Do 83% of Lib Dem voters want lower immigration?

Yesterday saw the launch of a paper by Labour MP Frank Field and Conservative MP Nicholas Soames called Balanced Migration: a new approach to immigration. The duo worked with the anti-immigration campaign group Migrationwatch, so no prizes for guessing that they urged much lower levels of immigration; or ‘balanced migration’ as they have re-branded it.

They commissioned the polling company YouGov to ask a couple of questions, including this one:

The latest migration figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 600,000 people immigrated to the UK in the year leading up to June 2007, whereas 400,000 people emigrated from (i.e. left) the UK, leaving a net inflow of 200,000 people. It has been suggested the level of immigration to Britain should be brought down to the level of emigration from Britain. Do you think such a policy would mean that the level of immigration to Britain would be…

* Too high – there should be less immigration than emigration – 57% of all voters; 40% of Lib Dem voters;
* Too low – there should be more immigration than emigration – 5% of all voters; 7% of Lib Dem voters;
* About right – 28% of all voters; 43% of Lib Dem voters;
* Don’t know – 10% of all voters; 9% of Lib Dem voters.

These results prompted Migrationwatch and Messrs Field and Soames to state baldly: “83 per cent of Liberal Democrats want to see much lower immigration” [adding together the ‘Too high’ and ‘About right’ figures]. Which is accurate enough; though, of course, missing from the innocuous-sounding poll wording was any suggestion of the measures which would be needed to bring about such a policy of ‘balanced migration’. For example, would YouGov had got a different answer if they had asked:

If after four years of skilled labour, contributing to the British economy and his local community, a tax-paying non-EU worker was told by the authorities he had to go home because the UK had reached its annual cap of economic migrants would you support his/her forced expulsion?

Strange enough, YouGov didn’t pose the question…

Read more by .
This entry was posted in News and Polls.


  • I am not a LD member, or even necessarily a supporter, but am consider me part of the liberal family 🙂

    My views are actually quite ambigious:

    Digested read: I like immigrants, but don’t necessarily like immigration 😀

  • What also concerns me is that it is being reported as a cross-party, or even in one BBC report an all-Party campaign ( Does anybpdy know of any Lib Dem MPs supporting the group?

  • Too often the debate over immigration becomes polarized between antis and pros. The comments above prove as much. It is all well and good outlining the benefits of immigration, and I am proud to be a member of a party which champions this reality, yet I fear that many in the party ignore the negative effects immigration is having on rural communities, educational experience, infrastructure, social deprivation and wasted taxes.

    A considerable number of the electorate, including our own supporters- as the survey proves- feel threatened and the Lib Dems need to mitigate these fears by attacking the negatives associated with mass-immigration.

  • Tom Papworth clearly reveals the sort of reactionary stance taken by many who cannot come to terms with the challenges of immigration. His stance is the sort which polarizes, simplifies and misleads debate.

    While it is correct to champion the benefits and necessity of immigration, it is at our peril if we do not recognize and seek to deal with the inevitable problems associated with immigration.

    While Tom is correct in outlining the positive role immigration has on these areas, there are also problems which will not go away until we recognize them.

  • David Allen 9th Sep '08 - 1:27pm

    Some home truths:

    1. Labour and the Tories quietly support high immigration, for business reasons. Labour’s points scheme, and the Tories’ “cap” on migration (tightness not specified!), are just figleaves to fool the public, and will have little real effect.

    2. There are actually perfectly sound liberal reasons to be wary of high immigration, which can drive down UK wages, increase social inequality, and deprive Third World countries of scarce skills. Racists know these arguments and deploy them for dishonest purposes. That’s a pity, but it doesn’t make the arguments invalid.

    3. The “benefits” of immigration depend on class. For nice middle-class people like most of us, it means cheap tradesmen and a good curry. For others, it can mean being undercut by Polish plumbers and losing your job.

    4. People may not be “empirically wrong but feel hard done by”. They may well know a lot more about their own genuine problems than we do. They will not vote for people who make patronising remarks about them! The answer is that we should take some of the economic benefits back from the middle classes, and channel them into high-immigration areas, so that neither the immigrants nor the established residents end up being hard done by.

