the illegals. What respect will they – and their children – have for our laws when they have hugely benefited from breaking one of them?

    Security bonds are unfair to the dispossessed and a joke for those with ill-gotten gains. We must ditch past dogma and embrace identity cards, which can be checked by the authorities, banks and employers whenever the opportunity arises. Then legal immigrants (such as my wife, as it happens) will have the comfort of knowing, if challenged, that they can instantly prove their right to be here

  • Old Codger Chris 22nd Mar '13 - 8:08pm

    @Robin Bennett
    ID cards would be a step too far. Why should I be obliged to carry paperwork to prove who I am and have to show it to any over-zealous policeman or jobsworth?

    In any case the scheme would be bungled and would go way over budget.

  • Richard Dean 22nd Mar '13 - 8:17pm

    Jonathan Portes is no authority, and Ben Mitchell is even worse. They’re both picking and choosing and distorting to fit their preconceived notions. This party does need a rather more mature discussion of immigration than it has had to date, and its idea of only letting socially useful or rich people in is obviously inconsistent with its ideas of freedom and equality. The idea of using immigrants to power our economy or recovery is disgusting – reminiscent of arguments in support of slavery. Immigrants are people, not things to be used like that. Here is a “fact” that Ben quotes from Jonathan and then misunderstands

    • migrants represent about 13% of all workers, but only 7% percent of out-of-work claimants

    Ben was using this fact to argue that migrants aren’t drains on the welfare system, but think about what the fact means. It means that migrants are better at getting work than the natives! That’s not far from evidence that migrants take jobs away from natives. At least, that would be the conclusion that many of the population might come to.

    IMHO this party needs to start discussing immigration in some kind of realistic framework. Nick’s speech is welcome if it starts that process.

  • Given this hat-trick, I think it’s odds on that Clegg will embrace ID cards before the next election.

  • The speech was fine.

  • Also, having thought about it. Your point about Nick delaying this speech because of the Eastleigh election and UKIP makes no sense.

    One can assume that the majority of UKIP voters in Eastleigh voted that way because of UKIP’s tougher stance on immigration – to say that Nick delayed a speech with a tougher stance because of the worry that it might affect people who were thinking of voting UKIP is ludicrous – for this tougher position would make them more likely to vote for us.

  • Ruth Bright 22nd Mar '13 - 8:38pm

    Stephen – you have done the party a great service by writing this piece.

    It is not even the bond idea itself it is the fact that Clegg advocates implementing it in a discriminatory way.What cowardice for Clegg to speak of high-risk nations without having the guts to be clear about which ones he means. And how dare the party send out a cheery round-robin about this policy from Simon Hughes of all people.

    I imagine that one of the “high-risk” nations is the Philippines. I think of my in-laws from the Philippines who with under-paid tenderness, kindness and gentleness clear up the vomit and the faeces of the people with dementia and the people with severe disabilities few British people wish to care for. Our social care system is on its knees and we should show humility and gratitude to those who prop it up for a pittance.

  • I’m a big clegg supporter and one of the reasons for this being so is because I thought he didn’t make awful speeches like this.

    I feel properly let down by him for the first time.

  • Richard Dean 22nd Mar '13 - 8:45pm

    I guess Ruth Bright is providing evidence that immigrants take jobs away from natives. And/or that natives “use” immigrants in a rather distasteful way to do work that the natives wouldn’t do for that kind of low pay.

  • Just read all of Nicks speech – cannot find anything i disagree with – does a true liberal believe in a completely open door – and if not why not?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 22nd Mar '13 - 9:40pm

    In my opinion for what it is worth as my ancestral links are I suspect with a so called “high-risk” nation, is that we should not be pandering to the Right, for they will never vote Liberal Democrat anyway.

    Rather we should be engaged in educating people to the benefits of a very liberal migration policy, as this will attract the brightest and the best from all over the globe to our shores, whilst maintaining the sovereignty of our borders. The statistics and evidence show that it is not the reality that people fear, but a perception.

    As for the issue of “illegals”, from my criminal justice days, I was very aware that the largest proportion of overstayers were from Australia and New Zealand. I bet these people are not the target of “illegals” that many people refer to?

  • Andrew Tennant 22nd Mar '13 - 9:46pm

    @Stephen Tall
    Shall we not be so lazy as to suggest that all immigrants are uniformly the same?

    Some immigrants are beneficial to our economy – they bring determination, ingenuity, cultural diversity and wealth to the UK – we want them.

    Others just come to the UK to take advantage of our generous hospitality – our universal public services and welfare system, preferable to what they would get at home.

    The UK should welcome people who want to come to the UK to contribute, who will help us grow stronger; but it shouldn’t be a soft touch for those who want to take from us without contributing or who want to circumvent the policies put in place that allow us as a country to discern between those who will be a springboard for our success and those who will be a weight around our necks.

  • @ Richard Dean

    “The idea of using immigrants to power our economy or recovery is disgusting – reminiscent of arguments in support of slavery.”

    Really?

    Lets be clear no one is advocating forcing anyone to do anything, very clearly Slavery is nothing to do with recognising the positive economic benefits of immigration.

    Also the positive economic benefits of immigration are due to an voluntary, mutually advantageous, exchange. Something liberals should support surely?

    Are you suggesting when we were planning the Olympic games bringing in Australian employees is bad. When British workers moving to Rio to help plan 2016, what is that?

    Or should we prevent UK citizens leaving the UK to work abroad? I am confused by the argument you are making?

    If people are free to take job opportunities where ever they want in the world then they benefit, as does the country they are able to bring their skills to. There is no slavery comparison possible. Free movement of people allows people to specialise and take their skills where they generate value, and economies are able to develop their own comparative advantages through the people moving to that opportunity.

  • @ Richard Dean

    “I guess Ruth Bright is providing evidence that immigrants take jobs away from natives. And/or that natives “use” immigrants in a rather distasteful way to do work that the natives wouldn’t do for that kind of low pay.”

    I’m a bit confused, are you mocking the argument, pr actually taking it seriously?

  • “We cannot impose any limits on within-the-EU immigration, which is most of it.”

    Is it time to start probing this oft-stated absolute rule.

    The EU Treaty(ies) say (regarding free movement of workers)
    3. It shall entail the right, subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health:
    (a) to accept offers of employment actually made;
    (b) to move freely within the territory of Member States for this purpose;
    (c) to stay in a Member State for the purpose of employment in accordance with the provisions governing the employment of nationals of that State laid down by law, regulation or administrative action;
    (d) to remain in the territory of a Member State after having been employed in that State, subject to conditions which shall be embodied in regulations to be drawn up by the Commission.

    What there isn’t – at least at a treaty level – is any right to come to another EU state without a job offer and the right to remain after that job has finished can be limited. There isn’t therefore an absolute right of free movement.

    What there has been is a lot of ECJ rulings around this subject which (IMO) has massively widened the scope of free movement (particularly a ruling which IIRC said that you can travel to a member state to seek work if you have a reasonable chance of finding work. There are I suspect a lot of other regulations and directives in this area which I’m certainly not going to start looking at this time of night! However my point is the the core principle – the actual treaty obligations – are more restrictive than suggested.

    I wonder about the extent to which those rulings/regulations come from a time without as much mass cheap travel. If you don’t think that the ease of migration has an impact then look back to the 1950s when I think the Macmillan government granted a universal right of settlement in the UK to every Commonwealth citizen. As mass transport developed people started to realise that this was a bit unworkable!

    I also wonder if there is scope for making UK benefits for migrant workers an earned entitlement. Particularly with in work benefits like tax credits which can in some situations make up a substantial part of overall income. I don’t know how that sits with current EU law – but EU law is only law like anything else. We can campaign to change it.

  • http://ec.europa.eu/unitedkingdom/blog/index_en.htm

    Scroll down to see an entry on rights for visitors from the EU, nothing like the Daily Wail stories

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Mar '13 - 11:01pm

    I’m actually in favour of all 3 measures. I don’t want to argue with anyone, I just want to add my name to the voices in favour. I also believe we can still all live in the same party together.

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Mar '13 - 11:23pm

    In response to Stephen’s 3 points I would say the following:

    1: We do not desperately need more low skilled immigration. It is false economics to say this is good when there is so much low skilled unemployment.

    2: People will switch off if a politician stood up in 2010 and said “we do not have an immigration problem”. I also do not agree with this statement.

    3: We cannot build houses for the whole of Europe or the world, we must protect green spaces too.

  • Peter Watson 22nd Mar '13 - 11:24pm

    @Eddie Sammon “I also believe we can still all live in the same party together.”
    But what is it that defines that party?
    And as a voter, how am I to know what that party stands for?

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Mar '13 - 11:40pm

    Hi Peter, I believe those question are beyond the scope of this thread. I don’t wish to take the debate away from Stephen’s article. Thanks.

  • I would not characterise the speech as anti-liberal even if I am sceptical of the policy proposals. I am broadly in favour of controlled immigration but recognise the problems that failure to control our borders can and do generate. If there is one principle that the party simply cannot afford to jettison it is that of evidenced-based policy.

    The economist article of last October examines the evidence base reasonably well A harder road concluding:

    “The world’s brightest talents have plenty of options. Other countries are courting them. Australia has relaxed its rules on student visas. Canada gives three-year work visas to its graduates with master’s degrees. America’s appeal rarely dims. Its politicians may yet agree to allow more foreign-born science graduates to stay and work. Meanwhile Britain is at risk of scaring them off.”

    Boris Johnson and other MPs are urging ministers to remove student visa statistics from the government’s overall net migration target Boris Johnson warns that UK is losing foreign students

    The migration observatory has produced a good report on the subject Britain’s 70 million debate? and makes some policy recommendations:

    “While the government cannot limit EU immigration through immigration controls, there are a number of policy changes that could be made aimed at reducing the demand for EU (and other) migrant workers, especially in lower skilled occupations. These policy changes include, for example, more and better training of British workers (e.g. in sectors like construction where the lack of a comprehensive training system fuels the demand for experienced East European migrant labour), changes in welfare policies to encourage more British workers to join the workforce (something the government has already begun to do), and better wages and conditions in some low waged public sector jobs.”

    Few people will have concerns about multi-national companies bringing in technical and executive staff from overseas branches or bona fide university students coming to study in the UK. Asylum seekers are a small % of total immigration.

    Integration issues arise from large numbers of poorly educated men and women coming in principally from Pakistan and Bangladesh for family arranged marriages with British citizens.. Not having grown up here or come over at school age, lack of English language and relevant employment skills make it very difficult for them to assimilate into British society.

    Illegal migration from Afghanistan, the Indian sub-continent and Africa remains a challenge that is yet to be effectively controlled. London is the principal reservoir of illegal migrants and it seems likely that in-country monitoring and regulation will need to be introduced if we are to get on top of this problem., as I belive the general public would like us to do.

    A route to citizenship for families, who have been here for years and want to pay taxes (provided they want to work, speak English and want to commit to the UK in the long term) could be provided, if it is accompanied by a general tightening up of procedures to identify and locate inelgible illegal migrants residing here.

  • “London is the principal reservoir of illegal migrants …”

    Oh, dear me yes. Thus has it always been:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Brothers_League

  • Gareth Epps said:

    “These ‘policy announcements’ are NOT Liberal Democrat policy…. . A working group has been set up… It is due to report next Spring. … Its members are surprised (to put it politely) that the leader has made ‘announcements’ which have not been presented to the working group as policy *suggestions*.”

    Thanks for that – it’s the key point.

    This thread includes worthwhile arguments from both sides. Personally, I’m not quite so starry eyed about the benefits of immigration as Stephen Tall. My own take is that it’s something of a class issue. A mass influx of Polish plumbers is great for the middle class who get their stylish new bathrooms installed more cheaply and efficiently. It is bad for the working class British plumbers who find themselves thrown out of a job. So I have a lot of sympathy for Hywel’s argument that we should seek to limit sudden and massive population shifts between different EU nations.

    I also like the way that the point has been made. It is open to discussion. If other people want to rubbish Hywel’s ideas, or point out flaws, or take the ideas further, then they have plenty of time to do that, and thereby to evolve a consensus.

    Nick has also demonstrated sympathy for immigration control, but there the similarity ends. Nick has simply overridden internal debate, made a joke of his own policy working group, and dictated what policy our party should adopt. What makes him think he is entitled to act that way?

    It can’t even be justified as a publicity exercise. There are three headline-grabbing new policy ideas in Nick’s speech: the “security bond”, the abandonment of our earned citizenship policy, and the charge for translation. Any one of those ideas would have grabbed a headline. Any decent PR guy would therefore have advised Nick to grab three separate headlines by trotting the three ideas out separately on different days. So why didn’t Nick do that?

    Clearly, because it was more important to bounce all the rest of us into accepting the ideas as a fait accompli. Because Nick knew that if he gave the members a chance to have their say, he would risk losing the arguments.

    That “e*vil Stalinist”, Ed Miliband, does not treat his membership like that. That “heir to Thatcher”, David Cameron, does not ride roughshod over his party members like that. That “liberal democrat”, Nick Clegg, turns out to be Britain’s very own tinpot dictator.

    He is, of course, demonstrating that he is scared of what his members might do to him. Let’s hope he is right to be scared.

  • Alex Sabine 23rd Mar '13 - 1:19am

    Elizabeth: Clearly Stephen’s point about Eastleigh was that this speech from Clegg would have demoralised Lib Dem activists – which, judging by the response of many (but clearly not all) party members here, seems a reasonable assumption.

    And that, at the same time, highlighting immigration in this way would have played into UKIP’s hands given that it was an issue on which (rightly or wrongly) the UKIP view was more in line with public opinion in the constituency. In that context Clegg’s intervention on he subject might well have looked like a panicky and unconvincing response to the UKIP surge. So it would have demoralised activists without winning over many sceptical voters. (Which, by the way, is what this rather half-baked repositioning is likely to achieve anyway in my view…)

    Andrew: I agree up to a point, but am sceptical that the government is capable of deciding in advance which immigrants are going to be valuable to the UK and which aren’t. I’m even more sceptical that the Border Agency is capably of administering such a policy efficiently and humanely.

    The coalition’s current policy of a net migration target is an example of how immigration controls are as crude and bureaucratic as other economic controls. Once the arbitrary annual limit is reached, non-EU migrants are turned away irrespective of how much their skills are needed.

    I don’t always agree with Vince Cable, but he recently made a pithy observation about the crudeness of this target, which Stephen linked to today: ‘Net migration means reducing the number of people coming in or increasing the number of British people emigrating. Is that the policy objective? I don’t know…’

    At the very least a more flexible and market-based approach (not one based on arbitrary quotas for different categories of migrant) would be preferable.

    I also suspect it’s not so much the lure of our public services and benefit system that is most significant in attracting low-skilled migrants, but the gaping disparity between living standards in their country of origin and the UK. This was almost certainly the key factor in attracting eastern European immigrants. Of course that flow of migration was concentrated in the UK because most EU countries imposed transitional controls, but the underlying process is driven by globalisation.

    Overall, international mobility of labour tends to reduce global inequality but to increase disparities of income within developed nations (though this latter effect is often exaggerated). It is not an unalloyed boon. We should not be starry-eyed about it. To the extent that it is legally allowed to, the British government could pull up the drawbridge. But to do so would be akin to responding to the economic and industrial change brought about by globalisation by seeking to freeze current patterns of production and protect existing jobs. As Tony Blair rightly used to argue, it’s far better to accept and embrace change but seek to equip people to make the most of it and mitigate its harsher human consequences. And clearly absorbing immigrantion successfully is harder if governments are unwilling to relax the planning laws or invest in infrastructure.

    Although I think the tabloids grossly exaggerate the extent to which our welfare system is the magnet (the evidence instead suggesting that at least in terms of tax and welfare, immigrants are net contributors to the pot), I think it is perfectly sensible for the British government to review whether the current eligibility criteria are appropriate. Interestingly, the economist Philippe Legrain, an advocate of totally open borders, argues that rich countries can quite properly restrict migrants’ access to benefits, and that the US indeed did so through the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. I don’t have enough knowledge of EU law to know whether the British government would be permitted to do this.

    In any case it certainly shouldn’t be approached with a view to appeasing the tabloids, or giving credence to widespread prejudices, but as a fair counterpart to an open immigration system that could command public support.

  • Alex Sabine 23rd Mar '13 - 1:33am

    In the spirit of David Allen’s call for civilised debate, here is an alternative perspective on immigration from someone who is certainly very economically literate and disputes the economic benefits: Martin Wolf in the FT (albeit writing in 2009, but I imagine his views haven’t changed much on this subject)

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/dcb25106-ca41-11de-a3a3-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2ODkJXdhw

    I disagree with his conclusion. But if all those seeking tougher immigration controls were as rational, thoughtful and civilised as this, perhaps this topic wouldn’t be so toxic!

  • This newly established cross-party group Migration Matters include some migration myth busters that challenge commonly held perceptions on their website:

    1.Migration is a net economic burden

    The government’s own figures show, current levels of net migration of 250,000 per year boost annual GDP by 0.5% (source: Office for Budget Responsibility). This growth means more jobs, higher tax revenues, more funding for schools and hospitals and a lower deficit.

    2.The UK is being swamped by migrants

    Today’s levels of population growth are no greater than they were from the early 1900’s to 1970. Currently migrants make up just 1 in 10 of the UK population, lower than Australia, the US or Germany (source: Office for National Statistics)

    3.Migrants are taking all the new jobs created in the UK

    The truth is that just over 1 in 10 new jobs are taken by migrants while almost 9 in 10 go to British nationals (source: Office for National Statistics).

  • Blimey, are LibDems becoming the party of thoughtless slanging matches, or what?

    Mostly everyone is talking about principles, adjudging that Clegg speaks from the heart on the matter, and condemning him prejudicially on that basis (despite his personal history and all previous comments made on the subject). Yet listening to the speech gives a totally different impression from reading it.

    And completely everyone here seems to be tackling the subject in complete isolation – separate from the wider issues, separate from the facts on the ground, separate from any sort of realistic approach to the problem of running an administration which requires fixing.

    If the process of government was as simple as ‘this is what I want – do it!’ then there would be no need for any government at all; and if we could all have exactly what we want on demand then there would never be any need to belong to a political party in the first place!

    Is nobody prepared to ask WHY Clegg has spoken at this time in this fashion on this subject?

    You don’t have to agree with what he said as an expression of where we want to get to, but the rest of us do need to offer a better proposal of how we get to where we want to be.

    And since absolutely nobody here has made any alternative suggestions for developing a rigorous process for the introduction of a workable immigration management system I am forced to reject every peice of the criticism made here so far as wholly insubstantial.

    Speaking from a personal perspective, I like immigration. Britain is an island community and has therefore always been a nation of immigrants, dependent on immigration, valuing the contribution of immigrants – all the way back from pre-history.

    And I am proud of the fact that Britain continues to be an attractive place to live – especially during an economic downturn. That the freedoms available to me are available to people who were not born in this country underpins my identification in liberal Britannia.

    I dislike and distrust all suggestion that we may be ‘swamped’ by immigrants, or that we cannot cope with the demands immigrants may place on current residents. I know this country isn’t perfect by any means (not least our weather or government), but our capacity is down to our own efforts, not our received opinions.

    LibDem members might talk a good game, but we don’t always back it up with effective action.

    That the FPC working group on immigration is due to report its findings in spring 2014 (after the 2015 general election manifesto has been outlined) does nothing but highlight its’ ineffectualness, creating a vacuum which will be filled as events march ahead.

    So although I may not agree with Clegg on the content of this speech, I happily applaud him for grasping the urgency of the matter and demonstrating once again the requisite incisiveness and courage of a true leader.

    Clegg’s statements pose a big challenge to the membership, improve our policy-making processes or doom ourselves to irrelevance.

    This speech is a clear trade-off made against our budget triumphs as part of negotions with coalition partners. That the party committee system has failed to provide our leader with a mandate or direction to negotiate on the issue of immigration exposed an obvious weakness which could be exploited by pressure from right-wing Conservatives.

    The membership has dropped the ball, but here in this (actually relatively moderate) speech Clegg has given us a wake-up call to get our house in order.

    People cannot depend upon faith in liberty alone. If we really want to defend our liberties then we must do more to show the public why they should vote LibDem.

    We need more solid policy proposals to ensure we aren’t a soft touch in the future.

  • Wrong Mr. Tall. We cannot be green and pro unlimited growth and open doors immigration. THE big issue at Eastleigh was building over the green spaces we have left in this crowded country. When I joined the Liberal Party the population of the UK was 52m and it was confidently expected to fall to around 44m by now. But today it is 62m and the MINIMUM now projected is 70m. It may sound illiberal but we need a population policy for the UK and an immigration policy must be part of it. Your the one sounding like an old fashioned Free Market Tory supporting our current race to the bottom with an economy based on unlimited cheap labour which is over-whelmingly what our immigration has been based on. If we had had sensible policies managing migration both in and out we would all be a lot better off.

  • Clearly Clegg targeted his speech well, there’s obvious considerable support for immigration controls in his party.

    I am grateful for two things – I can vote for an independent Scotland as the SNP have a pro-immigration policy, sorely needed to boost the Scottish economy, and both me and my (immigrant) partner hold qualifications that make us welcome in any nation with an academic tradition.

    I can leave the UK if this persists, either through voting for independence or moving elsewhere, ironically as an immigrant.

    The UK is becoming ever more unpleasant under the Coalition.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Mar '13 - 7:38am

    I’ve been told by an eastern European that the most attractive thing about Britain is the minimum wage. Labour would probably increase this so I don’t know how this bodes for Mr Miliband’s new tough approach to low skilled immigration. It would be interesting to see if there is any research out there to back this up.