  • An ‘official’ net inflow of 200,000 pa is a pretty huge number that almost certainly understates the actual figure by a country mile. We’re adding of a fair-sized city every year.

    Assuming that many/most stay long-term where are they all to live?

    The economic and libertarian argurments in support of heavy migration are fine but how do you balance them against the environmental one? At what point would we judge Britain to be ‘full’?

  • Here, here David Allen!

    Patronizing middle-class Liberals can pat their hard-working Polish cleaner on the head and revel in the benefits of multiculturalism, pluralism and the economic benefits of immigration, while deeming those disillusioned working-class Brits who vote BNP mere xenophobes.

    But this is to do grave damage to us as a party of the people. Empirically, on the whole, immigration is a benefit but there are large swathes of people (often those in relative poverty) who FEEL differently. Moreover, their feelings contain grains of truth.

    Instead of overlooking their apprehensions lets acknowledge them, admit that certain negatives are attached to mass-immigration and act upon it.

  • Careful, Martin Land, you’ll offend the guardians of libertarian purity if you start expressing a reasoned view…

    Like many of the more thoughtful liberals, I have conflicting views on immigration. I admire economic migrants & think the treatment of asylum seekers is abominable & that we should immediately remove barriers to their work, as many are intelligent & well qualified & would be able to get professional jobs, especially if ESOL were extended.

    Yes, I like immigrants, & I was aghast when someone of my own acquaintance was deported, even though she would have been an asset to any country (& is also unreasonably pretty :))

    But we do have to face up to the fact that this is a small country which has experienced a lot of immigration & that resources, social & natural, are not limitless. I do not believe in absolute freedom of movement, as it is simply unreasonable in countries like this.

    A number of environmentalists, for example, have expressed concerns over immigration. They are not crude, BNP-style racists: they think, as do I, that we need an internationalist approach that sorts out the developing world’s problems, & thereby removes the “causes of immigration”.

    We know that humanity’s impact on the environment is population times consumption: we should, therefore, aim to stop either of them reaching unreasonable levels by, for example, the promotion of education & contraception.

    I like immigrants & think the benefits of immigration are considerable, but the number of people is potentially limitless & there does come a point when there are too many. Whether we are there yet is a matter for debate.

    Having said all that, the waves of immigration may naturally dry up, especially as the economic climate becomes harsher. In a similar way, I don’t believe all these assertions that there will be 70 or 80 million people in a few decades, as they always assume that present trends wil continue, which I doubt that they will.

    The punitive, authoritarian approach never works for anything. But there are genuine concerns which liberals shouldn’t sneeringly dismiss.

  • I agree 100% with Simon Titley.
    1. to underline and highlight the need to count those who come in and those who leave the UK – UK Borders Act does just that – is playing into the hands of such as Migration watch.We have much more compassionate and liberal things to say about those who want to work, make a home or flee persecution and come here to the UK .
    2. Is it necessary to promise a Referendum on membership of the European Union ? If we are pro EU and pro parliamentary decisions isn’t it time we said so and stopped messing about with a meaningless Referendum ? It might even cost as much as ID cards !!!!(well nearly!)

    We are a humanitarian movement.Let the other parties dance to the tunes of Fox, Murdoch and the Mail !!

  • David Allen 9th Sep '08 - 6:41pm

    One more home truth while I’m about it. It’s a lovely philosophical debate as to whether immigration control is a vital right of the British people (Newmania) or an illiberal abomination (Julian H). But the reality is that immigration control is, in practice, largely impossible. We can only tinker at the margins, and if we want to, deport the few token “illegals” that we happen to catch. No amount of fulmination by angry Tories will change these facts.

    We will, of course, be deliberately misinterpreted and pilloried by our opponents if all we do is to state the truth. We do also need to show those 83% of our supporters that we understand their problems, and we don’t just think they are all a bunch of ignorant racists.

    Aaron, Martin, asquith, thanks for your comments, which helpfully flesh out some of the problems and concerns. Now, would someone with the relevant expertise like to explore more deeply another of my simple-minded broad-brush homilies (sorry, but it’s all I’m good for!), the one that went:

    “The answer is that we should take some of the economic benefits back from the middle classes, and channel them into high-immigration areas, so that neither the immigrants nor the established residents end up being hard done by.”