  • I am sure other EU countries have minimum wages at least equal to ours Eddie.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Mar '13 - 7:46am

    By the way, I don’t wish to engage in any anti immigration rhetoric but the public wouldn’t accept what happened between 2004 and 2010 again, so it just needs to be more controlled in the future.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Mar '13 - 7:48am

    Yes they will do, I just thought I’d throw it into the mix because it is never mentioned and it’s what I’ve been told directly.

  • I was interested in Stephen’s perspective of “lazy speech”. I had not really thought about that aspect of NC before. I had always looked at his naivete for his political booboos. Oranjepan mentions preparation for 2015 as a reason for his speech now. Perhaps more importantly, but election-related, it is about defending himself from the attacks which sank us in the 2010 TV debates and accompanying media coverage – for which he was criminally ill-prepared. Perhaps that was laziness. Those debates were a once in a lifetime opportunity for the party. He blew it, and much of the party’s suffering since flowed from that. He failed to defend strongly core Lib Dem assumptions (partly, IMO, because he doesn’t believe in some of them) so by the time the election was upon us, our poll ratings were well in decline. Had we maintained or built on support levels after the first debate, where he was better prepared than his rivals, we would have finished with 100+ MPs, and a totally different dynamic in the negotiations, probably with both parties as full negotiating partners, and crucially with liberal and Lib Dem assumptions taking a front seat role.

  • Incidentally it may also be lazy policy analysis also which has led to his mention of immigration bonds, a twice or thrice rejected notion for its impracticality!

  • Tim13,
    not quite.

    The reason for the speech now is linked to the fact that the budget happened this week, indicating that a concession on immigration was made to advance our tax policy objectives.

    Immigration is always a hot topic for right wingers, and in the course of negotiations our weakness on the issue became exposed as Clegg couldn’t point to any unified stance among our grassroots precisely because the FPC is not due to report before next year and has lost any momentum to prioritise this policy area with the Manifesto Committee.

    Until the FPC ups its game it will not be able to tie our leadership into an unswerving policy direction, leaving the leadership flapping in the wind and able only to seek opportunistic gains via similar trade-offs which cause massive distress in the wider party.

    We need the means to fight our corner on the specifics, but our party structure was designed in opposition and is more geared to principles.

    The FPC had preminence, but the balance of power has shifted because we are in government and the Manifesto Committee is now taking up the baton by placing priorities on different ideas, naturally favouring the most robust with the widest appeal.

    They are now in a position where they are competing bodies, without oversight, and this is pitting the parliamentary party at loggerheads with the wider party.

    The solution is simple, but I’m not optimistic about who will take the initiative to intercede and introduce it.

    Personally I think it is the job of the party President, Tim Farron, to identify this internal conflict. He is both an MP and the voice of the members, so should be in the position to understand the friction, the ears of both sides, and he has the power to instigate action. This is the test of his ability which will mark his legacy in the role.

  • @tim13

    Absolutely agree – bonds considered by Labour – rejected by Labour – rejected at the time by a certain gent whose initials are CH – sheer soundbite politics from Clegg and this debate deserves better.

  • Helen Dudden 23rd Mar '13 - 8:39am

    It is not only women you like to keep to a minimum in the Party, well done Nick.

  • great article. depressing comment thread. again.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Mar '13 - 9:07am

    Jennie, you say it is a great article, but do you really think we could win a general election by pretending immigration is a non issue? Only a tiny minority of the public believe it to be a non issue, and that the answer to immigration concerns is to build more houses.

  • Peter Watson 23rd Mar '13 - 9:23am

    @Oranjepan “The reason for the speech now is linked to the fact that the budget happened this week, indicating that a concession on immigration was made to advance our tax policy objectives. .. in the course of negotiations our weakness on the issue became exposed as Clegg couldn’t point to any unified stance among our grassroots”

    Were you a fly on the wall during negotiations on these matters or is this pure speculation, giving Clegg the benefit of the doubt? The conservatives seem to be happily accepting credit for raising the income tax threshold so I hope that we have not recently negotiated away too much in order to keep pushing at that open door.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 23rd Mar '13 - 9:26am

    Along members of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, and others within the Party I am currently involved in the development of community engagement practices that will mean that specifically visible minority ethnic members in society will genuinely come to realise that our Party is their natural ally, rather than believing in the tired and old myth that Labour are somehow supportive of their interests.

    This statement by our leader, although well intentioned, will make this work considerably more difficult, for although it is attempting to be balanced, the media and the public will only pick up on the perceived negative statements about immigration, and thereby society will become even more intolerant towards specific communities. Even some of the traditionally ‘liberal’ contributors, within this thread have chosen to target their criticism at certain communities, just as the “Bond” will be targeted at certain countries..

    Should immigration be a topic for debate? Yes, certainly but people need to realise that a rather large minority use this specific debate to vent their less than tolerant views about multiculturalism and ethnic integration and we as a Party need to be very careful not to appear to anyone as supportive of such views.

    Overall I would say that whilst our Party remains naive to issues of race and has no clear policies for enhancing relationships, other than with the use of ‘fluffy’ rhetoric we need to be extremely careful how we engage in this topic, and advice should be gained before such statements are made in the future.

    As for trusting the UKBA not to target and remain apparently hostile to certain individuals on scurrilous grounds, well do not hold your breath, for they are reminiscent of the police service, 20 or 30 years ago.

  • Gareth,

    It was you who explained above that the FPC is reporting its findings next spring and the working group has only held two meetings so far. Therefore you indicated that the existing policy gap exists is not to be filled for another year.

    Duncan Hames was very concerned about the lack of movement on the issue when I bumped into him recently, and he clearly indicated even in that short time that tories were putting pressure on us over it regarding the budget negotiations. I don’t know whether Conservatives were aware of our timescale for producing a policy, but the result shows they were able to exploit the lack of mandate the FPC handed our leadership team.

    What choice did Clegg have, refuse to negotiate or put solid gains above ill-defined principle?

    The party structure is simply not fit for the purpose of governing, as our policy-making machinery is simply too slow to react to events.

    Even your own analysis of what happened during the coalition negoitiations drew the conclusion that where we were better prepared – both regarding policy details and the clearly indicated will of the party – our negotiating team was more able to press our case.

    I agreed with your analysis then and I think your conclusion holds here too.

  • Could someone please answer my initial question – should a liberal support a completely open door policy on immigration – and if not – why not?

  • Richard Dean 23rd Mar '13 - 1:35pm

    David’s question is very relevant. But as members of the EU, haven’t we already signed up to an open door policy as far as immigrants from the EU are concerned?

    From the Office of National Statistics, if I interpret their Excel file correctly, net immigration was about 203,000 in 2011 (consisting of 515,000 inwards and 312,000 outwards). That’s a small city every year. It’s probably a hundred thousand new jobs needed every year, and a hundred thousand new homes. About 267,000 net immigrants were non-British (net British exodus was 64,000), which probably translates to a significant need for language and cultural education. If LibDems think this doesn’t require a practical policy, principled but free from blind principle, then they deserve the electoral annihilation they will surely get.
    http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=tcm%3A77-280889 and click on the 4th Excel file icon (2.01a LTIM Citizenship, 1991-2011)

    A policy that works in some countries is that a person may enter the country to work if he or she has a bona fide job to go to, provided that the job was advertised in a way that would be accessible to the relevant section of the country’s workforce, and that the person can be shown to possess skills or expertise not available from any of the native applicants. This applies, for example, to British-born citizens wishing to work in some Commonwealth countries. After a while, measured in some years, and providing there are no adverse events such as criminal conviction, the person is then able to immigrate in the sense of acquiring rights of a citizen.

  • Stephen, while I disagreed with you on Leverson; this time you have my full agreement. Nick’s speech was not that shocking for me because I had hear rumours previously that certain people believe it would be beneficial for us to ‘stop going to against populist opinion on immigration’, even when all research and reason show it is wrong.

    However, I had some small hope, a fools hope, that someone in the pipeline at the top would have been able to show him the folly of pandering to voters, who by an large will never vote for us, at the expenses of established voters. Still, I guess this is not really anything new.

    It just makes really sad, as we were the last party with any reasonable policy on immigration, and it seems even we are now allowing ourselves to fall into populism.

  • Alex Sabine 23rd Mar '13 - 2:14pm

    Oranjepan: I have no inside knowledge on this, but I find the claim that this speech we somehow a quid pro quo for concessions by the Tories in the budget negotiations to be rather bizarre and implausible, for several reasons:

    1. Budget policy and immigration are not obvious bedfellows. It isn’t clear to me why immigration policy would be a major feature of Quad budget discussions at this moment.

    2. Immigration control doesn’t seem to be one of George Osborne’s great preoccupations. If the ‘trade-off’ had involved more vocal support for his planning reforms from Lib in return for delivery of Lib Dem tax priorities, that might seem a more plausible account of what happened.

    3. Both the tax measures in the budget and the extra capital spending seem to have been broadly uncontroversial in both Tory and Lib Dem ministerial circles. Whether they will do very much to get the economy going is another question; but the mix of small cuts in income and corporation tax, and relief on employer NI and excise duties is hard to object to and wasn’t nearly as politically explosive as the contents of last year’s budget. There was much less evidence of coalition horsetrading this time, and this seemed to be a conscious decision given the way last year’s package unravelled and all the popular bits were leaked days beforehand.

    4. Insofar as a ‘concession’ to the Lib Dems could be identified, the obvious thing was the further increase in the personal allowance to £10,000. But because of the amount of progress already made towards this target, which sees the PA going up to £9,440 next month, the allowance would have gone up to £9,760 in 2013-14 in line with normal inflation uprating anyway. So bridging that final gap of £240 wasn’t too difficult. The Treasury scorecard shows that this latest move cost ‘only’ around £1 billion (about £500 million less than the NI cut for example).

    Also, as Peter Watson notes above, raising the PA is pushing at an open door as far as the Conservatives are concerned. A number of prominent Tories have argued for it for years (indeed even going back to the 1950s it was standard fare in the budgets of Tory Chancellors, whereas Labour Chancellors generally preferred to increase taxes and spending), and it is popular with the vast majority of Tory backbenchers. So I doubt Osborne put up too much resistance, even if the official Treasury is always reluctant to ‘concede’ tax cuts of any description!

    (Other measures that pressure groups close to the Lib Dem leadership pushed for were also likely to find favour with Osborne, and thus unlikely to warrant concessions from Clegg/Alexander. I’m thinking of ending stamp duty on AIM shares and CGT relief on the sale of businesses to their employees, which Centre Forum called for.)

    5. In any case, Clegg appeared to be attempting a repositioning of the Lib Dem approach to immigration with a view to the next election campaign and manifesto, not the government’s approach. Hence his proposal to drop the partial amnesty/regularisation idea from the party’s platform in the next manifesto. It follows the pattern of recent speeches in which the coalition party leaders seek to map out themes for 2015 and beyond.

    Clegg seems to see the approach he set out on Friday as a kind of ‘middle way’ between the supposedly unmanaged immigration of the Labour years and the Tories’ emphasis on reducing numbers and a net migration target. Unfortunately, even if that was the objective, the ‘security bond for high-risk nations’ idea strikes me as objectionable where a net migration target/quota is merely clumsy and economically unwise.

  • There’s a question of political dynamics here which has nothing directly to do with the immigration issue, but does explain why Nick Clegg is increasingly at odds with the members of the Liberal Democrats. It seems that he no longer perceives himself as beholden to the party, and that his rôle as “Deputy Prime Minister” in a largely Conservative government has taken precedence of his rôle as party leader. That is, his real power base is now in the Conservative Party and not (or only to an insignificant degree) in the Liberal Democrats. It will not surprise me at all if, following the next election, he removes himself from the Liberal Democrats altogether and ends up either as a Conservative or a Tory-leaning independent. Clearly he thinks he has better things to do than make the party members happy.

  • @David: ” the ‘security bond for high-risk nations’ idea strikes me as objectionable where a net migration target/quota is merely clumsy and economically unwise.”

    You know it is a sad day when the Tories idea is less objectionable (as objectionable as it is) than our party leader’s.

  • “Perhaps the deaths of a few “little people” is a price worth paying to guarantee that powerful foreign oligarch continue to be free to say whatever the like about the British?…”

    Odious though Littlejohn’s comments were, and tragic though the death of the woman concerned was, you must surely have known all along that civil liberties come at a cost. This kind of naive emotional argument isn’t very helpful, and indeed the implication that Stephen Tall thinks in the way you suggest is really quite offensive.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Mar '13 - 3:33pm

    You make a good point Ian. Come to think of it, I suppose after trying for all these years we must already be pretty tough on illegal immigration.

    The big issue is the open door to Europe’s poorer countries and the plans to keep opening up to more. At the moment this is making the majority of the public want to leave the EU. Therefore, someone needs to make the case on why it is so important that these countries are inside the EU and why countries from Serbia to Turkey need to be welcomed in. Tony Blair says “it’s about power”, but I don’t think that quite resonates with the public, nor me.

    If the EU are going to continue recklessly expanding then we should be reconsidering our policy on EU membership, this is a serious problem and the party needs to come out with a credible plan otherwise UKIP are going to take us all to the cleaners, and rightly so.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Mar '13 - 3:53pm

    I’m still in favour of EU membership as things stand, but I would like to hear more about the benefits of ever expansion, The free movement of people isn’t going to cut it with the public.

  • @Michael Hall
    “Parties which are unpopular, because they do not listen, are not “populist”, but they are undemocratic.”

    I’m not sure that is correct. For any organisation to be classed as democratic surely it needs to take into account the views of it’s members and not the public at large. If people want to change the policies they join and vote for such a change. Otherwise all parties merge into one… oh wait that’s already starting to happen with three of them.

    What I feel is undemocratic is to be elected on a set of policies, and perhaps more importantly a set of stated principles, and to then act against them. It is why I have always felt an MP or councillor who crosses the floor has no integrity unless they offer those that voted for them a chance to either re-elect them or to choose a different representative.

    I have supported the Lib Dems for a number of reasons, one major one was what appeared to be an inability for the “elite” of the party to dictate policy against the will of the members. That appears to be changing. If those that comment on here from (I assume due to their positions) a position of knowledge is true, Clegg refused to even debate the issue of Secret Courts with his own conference, and has now decided not to inform the group tasked with establishing immigration policy of his concerns. Neither sound very democratic to me.

  • William Jones 23rd Mar '13 - 4:37pm

    Based on pure Liberalism you can’t disagree. However, if we are to win elections we need to have a position on issues that matter to voters and immigration is one of those. It is not as if we are a party of “open border” pure liberals As our 2010 manifesto had a piece on immigration Stating that immigrants should be assigned to parts of the UK that could handle them without impacting infrastructure in popular areas such as London.

    It’s not illiberal – it’s realistic. Cut Nick Clegg some slack on this.

  • A party can be undemocratic in two ways: first, if it advocates for national policies and structures which are undemocratic, e.g., a parliament or government which is not responsive to the people, or which puts control into the hands of a single person, clique, or class; second, if it is internally undemocratic, with major decisions being made by a single individual or small group, with no attention paid to the wishes of its members.

    A party is not undemocratic because it advocates for the opinions of a minority or fails to trim its sails according to the latest polls. The whole idea of a party is to take a minority opinion and, by argument, advocacy, canvassing and so forth, to make it the majority opinion.

  • Peter Chivall 23rd Mar '13 - 6:07pm

    I live in a City with at least 20% born outside the UK, split almost equally between South Asians (mostly Muslim Pakistanis from the Punjab), Eastern Europeans (mostly Polish but a significant number of Lithuanians) and the rest consisting of Portuguese (including many Africans from ex-Portuguese colonies) and other West Africans plus a small but highly visible number of asylum seekers from Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia (and before that Kosovans/Albanians etc) plus Roma who came from the Czech Republic pre-2004 as refugees.
    A primary school 1/2 mile from my house lists over 130 home languages amongst its children, yet scores highly in OFSTED inspections. For most of the ‘noughties’ I worked giving information and advice to both young people and adults regarding qualifications and employment. My local corner shop is owned by a Sikh family but its management has now been taken over by Eastern Europeans.
    My impression of the contribution of the above groups is naturally subjective. The South Asians, mostly Pakistanis, come from rural communities with conservative clan-based traditions, with arranged marriages, especially cousin marriage, contributing to ongoing low levels of net educational and economic achievement. The raising of the age of spouse eligibility to reside from 18 to 21, together with the requirement of spouses to have functioning English, may reduce immigration in this community. Because of the layout of the City, this community is concentrated in one City Centre ward and the four Wards that surround it.
    The Poles that came in 2004 onwards are often well educated and highly skilled. In one professional encounter I met two Poles from Lodz who worked packing salads for Tesco: one was an electrician who had been though their Trade School (apprentice) system from 14 to 21 years. Checking his qualifications he turned out to have the equivalent of a Degree in Electrical Engineering; the other was an Opera singer with the Warsaw Opera – he was here for 12 months until he had saved enough to pay for expensive dental work he needed to resume his career.
    There are 2 principle effects of migrants in our population: in the South Asian community there are large numbers of families where noone speaks any English, to the extent that up to 50% of British born children in this community have no functioning English when they start school. The other problem is large numbers of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) which are not properly adapted and not properly registered. Single workers from E. Europe, employed as casual labour in the City’s ‘gangmaster’ economy find rooms in such houses or in the many ‘supershed’ extensions built behind them. As many HMOs are not registered, you often find a single set of bins shared by up to 10 adults with resulting litter, refuse and related problems. Councils having enough enforcement staff to clamp down on such HMOs would help.
    Finally, the big problem is housing. Many older, unemployed, workers live in former Council owned areas that now have a majority of ‘right to buy’ homes now let out to migrants. The ‘native’ residents don’t know which houses or flats are public housing and which are privately let. It’s easy for saloon-bar chatter to assume ‘the Council’ has given the flats to ‘asylum seekers’. In this City there are as many on the Housing Waiting list as there are migrants from Eastern Europe, but they are 2 different groups of people, with little cross-over.
    The answer to the general problem is higher standards of appropriate vocational education for the majority of young people of average and below average ability – something which Gove and his fake Baccalaureate totally fails to address. The other is the desperate need for more housing, and particularly socially provided housing, in those areas, especially London, where the need is acute.

  • Alex Sabine 23rd Mar '13 - 7:09pm

    Small correction: I meant to write that personal allowance would have gone up to £9,760 in 2014-15 under normal inflation uprating, not 2013-14.

    Regarding the pertinent, if perhaps uncomfortable, question that David poses – should a liberal support a completely open-door immigration policy, and if not why not? – I will offer a tentative answer, starting from first principles and seeking to come to a practical solution.

    I am a liberal (small ‘l’) because I believe first and foremost in individual freedom. A very important freedom is the ability to choose where to live and work. Within a nation state it would rightly be seen as outrageous if the government sought to restrict these freedoms by force of law.

    Since I don’t see an intrinsic ethical distinction between human beings whether they happen to be British, Spanish, Polish, Pakistani, Chinese or whatever, instinctively I dislike controls on the free movement of people across national borders. I also think that in a world where capital is able to move freely across borders, the migration of labour is both a natural counterpart to globalisation and something which distributes its fruits more justly among the world’s population.

    Does this amount to some kind of universal right to unrestricted movement? Not in any practical or meaningful sense. As Bentham said – ‘right is with me a child of law…a natural right is a child without a father’. Legal rights are the creation of specific human societies (usually but not exclusively nation states), and require a polity which recognises and guarantees them, whether through international treaties or through a codified constitution or simply customary law and practice.

    Clearly things become more complicated when we consider how to apply the abstract idea of human freedom to the practical world of geography and politics, divided as it is into separate nation states and languages and cultures. I do not believe in world government, and I believe nation states (though they are in a sense artificial constructs, as are all other political groupings like the EU) are likely to remain both the main source of collective identity and the largest units of human association through which power can be exercised with some acceptable degree of accountability.

    The governments of nation states are understandably most concerned with the welfare of their own citizens, not that of prospective immigrants. To that end they will always reserve the right to define entry criteria to the country, subject to international agreements they have entered into.

    In this sense I accept the logic of Martin Wolf’s argument (in the article I linked to above) when he writes: ‘I, for one, have no difficulty with arguing that immigration is a privilege, not a right. Most people agree. We are then, inescapably, in the messy world of having to decide how – and on what principles – to control immigration. My view is that the interests of the existing citizens are of decisive weight, though we should also place some weight on the interests of immigrants.’

    However, this does not mean that it is wise or sensible for nation states to have a default position of being restrictive. It means, instead, that they (and here I mean policy-makers and the public at large, not just governments obviously) should weigh the evidence about the benefits and drawbacks of immigration, and also of immigration controls, for their native populations.

    Like Martin Wolf, I also think we should also give some consideration to people beyond our own shores, and certainly should never get into the position of condemning people from desperately poor and often ill-governed countries for seeking a better life elsewhere, or scapegoating low-skilled immigrants for the problems with our own domestic education and welfare systems.

    Looking at both the economic and cultural effects of immigration, I regard it as a net positive. However I also have to recognise some valid points raised by opponents of large-scale immigration, as distinct from the myths peddled by the tabloids and others:

    – The most relevant fact is the scale of change: by historical standards, the increase in the net inflow over the past decade or so is undeniably very large. It appears that the coalition, by hook or by crook, is getting the numbers down, at some cost to economic welfare in view of the clumsy way it is deterring high-skilled immigrants. The ailing economy is arguably a bigger factor. It remains to be seen whether the recent declining trend is sustained when the EU-wide transitional controls on Bulgarian and Romanian immigration end, and when the economy eventually perks up. But unless economic globalisation goes into reverse, we can expect large-scale international migration to continue.