    Can we make a viable, popular, and effective policy along those lines?

  • “Let the other parties dance to the tunes of Fox, Murdoch and the Mail !!”

    Of course Murdoch can clearly be described as opposed to immigration – what nationality does he pretend to these days?

  • It doesn’t matter how you word the polls, the writing is on the wall. Given the anticipated shortfall and rising cost of energy, in 15 years’ time there will be 20 million too many people in this country and we won’t be able to afford to keep ourselves warm. Nice prospect thanks to our loony open-door policy.

  • Gordon has raised a key issue here which is not immigration vs emigration, but overall population against the environment. We all know that the UK has one of the highest population densities in the world for a developed country and our population is growing. We also know we have built and maintained our high standard of living initially by using massive amounts of the UK’s non-renewable natural resources (particularly fuel) and when they have run down, we have imported them from the elsewhere. Finally, most of us accept that these resources are getting more scarce and will also run down in a global sense in the next 25 to 50 years.

    The environmental question is not ‘When will Britain be full?’ as, you can always squeeze more people in. The real question is what is a sustainable population for the UK? It may be much less than it is now!

  • My reference to Friends Of The Earth (of which I am a member) was derived from this interview with Jonathan Porritt:

    I doubt whether he’d go down well with the majority of Liberal Democrats, actually, given his links to the Green Party & support for their policies.

    My reference to “the causes of immigration” is derived from something I noticed when looking on Wikipedia for the Green Party. 🙂

    I also agree with Dr. Razeen Sally that absolute free movement is more of a possible issue than international free trade, which liberals will naturally support.

    As for my own policies, I have not unveiled any, because I am very confused as to what approach should be taken, given that I can see the benefits of immigration but also identify drawbacks, & I don’t know where to stop.

    What I will reiterate is that the treatment of asylum seekers is not acceptable & they should not be vilified as they are in certain sections. Additionally, any given problem (such as overcrowding in the south-east) is far more likely to be the cause of British people than immigrants.

    There is no scapegoating here, just a discussion of the matter.

  • David Evans,

    Energy is indeed going to be a crunch issue in the near future. Sure we can import it (as coal or uranium) for the next few decades but, as you say, global resources are not unlimited. So, most sensible commentators expect we will have to turn increasingly to renewables but these do not travel well. In fact we need to get used to thinking of how much energy we can harvest. Obviously this is easier (and less environmentally damaging) if less is required.

    James Schneider,

    The UK population is and will remain overwhelmingly concentrated in a rough square with its northwest corner somewhere round Liverpool. This square is already one of the most populous extended regions on Earth and it shows. Plot sizes of new build homes have tumbled over the last 15 or so years (from memory to only about half what they would have been in earlier times) and many larger properties have been subdivided. All of this goes to reduce average peoples’ standard of living. I think that matters.

    And by the way this is not nimbyism. I live well outside that crowded square.

  • I have tried to write a lengthly, detailed reply addressing the points made by various commenters, but it hasn’t appeared despite being sent normally. I have noticed several times that posts with long hyperlinks simply don’t go through at all. What’s this all about?

  • David Evans 10th Sep '08 - 2:14pm


    In your comments to Gordon you reply “Which environmental concerns do you speak of? Lets not confuse nimbyism for genuine environmentalism.” I always say beware of what looks like calling other people in a debate perjorative names (like nimby) when it seems you don’t like their conclusions. We can all do that and it leads nowhere. To respond in part on Gordon’s behalf, environmental concerns include:- food production, water availability, fuel consumption, congestion, pollution, flooding and many more.

  • David Evans 10th Sep '08 - 2:23pm

    James, your question to Gordon “So what should we do, have a population policy?” is a very valid one. The question of whether the planet in general or this country in particular can sustainably support an ever expanding population brings my liberal instincts into direct conflict with my environmental concerns. If we insist on the liberty to use up masses of the world’s scarce resources ourselves, we may irreparably constrain our children’s liberty to enjoy the same standard of living as we do. In this regard the question is wider than just immigration, but that is a significant element of it.