    – The high level of immigration is a big factor in the increase in the size of our population. The bigger the population, the more congested a country becomes. England is already the most densely populated nation in Europe, bar Malta. Outside London and the southeast, is is far from being ‘full up’, and the rest of the UK has a much lower population density. But it is questionable how practical or attractive the Lib Dem idea (at the last election) of regionally varying immigration controls would be.

    – In any event, higher immigration will require a much more liberal planning regime to enable the supply of housing to keep pace with the rate of new household formation. This is on top of the extra housing supply required to meet the demands of the existing population. Clearly it is feasible to accommodate even a significantly larger population; but doing so might entail sacrificing greenfield and even greenbelt land.

    There will need to be more infrastructure in general, of course, but there is no reason to think this can’t be financed from the extra tax revenues generated by immigrants. The issue is more one of high population density in the areas where immigration would likely be concentrated, and the pressures on the physical environment, not one of financial cost.

    – The cause of toleration is not helped by bad economics. It is not very enlightening to point out that immigration boosts GDP. So what? Other things being equal, we would expect the size of the economy to increase with the size of the working population. But this is not an appropriate index of prosperity. The focus should be on income per head of the resident population. In itself, a larger GDP shared out among a larger population is not an obvious boon.

    As Martin Wolf points out, ‘some of the world’s richest countries are small and homogeneous… The arguments in favour of [immigration] must rest far more on wider social than economic considerations: the intrinsic desirability of the UK with a substantially more heterogeneous population. In the long run, the UK would become more like the US. Whether it can do so successfully is very much open to question.’

    I accept his point that the evidence on whether a high level of immigration per se delivers a net economic benefit is mixed. The House of Lords select committee on economic affairs, looking at the UK experience during the Labour years, concluded that it was negligible. Martin Wolf agrees. However they did not have the counter-factual of heavily restricted immigration to compare it with.

    My argument is different. It is that firstly, large flows of migration (both inward and outwar

  • Alex Sabine 23rd Mar '13 - 8:06pm

    Small correction: I meant to write that personal allowance would have gone up to £9,760 in 2014-15 under normal inflation uprating, not 2013-14.

    Regarding the pertinent, if perhaps uncomfortable, question that David poses – should a liberal support a completely open-door immigration policy, and if not why not? – I will offer a tentative answer, starting from first principles and seeking to come to a practical solution.

    I am a liberal (small ‘l’) because I believe first and foremost in individual freedom. A very important freedom is the ability to choose where to live and work. Within a nation state it would rightly be seen as outrageous if the government sought to restrict these freedoms by force of law.

    Since I don’t see an intrinsic ethical distinction between human beings whether they happen to be British, Spanish, Polish, Pakistani, Chinese or whatever, instinctively I dislike controls on the free movement of people across national borders. I also think that in a world where capital is able to move freely across borders, the migration of labour is both a natural counterpart to globalisation and something which distributes its fruits more justly among the world’s population. Indeed, removing all immigration restrictions would maximise the welfare of the world as a whole.

    Does this amount to some kind of universal right to unrestricted movement? Not in any practical or meaningful sense. As Bentham said – ‘right is with me a child of law…a natural right is a child without a father’. Legal rights are the creation of specific human societies (usually but not exclusively nation states), and require a polity which recognises and guarantees them, whether through international treaties or through a codified constitution or simply customary law and practice.

    Clearly things become more complicated when we consider how to apply the abstract idea of human freedom to the practical world of geography and politics, divided as it is into separate nation states and languages and cultures. I do not believe in world government, and I believe nation states (though they are in a sense artificial constructs, as are all other political groupings like the EU) are likely to remain both the main source of collective identity and the largest units of human association through which power can be exercised with some acceptable degree of accountability.

    The governments of nation states are understandably most concerned with the welfare of their own citizens, not that of prospective immigrants. To that end they will always reserve the right to define entry criteria to the country, subject to international agreements they have entered into.

    In this sense I accept the logic of Martin Wolf’s argument (in the article I linked to above) when he writes: ‘I, for one, have no difficulty with arguing that immigration is a privilege, not a right. Most people agree. We are then, inescapably, in the messy world of having to decide how – and on what principles – to control immigration. My view is that the interests of the existing citizens are of decisive weight, though we should also place some weight on the interests of immigrants.’

    However, this does not mean that it is wise or sensible for nation states to have a default position of being restrictive. It means, instead, that they (and here I mean policy-makers and the public at large, not just governments obviously) should weigh the evidence about the benefits and drawbacks of immigration, and also of immigration controls, for their native populations.

    Like Martin Wolf, I also think we should also give some consideration to people beyond our own shores, and certainly should never get into the position of condemning people from desperately poor and often ill-governed countries for seeking a better life elsewhere, or scapegoating low-skilled immigrants for the problems incubated in own education and welfare systems.

  • Alex Sabine 23rd Mar '13 - 8:13pm

    Looking at both the economic and cultural effects of immigration, I regard it as a net positive. However I also have to recognise some valid points raised by opponents of large-scale immigration, as distinct from the myths peddled by the tabloids and others:

    – The most relevant fact is the scale of change: by historical standards, the increase in the net inflow over the past decade or so is undeniably very large. It appears that the coalition, by hook or by crook, is getting the numbers down, at some cost to economic welfare in view of the clumsy way it is deterring high-skilled immigrants. The ailing economy is arguably a bigger factor. It remains to be seen whether the recent declining trend is sustained when the EU-wide transitional controls on Bulgarian and Romanian immigration end, and when the economy eventually  perks up. But unless economic globalisation goes into reverse, we can expect large-scale international migration to continue.

    – The high level of immigration is a big factor in the increase in the size of our population. The bigger the population, the more congested a country becomes. England is already the most densely populated nation in Europe, bar Malta. Outside London and the southeast, is is far from being ‘full up’, and the rest of the UK has a much lower population density. But it is questionable how practical or attractive the Lib Dem idea (at the last election) of regionally varying immigration controls would be.

    – In any event, higher immigration will require a much more liberal planning regime to enable the supply of housing to keep pace with the rate of new household formation. This is on top of the extra housing supply required to meet the demands of the existing population. Clearly it is feasible to accommodate even a significantly larger population; but doing so might entail sacrificing greenfield and even greenbelt land.

    There will need to be more infrastructure in general, of course, but there is no reason to think this can’t be financed from the extra tax revenues generated by immigrants. The issue is more one of high population density in the areas where immigration would likely be concentrated, and the pressures on the physical environment, not one of financial cost.

    – The cause of toleration is not helped by bad economics. It is not very enlightening to point out that immigration boosts GDP. So what? Other things being equal, we would expect the size of the economy to increase with the size of the working population. But this is not an appropriate index of prosperity. The focus should be on income per head of the resident population.  In itself, a larger GDP shared out among a larger population is not an obvious boon.

    As Martin Wolf points out, ‘Some of the world’s richest countries are small and homogeneous… The arguments in favour of [immigration] must rest far more on wider social than economic considerations: the intrinsic desirability of the UK with a substantially more heterogeneous population. In the long run, the UK would become more like the US. Whether it can do so successfully is very much open to question.’

    I accept his point that the evidence on whether a high level of immigration per se delivers a net economic benefit is mixed. The House of Lords select committee on economic affairs, looking at the UK experience during the Labour years, concluded that it was negligible. Martin Wolf agrees. However they did not have the counter-factual of heavily restricted immigration to compare it with.

    My argument regarding the economics is different. It is that large flows of migration (both inward and outward) are inevitable by-products of globalisation, and the more dynamic economy that it has brought about. We could exert great efforts to try to thwart it, and we might have some success; but we should not underestimate the costs and potential unintended consequences of clumsy government restrictions, in this as in other areas in which we invest great authority in the wisdom of central planners.

    The existing points-based system, based in part on educational and training credentials, is flawed even before the coalition added the net migration target into the mix. It embodies all the faults of discredited postwar manpower planning. It is amusing that Tories in particular, supposedly apostles of the market, assume that the ‘gentleman in Whitehall’ is equipped to decide how many of what sort of workers are required in which industries.

    If we must restrict immigration, and reluctantly I concede that some restriction is necessary in the UK context, we should drop the bizarre idea that the government knows which workers the country needs, and introduce a market-based approach instead.

  • Alex Sabine 23rd Mar '13 - 8:17pm

    A more promising approach would involve auctioning the right to work in the UK. The government would decide how many permits to offer for a given period. Potential employers or foreigners seeking work could buy those permits. Any student with a bona fide offer and ability to pay would be welcome. After graduation they too could buy a work permit, or an employer could buy one on their behalf.

    One merit of this scheme is that it would automatically provide the right to work to those who value it the most and so would gain the most. In general these would be relatively skilled people. But in some cases employers might find it worthwhile to bid for the right to bring in unskilled workers. Either way, competition in the market would make the decision.

    The price of the permits would motivate employers to train domestic alternatives. Within the UK, the policy might even reduce inequality, since it would tend (but not in a prescriptive way) to skew immigration towards the skilled and so raise the rewards to unskilled labour. The revenue raised from auctioning work permits could be used to compensate the countries of origin for the cost they have incurred in training the imported workers (a transfer of costly human capital).

    Employers would decide the value to them of filling a given vacancy from outside the EU. Similarly, foreign job-seekers would decide the value of working in the UK. The government would adjust the quantity of permits for successive periods guided by the prices the work permits obtained.

    This would, I suggest, be a more transparent, fairer, more flexible and less bureaucratic means of controlling immigration. It would certainly be an improvement on the inflexibility and distortions created by current policy, and the impracticality and dubious ethics of some of the proposals floated in Nick Clegg’s speech.

    (Apologies for the extremely lengthy posts… Didn’t realise I had so much to say on this topic! Also for the double post… Eds – feel free to remove the entry directly below Gareth’s short comment as much of it is replicated below…)

  • @Alex: While I can completely agree with your point about how horribly flawed the points system is, I feel your solution is still too focused on industry. Do not get me wrong, I realise industry is a massive part of this and do not wish to discredit that, but we, as Liberals especially, should remember people are not commodities.

    I know a Chinese lady who does not work here, but the voluntary work and political/social campaigning she does on behalf of her local community has contributed just as much to our society as any industry worker.

    I know a Taiwanese gentlemen, who despite his ill-health, still volunteers in our schools to teach our young child Chinese and Music. He works in some of his communities most deprived schools to give the students their the chance to learn things they would never have a chance to even dream of learning were it not for his contribute to his local community.

    These people contribute so much to our society and the lack of respect, no in fact, the outright insulting way they are depicted by our political elite and the media hounds is just disgusting. I know I sound idealistic, I probably am, but we need to start looking at people human beings and stop looking at them as just part of a big workforce which helps the rich get richer. (Of course, the only way to change the system is to get the rich to agree and the only way to get the rich to agree with anything is to show them how it will make them richer. So I guess I am defeating myself with this point.)

  • “A more promising approach would involve auctioning the right to work in the UK.”

    Here’s an idea. Why not hand out work permits in return for kidneys donated to the NHS? It would certainly demonstrate commitment. And the really good thing would be that even Nigel Farage would find it difficult to top (probably). Worth running past a focus group, surely?

  • Liberal Al and Chris:

    I am not advocating treating people as commodities. My whole premise was that I support immigration for humanitarian as much as economic reasons. I do not think the case for immigration rests on it boosting a country’s GDP. I dislike arguments based on this reasoning because it overlooks the fact that what matters is  individual human welfare. An imperfect proxy for this is income per head, but of course there are other ‘quality of life’ factors to consider which I alluded to.

    The utopian, libertarian side of me would like a policy of totally open borders throughout the world. As I explicitly said, that is what would maximise the welfare of the world as a whole. And that the free movement of labour would help balance the free movement of capital that is a feature of globalisation.

    I then confronted the reality that we live, and will continue to live, in a world of (more or less) sovereign nation states, and that in my view these are likely to remain the locus of political decision-making. It doesn’t strike me as controversial to say that governments of nation states will naturally be most concerned with the welfare of their existing citizens, although – as I also said – I believe they should not ignore the plight of the world’s poor and dispossessed in formulating policy. (Hence for example, the moral imperative of welcoming refugees/asylum seekers irrespective of the policy on economic migration.)

    The UK has a real income-per-head around 5 times the world average. If immigration restrictions were lifted altogether, it does not take a great leap of imagination to realise that there would be a huge inflow of workers quite legitimately seeking a better life.

    Basic economic theory suggests that the flow of migrants to a place where there is chance of obtaining a far better income might continue until the wages to which the migrants aspire have fallen to the same level as at home (adjusting for the costs of both moving and living). Alternatively, it would continue until the condition of many of them has become even worse than at home. We would then see in the developed world what we see in developing countries: vast slums.

    In practice, no high-income country is going to allow this to happen. As Martin Wolf argues, ‘some controls are always going to remain in place. Moreover, such controls are effective, even if porous. The gaps in wages across the globe to which [advocates of free movement] point in arguing the potential economic benefits of free flows also demonstrate the efficacy of controls… But the costs are indeed enormous, as is always the case when market forces are driven underground.’

    If developed countries are concerned about their citizens’ welfare, they will be alive to the benefits as well as the costs of immigration. In my view this will mean allowing relatively large inflows, particularly of skilled migrants, and not seeking to restrict numbers according to an arbitrary numerical quota. It will mean challenging a lot of myths about the supposed evils of immigration.

    But this liberal, tolerant approach will get nowhere if it doesn’t recognise that immigration creates certain pressures. One of these is housing; although as I said, this can be absorbed even within a densely populated nation like England IF we are willing to liberalise the planning system sufficiently. Another is that competition for low-skilled jobs does appear to put downward pressure on wages, and this is disadvantageous for low-skilled workers among the native-born population.

    Immigrants typically earn more than in their country of origin – that is why they migrate – but less than what a native of the receiving country would earn with he same skills. That is the central economic fact about immigration: from that, most social and economic consequences follow.

    So unless you believe unfettered immigration is an inalienable universal right, you have to face the reality that a nation state like the UK will – out of regard for the welfare of its own lower skilled workers, as well as the land-use pressures – seek at least to exert some control over the numbers and pattern of new arrivals.

    In practice this can take one of several forms. It could be a simple numerical quota: we will allow X number of people in each year, irrespective of where they come from or for what purpose (study, work etc). Even this apparently neutral, non-discriminatory policy is inherently skewed by the differential treatment of EU nationals versus immigrants from the rest of the world.

    Alternatively, you could say, as per the points-based system, we think we know which sectors of the economy are going to need migrants, so we will allocate work permits to different categories and sectors on that basis.

    Or, as the coalition policy seems to be, it could combine the two approaches – except that the numerical quota is defined quixotically as the difference between the net inflow of immigrants and the net outflow of emigrants, implying that the target could be met by an increase in emigration rather than a reduction in immigration.

    What I was arguing is that, IF we accept the premise that there should be any restrictions at all on economic migration (as distinct from asylum), then we are, as Martin Wolf says, inescapably in the messy business of having to decide how, and on what principles, to do so.

    I am with him in believing that we need a better mechanism for rationing it than one based on bureaucratic subdivisions of the workforce based on some notion of manpower planning dreamed up in Whitehall. It is that system which treats people as commodities, not one in which the work permits were allocated based on mutually advantageous exchange, as determined in the same way that the rest of the labour market operates.

    If you oppose all restrictions on immigration, then I understand why you would oppose auctioning work permits. If you believe we need some system for allocating work permits, I fail to see why  it is more humane for officials to decide that whole categories of people should be ineligible (because they deem that their skills aren’t required by UK businesses), or (as in the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto proposal) that they should only be eligible to work in certain parts of the country irrespective of where they want to go, or where the demand for their skills is greatest. Nor do I have the faintest idea why they should be equipped to make these judgements (which purport to be economic in nature) when we don’t expect them to decide on the location of factories or the allocation of capital etc.

    I should stress, I am not arguing for a tightening of immigration controls relative to the current system. Quite the reverse. Unfashionable though it is, I will even defend Labour’s decision to open the doors to immigration from eastern Europe in 2004, though the epic failure of the official forecasts shows the futility of trying to quantify the unquantifiable. I have consistently criticised the Tory part of the coalition’s moves to restrict immigration, and praised Vince Cable and others for trying to mitigate its worst effects.

    I am merely acknowledging that immigration has some costs as well as many benefits, and that the costs are such that totally unrestricted immigration is probably a libertarian pipe dream.* In that context we need to think about how policy might be better designed to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs, and that is not well served by the bureaucratic nature of current policies, still less by the kind of tinkering proposed in Clegg’s speech.

    * See for example this 2001 article by the arch-liberal Samuel Brittan advocating a five-year experiment with a ‘laissez faire’ immigration policy:
    http://www.samuelbrittan.co.uk/text93_p.html

    …And then his partial retraction of the idea in 2008 in the light of subsequent developments:
    http://www.samuelbrittan.co.uk/text307_p.html

  • Alex Sabine 24th Mar '13 - 2:09am

    To put my position rather more succinctly, I’d go along with Sam Brittan’s line – in his contribution to a Centre Forum paper on globalisation – that we should pursue ‘the freest immigration policy with which the political authorities of the host country can get away’.
    http://www.centreforum.org/assets/pubs/globalisation-final.pdf

    Given that any British government will inevitably attempt to exercise some residual control over the scale of economic migration, I agree with Sam, Martin Wolf, John Kay and other liberals that the allocation of work permits should be guided by market forces as much as possible, and by the clumsiness of bureaucratic manpower planning as little as possible.

    Auctioning work permits within an seems to me a viable way of doing this, and a more humane and transparent model than either the current system or the variants of it being floated by our main political parties.

    A similar proposal has been put forward by Professor Giovanni Peri from the University of California, Davis in a refreshingly rational contribution to the debate on how to reform the US immigration system. This explains the idea in considerably more detail:
    http://www.hamiltonproject.org/files/downloads_and_links/05_peri_brief.pdf

  • jenny barnes 24th Mar '13 - 8:50am

    As well as auctioning the right to enter britain to potential immigrants, you could auction it to parents who want to children. That would deal with poor people as well.

  • jenny barnes 24th Mar '13 - 8:50am

    Sigh
    Snark mode off

  • Helen Dudden 24th Mar '13 - 9:12am

    If all those who should not be here, and still remain illegally were returned to their various homelands in the first place, then, that would have reduced the number of illegal immigrants.

    I understand that the Lib Dems were for drawing a line under this issue and letting them remain?

    Of course, Nick Clegg will enjoy the chance to be in government, he may have a high loss of those who have been in the party for years, will they ever return? maybe never.

  • Richard Dean 24th Mar '13 - 9:35am

    How about auctioning the right to life?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 24th Mar '13 - 9:50am

    “A more promising approach would involve auctioning the right to work in the UK.”

    Once people were themselves auctioned off when they were forced to come to this country. Now it is proposed the ancestors of these people should enter into a bidding process to enter this country of their own free will.

    Not the sensitive idea I would suggest.

  • Richard Dean 24th Mar '13 - 10:08am

    Put another way, if this level of “thinking” is representative of where Libdem policy committees have reached, then it’s clear why MPs ignore conferences. In the words of a commentator on another thread, the party is not fit to govern.

  • “descendants” , R U-P

  • Steve Griffiths 24th Mar '13 - 5:40pm

    Well it’s a hat-trick of reasons not to rejoin I’m afraid. I will not now consider coming back until the current leadership has departed.

  • A Social Liberal 24th Mar '13 - 7:18pm

    At Elizabeth, Old Codger et al

    I always thought that the Lib Dems went for policies that followed the lines of Liberal principle, then moved attract those who have similar principles and finally convince the general population using LIberal arguements.

    It would seem that the party has followed Labour and then the Tories in abandoning principle in order to be everyones best mate..

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Mar '13 - 7:48pm

    A Social Liberal: so what’s your solution to immigration?

  • Jonathan Hunt 24th Mar '13 - 8:35pm

    I am slightly surprised but greatly heartened by the scale and general direction of this debate, starting with an excellent piece by Stephen. It is good to see there still are so many true Liberals in our party.

    And that we are not yet subsumed by “immigrants” from the high-risk “Centre”, much closer to the Right than the radical non-socialist Left where the party belongs.

    The problem with immigration is that there are so few relaible facts and figures available to make any kind of judgment. All those conservatives of both parties in the coalition should recognise the bosses’ mantra that “what you can’t meaure, you can’t manage”. And join Alex Sabine and Ruwan in accepting that it does become a matter of human sensitivities.

    For we have no accurate idea what the actual number of supposed overstayers actaully is. And how many jobsworths in the Border Agency confuse those entitled to stay because of bureaucratic incompetence. Or how many who do go home are not entered in the right lists. The whole field is chaos and I have had cause to discover on behalf on constituents and friends.

    Many Clegg supporters still live in the age Rev Thomas Malthus, who predicted imminent disaster in 1778, just before the first Census in 1801 showe4d just 8.0 million living in England & Wales.

    Fly over our pleasant and exceedingly green land today in a small aircraft, and see that there’s room for many more inside before we are full up. What we lack are enough homes, caused by a failure of successive governments to build them. Bring back Harold Macmillan and Ernie Marples who managed 300,000 in a Tory government somewhat to the progressive Left of the present Lib Dem leadership.

    Until we spend considerably more in quality training, the instruction to mind the gap will continue to apply to skills where we lag a long way behind our major competors. And why we will need a range of skilled workers from abroad.

  • Richard Dean 24th Mar '13 - 8:51pm

    Fly over this green and pleasant land and you will see that almost all of it is already used. The towns are used by townsfolk and the country is used by farmers. Even the wild woodland and moor is managed, and generally regarded as rather precious and not to be changed.