  • I’m neutral on immigration as a concept because evaluation of such a broad subject is impossible with any accuracy. There are multitudinous positive and negative perspectives among both migrants and hosts and the general effect will forever contrast with localised problems.

    However I wouldn’t say that this excuses ignorance or dismissal of immigration as an important political subject because it clearly motivates much opinion.

    Firstly the freedom to move is a basic fact of all animal life so it is futile to prohibit, but unrestrained economic migration is no silver bullet to any problems just as forced social migration isn’t (I’m thinking of Idi Amin here).

    So the freedom must be protected, but additionally the ability to measure the flows associated with cross-border migration is essential to mitigate for significant variations in distribution.

    1,000 new portuguese-speaking school entrants around St Neots certainly places a burden of responsibility on the local council to deal with a special circumstance through which sufficient planning could have better minimised any frictions.

    A similar influx of french-speakers into south Ken is a different proposition as the service and educational infrastructure is preexisting and can be adjusted as required.

    What I guess I’m saying is that it’s horses for courses.

  • James,

    “We’re dangerously overcrowded … so what should we do, have a population policy?”

    If this survey is right, only 5% of voters (7% of Lib Dems) think there should be more immigration. This sounds to me like a pretty huge majority saying enough is enough.

    Call it the ‘wisdom of crowds’ or whatever but I think this is a view we should take very seriously indeed if we want to be a proper political party as opposed to an ideological fringe. Yes we can solve most environmental problems in time but land – well, they don’t make it anymore.

    Limiting immigation may not be a great policy – but it’s probably the least worst. What alternative would you offer?

  • Well James, in a global sense every immigrant is also an emigrant.

    Bearing this in mind Gordon, more immigration also means more emigration, and we therefore need to look at both sides of the equation.

    For every plumber from Poland or nurse from Sri Lanka who helps fill employment gaps in our economy we become jointly responsible for supply levels in their equivalent sector.

    There have been reports about how the massive exodus of skilled plumbers from Poland were being replaced by less skilled workers from elsewhere, and that the market responded to provide better rewards which has attracted a significant number back home.

    We simply cannot consider ourselves in isolation.

  • David Evans 10th Sep '08 - 4:48pm


    I wish it was that easy, but I’m afraid it isn’t anymore. Every extra human takes resources (mainly water, food and living enviroment from other species). But it is these species we rely on to live. We eat some, our livestock eats others. The whole environment supports our very existance, and the existance of everything else, but we always want to consume more. These creatures and the rest of the environment do not have property rights, but they are the losers. It is a real dichotomy and closing our eyes to it now on the basis something will turn up will just make it more difficult later.

  • passing tory 10th Sep '08 - 5:28pm


    Saying that we are less densely populated than the NL is like saying that gold is less dense than lead. True, but rather missing the point.

    How does the UK population density compare with that of the US, say?

    When you say that “While humans are undoubtedly causing environmental change that may create difficulties in the future, it does not follow that we have reached or exceeded the productive capacity of planet Earth”, of course if we tune the entire productive capacity of the earth for human food then we can stuff more people on. The question is whether this is really a sensible approach. I say no.

    Of course, in many ways the best contraceptive seems to be wealth. The question you have to ask yourself is which barrier we are likely to hit first; the point where the population rises until the average global quality of life rises to the point where we naturally end up with a neutral replacement rate, or where we start squeezing ecosystems to destruction. My money would be on the latter.

    Of course population growth is a sensitive subject, and it is much easier to ignore it. But, objectively, it underlies a number of serious environmental issues and waving it away is just wishful thinking.

  • James,

    You’re putting up a straw man to knock down. I said only that we should take the wisdom of crowds “very seriously”, not treat it as a substitute for thought.

    In this case the crowd is experiencing a here and now reality of competing for scarce resources, issues of community cohesion etc and suspect it will get worse in the medium and long run. On the other side of the equation the benefits seem modest and moreover to accrue largely to limited groups like employers.

    On that basis I have a great deal of sympathy with the majority view.

    Yes, we need better land taxes – but that won’t make more land.

    Re Chris Dillow: in the long run markets are indeed self-limiting – just as we are all dead.