    The Office of National Statistics says there were half a million immigrants in 2011. That’s the ones it knows about. At that numerical scale, it’s astonishing there are so few mistakes, and a testament to the generally good work of the UKBA.

    There were also 300,000 emigrants , meaning net immigration of 200,000 that are known about. That’s a lot of new houses needed, a lot of new schools, teachers needed, nurses needed, and of course some of the people will come from the immigrants themselves. Indeed, one more person may be one more mouth to feed, but is also one more person to do the work of feeding.

    Any political party who dismisses these number as negligible is failing the electorate.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Mar '13 - 8:52pm

    Jonathan, building houses over green land is bad for the environment, we need to bring immigration down to sustainable levels. Sustainability is also what the party is about.

    “And that we are not yet subsumed by “immigrants” from the high-risk “Centre”, much closer to the Right than the radical non-socialist Left where the party belongs.”

    You see the problem with this statement Jonathan is that the old Liberal Party merged with the SDP so we do not belong on the radical non-socialist left. People with your views are respected but you do not own the party.

  • A Social Liberal 24th Mar '13 - 9:00pm

    Eddie

    I live at the fringes of the largest asian community in North Yorkshire. I don’t see immigration as a problem, especially as it perenially solves the UKs employment problems. We are as a nation woefully lacking scientists, engineers, doctors nurses, servicemen, nursing home assistants, bus drivers and even down to potato pickers. some of these jobs are because school leavers do not want to go into these careers, but some are because we do not have the school leavers to fill all the vacancies (or at least we did not have them until 2008).

    Prevent immigrants from coming in to carry out these tasks and we can do one of two things. We can coerce people into taking up these career paths or we can pay a premium to get people onto them. The former is illiberal whilst the latter is financially not viable. There is a huge debate about the costs of residential care of the elderly (at least amongst those who do not want to see their inheritance disappearing into the coffers of the nursing homes), but imagine the bills if those nursing homes had to attract nursing assistants by offering a competative salary. Imagine the cost of potatoes if farmers had to up picking wages to get their harvest in.

    This is why we have had immigration throughout the ages – from German miners being invited in by Queen Elizath I to show us how to mine lead to the Windrush generation of the post war period. We have profited by their coming for hundreds of years – we will no doubt profit from their coming for hundred of years to come.

  • Richard Dean 24th Mar '13 - 9:04pm

    Liberal now means offering a non-competitive salary to immigrants? How utterly disgraceful.

  • And, in your view, Richard, liberal means taking a much harder line over immigration than “throughout the ages” (to quote A Social Liberal). How equally (if not more) disgraceful.

  • David Allen 24th Mar '13 - 9:36pm

    Eddie Sammon said:

    “You see the problem with this statement Jonathan is that the old Liberal Party merged with the SDP so we do not belong on the radical non-socialist left. People with your views are respected but you do not own the party.”

    Well Eddie, the problem with your statement is like this. The old Liberal Party were radical, they were non-socialist, and whilst they did not precisely self-identify as “left”, they certainly knew that their main enemies were on the Right. Meanwhile the majority from the SDP who joined the merged party identified themselves as a centre-left group, whose thinking had indeed evolved out of the socialist tradition, but had moved far away from socialist ideology. It dawned on these two parties that there was no huge gulf between them, and that they should form a merged party belonging to (as Jonathan puts it) the radical non-socialist left.

    People with views which are at odds with both of these traditions should question why they ever decided to join our party. Starting with its current leadership.

  • David Allen 24th Mar '13 - 9:46pm

    “Liberal now means offering a non-competitive salary to immigrants? How utterly disgraceful.”

    Ever since London Transport recruited Jamaican immigrants to drive buses in the 1960s (and probably before), immigrants have come to this country to do jobs which the indigenous population have resisted doing. To slag off liberals for this policy, which was in fact put in place by the Tories and Labour, is ridiculous.

    To oppose the policy also begs the question, what would you do instead? Would you ban immigration and allow London Transport’s buses to come to a grinding halt, or would you raise bus drivers’ wages and bus ticket prices through the roof in order to persuade home-grown British people to do the job? You would have to do one or the other. Neither would win you popularity and get your government re-elected!

  • A Social Liberal 24th Mar '13 - 9:51pm

    Eddie

    There are 710,000 empty homes in England alone. There are brown field sites galore as well as reclaimed sites like the old town tip in my town – more than enough to start a new village.

    I can travel for 10s of miles in several directions without seeing more than a couple of houses grouped together. There are fields and fields where there used to be houses but were cleared by landowners who prefered to have sheep on their acres. All these could be reclaimed without impinging on green field sites,

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Mar '13 - 10:10pm

    A Social Liberal: I don’t see immigration as a problem because of different cultures it brings, I like multiculturalism because it educates society and removes prejudices. However I do respect people’s unease with segregation. This is a very sensitive topic, with a counter argument based on the freedom to segregate, so it is something that I do not have a clear opinion on or would wish to campaign about.

    Moving on, I believe the argument for reducing immigration should be fought on the grounds of protecting green spaces and over supply in the low skilled labour market. I do not believe in an immigration cap, which I believe was an absurd policy from the Tories in 2010, but I do not believe we should ignore people’s concerns or try to tell them what’s good for them.

  • It occurs to me that there are in fact three sides to this argument, not two:

    (1) Those who believe in an open-door policy, or at any rate take the view that large-scale immigration is basically an unalloyed good

    (2) Those who believe that some measure of immigration control is preferable, essentially because its economic and social consequences are not wholly benign, and so some rules such as quota limits are needed. Hywel, Joe Bourke, Alex Sabine and others on this thread (as well as myself) have expressed views along these lines. A common factor has been the aim to avoid the harmful social dislocation that can occur when massive and sudden migration flows take place. Those who promote this line of argument differ in their detailed proposals, but none of them express disguised racism, animosity towards immigrants, or hatred of liberal principles. They simply wish to see a fair balance between the interests of all concerned.

    (3) Those who are angry about immigrants coming into Britain, angry about politicians who allow it, and want to fight against it. Those people want to see punitive action against immigrants and their political supporters. They want revenge.

    The Mail and the Express adopt viewpoint (3). Our party membership, as indicated in this thread, adopt a roughly even balance between viewpoints (1) and (2).

    Nick Clegg has called for an abandonment of the idea that an illegal entrant can ever earn a place; for a financial penalty against legal immigrants, and for a cost penalty against immigrants who need help with translations. All of these are punitive concepts, which will appeal to those who hate immigrants, hate immigration, and want to see immigrants suffer. The Mail and the Express can be expected to cheer. I certainly don’t.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Mar '13 - 10:14pm

    A Social Liberal, I just seen your comment on empty houses and brown field land – I am all for renovating empty homes and building houses on brown field sites.

  • Eddie Sammon 24th Mar '13 - 10:26pm

    David Allen, I understand that traditionally the party has been roughly centre left however the Liberal – SDP Alliance campaign in 1987 was fought on a position of equidistance. These equidistant “centrists/moderates” have always been a part of the party, they have just never been into leadership positions or shown a lack of willingness to adopt centre left policies.

    I think the wrong thing was for Nick Clegg to be dishonest about what he would do if he became leader of the party.

  • A Social Liberal 24th Mar '13 - 10:32pm

    Richard

    How very, very patronising. Show me where I said that we should pay less to immigrants. It is a sad fact that some employers will pay beneath the going wage to immigrants but it doesn’t happen as a matter of course.

    What I was trying to say, probably badly, is that if the jobs are not filled then a higher than the going wage will have to be paid. So maybe having immigrants is maintaining the status quo of wages but,except for a handful of cases, they are not paid less.

  • Alex Sabine 25th Mar '13 - 1:02am

    Jenny Barnes et al:

    As an advocate of a more ‘open door’ immigration policy than that pursued either by the last Labour government, the coalition, or the Lib Dems in their 2010 manifesto, I find it rather odd to be assailed for being hostile, or failing to recognise the benefits of free movement.

    I DO recognise the benefits, some of which I outlined in my posts. I also criticised those in the media, political parties and elsewhere who either misrepresent the facts or malign/scapegoat immigrants themselves. However, relying on lazy arguments (like immigration boosts GDP, when, as I said, this is what you’d expect when the working population increases), or not acknowledging that there are costs and trade-offs to immigration from the point of view of the existing population, does no favours to the cause of an open tolerant society.

    Are you advocating a complete removal of restrictions on non-EU immigration? If so, fine. Instinctively I’m with you. But ultimately I do not think it is politically possible; and I worry that it would foment tensions rather than promote toleration and harmony.

    If you accept that we should have some controls, as all recent British governments have, then the question is how they should operate.

    I put forward one idea on how to deal specifically with economic migration (essentially the work and study elements). As I should have expected, given how ingrained the concept of ‘economics without price’ is, the very suggestion of involving markets outrages some people here. Yet no comparison is made with how the system actually works now, which is to ration entry by official diktat.

    In particular, there is no recognition that the current system purports to allocate work permits on economic grounds. We have separate provisions to deal with refugees on the one hand, and family links on the other. I am not proposing that people obtaining work permits should be the only people allowed into the UK.

    What I’m saying is that, insofar as the British government issues work permits, it might do better to be guided by the actual conditions in the labour market rather than by its spuriously precise assessments of which sectors should be eligible.

    An outline of how such a system might work in Practice is outlined here in relation to reforming the US immigration system: wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324196204578297850464590498.html

    Whitehall micromanagement and ‘picking winners’ are rightly discredited in industrial policy (though they are making a worrying comeback under the aegis of a growth agenda); they are no more effective or appropriate in the field of immigration.

    Why is it abhorrent that someone should be unable to obtain a work permit because there is insufficient actual demand for their labour; yet acceptable that the government should determine in advance that they should not get one because they do not tick the right boxes and fit into the right skills category, or because a politically driven numerical quota has been met?

    Equally, what is immoral about suggesting that those who want to study at British universities should be able to do so if they have an offer and some means (whether themselves or through some national or other sponsor) of paying for their course? Or are you suggesting that foreign students should NOT have to pay fees? Even if you oppose tuition fees, surely you don’t believe this confers an unlimited right on anyone from anywhere in the world to study in the UK for free?

    As I made clear, I think the current government’s approach to restricting foreign students is mistaken and economically damaging. But I don’t think it’s horribly mercenary to require those who wish to study here to pay for their courses.

    All too few of the comments here seem to be engaging with the realities of the current system, and how it could be improved. As I said, rejecting immigration control tout court is a perfectly respectable position, and I have a lot of time for the arguments put forward by its proponents like Philippe Legrain. I would like to move as far in that direction in possible, and am unconvinced by the emphasis on statist managerialism in (for example) the last Lib Dem manifesto, never mind Nick Clegg’s latest proposals.

    I am not clear what some of my critics here propose at all, other than a reluctant acquiescence in the status quo and a self-righteous tone of moral superiority.

  • Alex Sabine 25th Mar '13 - 1:09am

    David Allen: Well said. We often disagree on policy but I think you have summarised the position fairly (and more charitably than I did above, though I was provoked…). My fundamental objection to the latest proposals from Clegg is that, unwittingly I hope, it crosses the boundary into your third category.

  • Eddie Sammon 25th Mar '13 - 2:32am

    Alex I think you are being too nice: such extreme views as believing in completely open door immigration to the whole world should be disassociated from the party.

    They don’t deserve their own “camp” because very few of the 40,000 or so Lib Dem members would agree with it.

  • Alex,

    you make some perceptive arguments. I do believe that communicating actual facts about the true nature and impact of immigration in a globalised economy, while at the same time being alert to the potential danger of abrupt changes in the ethnic composition of an area to the social fabric of society are equally important.

    There are two points I would make. The first is best illustrated by Japan’s experience, an ethnically homogenous country that remains generally averse to immigration. A significant element of Japan’s stalled economy over the past two decades has been a low fertility rate giving rise to a rapidly ageing population that has not had the benefit of any significant influx of new blood from overseas. Economic growth in Japan when looked at per head of working population has been quite reasonable by historic standards ,while GDP overall has been flat despite periodic efforts at stimulus. The argument that total GDP does not matter falls down when there is an ever larger retired population relying on a dwindling working population to maintain it, while simultaneously endeavoring to compete with younger well-educated developing countries.

    The second point I would make is that it is not ever more sophisticated or restrictive controls on legal immigration where the effort needs to be concentrated, but rather on much more effective control of the principal source of social tension i.e. illegal immigration. While reintroducing exit controls may be of some benefit in this area, I don’t really see how we can get on top of this thorny problem without workable in-country checks and regulation.

  • Richard Dean 25th Mar '13 - 8:34am

    It is certainly unethical to use immigrants as ways of avoiding paying proper wages. An immigrant is a normal person with all of the rights of normal person, deserving of all of the respect one would normally give to a normal person. An immigrant who becomes a citizen also has the rights of a citizen, which includes the right to vote and the right to participate in the process of developing and changing our national, regional and local identities.

    Alex Sabine might fare better with shorter posts and less wandering arguments. Joe is partially correct – the social problems seem to present as issues about illegal immigration, but probably the underlying feeling that the unethical press manipulates is more complex.

    A simple and ethical system for work-related immigration was outlined by me earlier in this thread, and is in effective operation in many countries. There are also other many other valid reasons for a person to change their address, including wanting education and wanting to live near family. http://www.libdemvoice.org/nick-cleggs-illiberal-hattrick-now-immigration-joins-secret-courts-and-media-regulation-on-the-pyre-33815.html#comment-244989

  • “Labour’s failure was not in letting too many immigrants in, it was in their failure to get the UK building the houses needed.”

    Trying to rewrite history to support your cause Stephen doesn’t wash. However in this statement you admit that firstly there are too many immigrants already in the UK and secondly their presence has been a major contribution to the current housing shortage.

    If we are to believe the various forecasts for the numbers of houses that need to be built to support the existing population, we come up against a problem that will not go away – there is no magic wand that can be waved to magic these houses into being; it will take many years for these houses to be built (even putting to one side the issue of land allocation and planning). So it is obvious that until such time as we have resolved the problem caused by New Labour we need to stop digging and temporarily limit further population growth – the simplest being a clamp down on gross immigrations and the removal of those immigrants now here illegally. This is just plan old-fashioned common sense; something that seems to be lacking from the political sphere.

  • @A Social Liberal 24th Mar ’13 – 9:51pm
    “I can travel for 10s of miles in several directions without seeing more than a couple of houses grouped together. There are fields and fields where there used to be houses but were cleared by landowners who prefered to have sheep on their acres. All these could be reclaimed without impinging on green field sites,”

    And where do you think the sheep will graze that in due course become the lamb you buy from the butchers?

  • Alex Sabine 26th Mar '13 - 2:15am

    @ Joe: I was just cautioning against a simplistic correlation between GDP and welfare/prosperity. But of course you are right that demographics matter, and that immigration is a way in which countries with ageing populations and low birth rates can improve their living standards and strengthen their public finances. Japan is an excellent example; Italy is another, and maybe Germany too. Indeed recent demographic trends in the US suggest higher immigration might well be beneficial there too. That said, a policy of relying on immigration to offset long-term demographic trends is likely to run into diminishing returns.

    @ Richard Dean: Perhaps you might ‘fare better’ with fewer glib asides. I don’t know what you are inferring from my posts, but I’m certainly not suggesting that the British government, or UK Plc, or employers or whoever, should ‘use immigrants as a way of avoiding paying proper wages’. I do not take a paternalistic view of what is best for people; subject to the vital protections of the rule of law and free association, I think they are generally the best judges of that.

    Nonetheless there are certain observable facts about the economics of immigration:
    – It is driven in part by large differences in living standards between different countries
    – The UK’s income per head is about 5 times the world average
    – The opportunity to earn wages that are high by the standards of their countries of origin, but low by British standards, is sufficient to make the UK labour market attractive to migrants from relatively poor countries
    – To the extent that there is direct competition for jobs between immigrants and native-born workers, the greater labour supply is likely to put downward pressure on wages, even if the minimum wage provides a legal floor
    – This is not a straightforward relationship, however, since there is evidence that immigrants often don’t compete directly with British citizens in the labour market, but complement them and in turn stimulate extra demand

    Philippe Legrain, an economist of unimpeachable liberal credentials who specialises in globalisation and migration issues and advocates completely open borders worldwide, puts this last point more bluntly: ‘Critics argue that low-skilled immigration is harmful because the newcomers are poorer than British people. But that is precisely why they are willing to do the jobs that British people shun.’

    You evidently regard this as distasteful. But there is another perspective that we should consider. Legrain argues: ‘This is not exploitation: It makes everyone – migrants, taxpayers and Britons young and old – better off. It does not undercut wages, since British people do not want to do these jobs. And it does not undermine social standards: If there is abuse, legal migrants have recourse to unions and the law.’

    He points out that migrants’ reference point in terms of living standards is their home country, and the opportunity they have to transform their family circumstances (partly through remittances, which are sometimes described as the most effective form of foreign aid). That is why they often have little truck with bien pensant claims tht they are being exploited.

    Naturally, however, British workers having to bring up families in this country with its high cost of living are in a different position.

    One possible reaction to these economic realities is to say that unrestricted immigration of low- as well as high-skilled labour is a way of reconciling everyone’s interests to mutual advantage. Generally I am inclined to this view, though I think real exploitation occurs where immigration is forced underground (which is why we need both proper legal channels for economic migration and a realistic and humane approach to tackling the illegal ‘backlog’).

    Alternatively, you can argue that immigrants doing lower-paid (or otherwise less appealing) jobs than their British counterparts are willing to take amounts to ‘exploitation’ of the immigrants. Whether they see it that way is another matter. We have a minimum wage, but above this floor the government doesn’t actually fix wages by statute nowadays; so in the absence of a like-for-like comparison of native-born workers and immigrants doing the same jobs, I’m not sure how you determine what are ‘proper’ wages for different types of job. (Should such calculations be handed over to a central committee of wise Platonic rulers, perhaps, or maybe the Archbishop of Canterbury…?)

    If you take the latter view (which I don’t, as I’ve explained, but which Richard appears to), what you are really objecting to is the economic consequences of low-skilled immigration – pure and simple. In which case it is surely perverse to want more of it…

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 7:57am

    I’m sure you have something to say, Alex, but you use too many paragraphs, quote questionable “authorities” as if they were Moses, and include too many misunderstandings of others’ positions. Why not take pity on poor readers like me with low attention spans, and try presenting a short and cogent argument? Perhaps just one point at a time?

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 8:56am

    Legrain’s argument, for example, is from the old-style survival of-the-fittest type liberalism, now more associated with the rightest of the right wing Tories. Not “unimpeachable liberal credentials” at all.

    By contrast, the rise of the more “paternalistic” or “post-utilitarian” liberalism, that recognizes that people have imperfect information and process it imperfectly, is discussed for example by Giles Saint-Paul here:
    http://journals2.scholarsportal.info/details.xqy?uri=/02650665/v33i0001/119_latps.xml

    If memory serves, LibDems come from the ashes of the liberal and social democrat parties. The “paternalistic” style (how sexist, by the way!)- what some might call “human, realistic” style – perhaps reflects the social democrat side.

  • Alex Sabine 26th Mar '13 - 5:02pm

    Richard: I plead guilty to over-lengthy posts. Part of the reason is that I do actually try to understand and engage constructively with others’ opinions and responses, even ones as gleefully contrarian as your own.

    It’s quite obvious from your replies to various people in a succession of threads that you have a short attention span, and see little need to engage constructively with their arguments. Your style, instead, is to shower a volley of badly aimed grenades at people from somewhere which you seem to believe is the moral high ground. It would be nice if you ould observe some basic courtesies in your frequent hostile interventions, but that seems to be too much to ask.

    I didn’t cite the words of the economic commentators I mentioned (Sam Brittan, Martin Wolf, Philippe Legrain, John Kay) as gospel. Indeed this would be rather difficult as their views differ on immigration. However, they are all of a generally liberal persuasion – it is risible to describe any of them as the ‘rightest of right wing Tories’ – and have genuine expertise in economics, which makes their insights into the economic aspects of migration and globalisation worth listening to and at least engaging with, in my view. By the way, how are you getting on with that economics textbook Richard…?

    I do recognise that people have imperfect information. (You might as well point out that we live in an imperfect world.) I just tend to think that, however imperfect, they are usually better placed to judge what is good for themselves and their families than some remote official armed with reams of information but all too little knowledge of their situation and circumstances. This applies to immigrants as well as British citizens. I do not think this is social Darwinism, but humane individualism.

    And in fact, whatever you think we should do about immigration policy, two of the less controversial points are that it benefits the immigrants themselves, and that on a global level it reduces poverty. This arises from the rather obvious economic point about differentials in living standards between countries that I explained in earlier posts. So perhaps immigrants have superior information to that which those who wring hands on their behalf give them credit for.

  • Richard Dean 26th Mar '13 - 8:06pm

    Writing short comments, instead of long rambling ones, is a form of humility and respect. Putting the essence up front, like in a newspaper, is the same.

    It says to the reader “I do not wish to impose by taking up too much of your precious time, but here is something which might interest you”. It says “I am not so self-important that you cannot ignore me at once if you like to”.

    A person who wants more can always ask, and a person who wants to disagree immediately can always do so, without having to wade through oceans of text.

  • “Writing short comments, instead of long rambling ones, is a form of humility and respect.”

    That probably depends on how many you write.

  • A Social Liberal 28th Mar '13 - 3:18am

    @ Roland

    They will graze where sheep have ever grazed, on the uplands and moorland which cannot be used for other types of agriculture. There is no reason that those medieval villages (and not just medieval ones -Snap, Binend, Tyneham, Dylife and Bwlch-y-Gwyn amongst a host of others) cannot be used to restart communities without impingeing on so called greenfield sites.

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