  • PT, you’re not comparing like with like, that’s where environmental and geographic factors do become relevant. In that sense the combined low countries would provide a better comparison.

    Anyway the population density pattern is what is most important in this respect and this is reflective of social structures, so the resistance to high-rise living is probably the greatest limiting factor to increasing the UK population.

    As far as where your money goes, that’ll be because you’re a tory and that’s what the consequence of conservatism in government is.

  • passing tory 10th Sep '08 - 6:26pm


    Picking the one non city-state country in Europe with a higher population density than the UK is, to put it mildly misleading (and, are the combined low countries really a better comparison; the Eiffel region is not exactly Scotland, is it?).

    The US is in fact a very interesting comparison. I agree there are difference with the UK, but the fact remains that the natural resources per capita in the US is much higher than in the UK. I very often hear people moaning about the fact that the average US citizen has a very high consumption in global terms, but completely miss the point that this is supported by a much higher level of raw resources than the average European.

    I don’t doubt that society would chug on quite happily for quite a while constantly increasing population. You can build lots of high rise living in the UK if that makes you feel better. However, the fact remains that going down this path is by its very definition unsustainable.

    Leaving your cheap party political points to one side, do I take it that you are saying that if we just let the population grow that it will reach the point where the average global quality of life is sufficient to naturally cause the global population to stablilise? If so, do you wish to cite any evidence to support your view?

  • Oranjepan is correct to say that the solution must be international in nature, which is what I was trying to get at before. Passing Tory is partly right to say “wealth is the best contraceptive”, but I would add education &, well, contraceptive devices. These are often not available. All development projects must be linked to these or we are breeding human misery. This is the mistake which, for example, supporters of medical advances have often made.

    There will come a time when the world’s population peaks & declines, but will it come too late? We could hasten the day & create a better life for us all. It doesn’t have to be through authoritarian measures.

    In response to the point raised long ago, when you asked about these policies Friends Of The Earth have, I was referring to this:

    You should also read my own considered views on the issue:

    Having said all that, population is not necessarily linked to environmental impact. Livingstone, for all his faults, had some success in managing the increase in London’s population in an environmentally friendly fashion.

    In my own area, the main environmental problems are new roads & pointless department stores, none of which have any direct link to population (better public transport in particular would help: & this is why I’m sceptical about these cars that supposedly won’t emit carbon, because roads are still environmentally unfriendly in obvious ways).

    We have got to get a grip on this issue worldwide with international agreements. It is a matter for liberals to address. Returning to my point, I find deeply disagreeable both the libertarians & the protectionist nationalists.

    Yes, I have not yet taken a policy position: I believe there comes a time when immigration becomes too high but I think whether we are there yet is another matter…

  • David Evans 10th Sep '08 - 6:41pm

    Sorry Tom, I don’t agree with your comment “The reason that rainforest is being depleted and species are hunted to extinction is because nobody owns them and so nobody has an incentive to husband the resource. Third World farmers are not allowed to own land so they do not invest in their land but over-farm until it is desert and then move on.” at all.

    I think it is a complete red herring to put it down to third world farmers. Giving them their land would be no use whatsoever as the population growth in the area means that they would still need more. And if a rich corporation wanted to buy their bit of rainforest, they would sell in order to survive. Almost all of them are fighting to stay alive now. I fear you have been persuaded that our Western capitalist idea of property can just be exported anywhere and all will be solved. Just because it works well for us here means nothing in the rain forest. I think it is the same sort of delusion that Tony Blair had dreaming that we just had to “give democracy to the Iraqis and Afghans”. It’s all much harder than people are prepared to accept.

    Finally, your point on the Netherlands having a lower population density than ours, merely points to the fact that the Dutch are, sadly, as much in this mess as we are. England approx 380/sq km, Holland 390/sq km. Finally, it’s not smelly foreigners, it’s a real problem, with real liberal democrats (and others) having a debate. Casting aspersions like that is in danger of undermining your integrity and doesn’t move things on at all.

  • passing tory 10th Sep '08 - 7:17pm

    Asquith: “Having said all that, population is not necessarily linked to environmental impact.”

    Interesting hypothesis. I guess from this statement it follows that some people can have a net beneficial impact on the environment. Otherwise the incremental impact will always be negative, in which case population and environmental impact would be linked. In terms of individual behaviour I find that hard to believe. We all comsume a certain amount and very few live self-sustaining lifestyles in the strict sense of the word (even if you grew all you own veg I bet you would still buy a spade and a hoe, and I bet you would keep the snail population down too, which would then impact thrushes etc etc). In terms of leadership I suppose it might be possible (i.e. one person can lead to a much lower consumption in others so their apparent impact is beneficial). But overall, I am rather doubtful.

    Of course, what we have done in recent years is shift a lot of energy and polution intensive manufacturing over to the far east where it no longer appears on our energy balance sheets. Might it be possible that any environmental improvement you see is down to this?

  • I will use an analogy, passing tory. If there are two countries, in one of which 10 million people consume 2 resource units each, & in the other 15 million consume 1 resource unit each, then the latter is more environmentally friendly than the former.

    This country is cleaner than it was 50 years ago because we have healthier waterways & acid rain is less of a problem than it was. We also have more trees & what-have-you. Thus, we have increased population but become environmentally friendlier.

    What I am saying is there is not a direct causal link. Roughly, impact is population times consumption. Some on the right think limiting population is all we need to do, but that is nonsense, since even a smaller population people could quite easily devastate the environment without proper care being taken for conservation.

    Though having said all that, of course, a rising population doesn’t help…

    I reiterate that we urgently need an international approach. Bliar & clunking fist keep telling us that what we do is pointless if China keeps merrily emitting away: I agree, but I disagree with the inference that we should do nothing, it should be a spur to international action.

  • Hmm, immigration only becomes too high when it can’t be sustainably supported, so there is a valid point about the ability to transport resources to where they are needed (water and waste are finite restrictions where food, energy and industrial resources are less so).

    Comparison between the UK and the USA is disingenuous because the scale and sheer diversity of geographical zones means distances and environmental variations must be traversed. Arizona, for example, is an arid zone unlike anything found on the British Isles. The Eifel region (although being in Germany, not the low countries) is broadly comparable to mid and west Wales, while the Ardennes has similarities to the Lake District.

    No, I don’t think anybody can or should just let population levels stabilise, but that humanity is infinitely flexible and adaptive to circumstance and population levels reflect this fact. The speed of population growth is intimately entwined with our ability to manage our interaction with our natural and social environments, but not only in a one-way direction.

    Neither is overall wealth the only factor in this equation. Ongoing wealth inequalities mean growth differentials are perpetuated and localised demographic transition will continue to occur as population pressures are experienced differently in different places.

    So immigration is a fact of life which must be dealt with – the emotive reponse to the subject is an expression of simple failure to comprehend the process fully and develop the correct political responses.

  • You have identified a very important point, Oranjepan, which is that isolationism is not a suitable approach. The BNP seem to believe in sealing the borders, crouching behind them & hoping for the best. But that will ruin the economy & society & will do nothing for the global environment, which affects us in obvious ways.

    I must say I am enjoying this discussion 🙂 Chris Dillow blogger about immigration today: I invited him to make his own contributions here. Also, we could do with our friend A. Mortimer making a statement 😀

  • passing tory 10th Sep '08 - 7:40pm

    Asquith; let me take this point by point

    “This country is cleaner than it was 50 years ago because we have healthier waterways & acid rain is less of a problem than it was. We also have more trees & what-have-you. Thus, we have increased population but become environmentally friendlier.”

    I agree that in this country we have less pollution. That is in large part because goods are now manufactured off-shore, most noticably in China. Of course, we can point and say that our air is better, but the fact is that we have just pushed the problem somewhere else. We are still causing a comparable amount of pollution, just in the far east.

    You say that we need a global solution; fair enough. However, this requires a global analysis and I think that you have to take into account the impact of imported goods when you are judging these issues.

  • PT, who’s to say that manufacturing is always the cause of pollution?

    Surely it was unregulated industries failing to live up to today’s standards of best practise because the bosses had flawed business plans which hadn’t evolved to their present state yet (they still have further to go, mind).

    Some time ago I read a study about Mauritius which promoted the link between optimum population levels and the state of economic development.

    This small island in the Indian ocean actively promoted a policy of rapid population growth to the point where international tourism became a sustainable high-value service industry which was able to fund and support the basic economic infrastructure which underpinned multiple industries and provided a quality of life far exceeding what many economists had predicted.

    IIRC the country doubled its population and multiplied its purchasing power by five-times within two decades.

    Since that point the government has tried to maintain that link by tying it’s population policy to the growth of service industries (such as banking) as it tries to reduce dependence on tourism (as development of this sector is limited by space and the USP that the natural environment is realtively unspoilt).

  • passing tory 10th Sep '08 - 8:46pm

    “I will use an analogy, passing tory. If there are two countries, in one of which 10 million people consume 2 resource units each, & in the other 15 million consume 1 resource unit each, then the latter is more environmentally friendly than the former.”

    Not necessarily. Imagine the first country covers 1000km2 with a good dose of wilderness dotted amongst the farmland and the second in 50km2 and is wall-to-wall greenhouses. Which is more environmentally friendly? And which is likely to have the smaller incremental impact if another 1m people move in?

  • passing tory 10th Sep '08 - 8:51pm

    Orangepan: “Surely it was unregulated industries failing to live up to today’s standards of best practise because the bosses had flawed business plans which hadn’t evolved to their present state yet (they still have further to go, mind).”

    A bit of that too. Although as many of the heavy industries were nationalised for a lot of the acid rain spell that Asquith was referring to, I guess you should say government rather than bosses.

  • PT, hypotheticals which conclude likelihood are meaningless, particularly when you deliberately fail to account for additional factors.

    Asquith wasn’t trying to pose a hypothetical for discussion, but propose a principle which could be agreed.

    So stop being obtuse if you can and engage on a political level.

  • passing tory 10th Sep '08 - 8:54pm

    “Some time ago I read a study about Mauritius which promoted the link between optimum population levels and the state of economic development.”

    That’s great for Mauritius, although of course this sort of thing only really works as long as there is relatively free movement of people around the globe, i.e. lots of flying. Do I take it therefore that you approve of economic development being based around pleanty of cheap air travel?

  • I was trying to give a bit of credit to the odd example of private companies taking the initiative on self-regulation or at least their participation in consensual policy formation.

    Confrontation isn’t the only way.

  • Not at all, the Mauritius case study took its inspiration from an evolution of indiginous trends. If you know your history the island experienced its first major wave of economic growth as a port on shipping routes before the Suez canal opened.

  • passing tory 10th Sep '08 - 9:10pm

    Not sure what you are referring to, Orangepan. But suffice to say I don’t think much of the principles that Asquith has stated. If disagreeing with someone makes them “obtuse” in your book then I guess it is a label I am just going to have to live with.

    The point about environmental impact being dependent on the nature of the country as well as its population is a profoundly deep one. It is also something that I imagine we will disagree on.

    I have no problem at all with a country trying to control its population in order to optimise quality of life. But I have seen no sensible argument why this should always be an increase. In fact, it seems very sensible to me for many countries to look to optimise quality of lfe over quantity of life.

    Given the ethical dubiousness of trying to interfere with the breeding rates of existing residents, that really only leaves immigration controls.

    Now, at a personal level I don’t like the idea of immigration controls much more than you do, I imagine. But also I am not blind to the problems that porus borders lead to, so at a policy level I see the need for regulation.

  • I acknowledge that immigration controls may be necessary & there comes a point when population is too high & for other reasons immigration has to be curbed: I am not expressing a view on whether we are there yet.

    I am very torn because, as a liberal, I welcome the contribution immigrants make & know & like many of them personally. But I see a possible need for controls. I am not pro-immigration at all costs, & have drawn criticism from the libertarians over this, so you can’t treat me as if I am.

    An interesting point which has emerged, which I vaguely touched on but didn’t develop, is that countries with a large degree of state control are environmentally unfriendly. Yes, it was the nationalised heavy industries that caused great problems in past decades & we are only slowly recovering from them: also, the communist countries were among the most heavily polluted on earth, not coincidentally.

    You do not have to “interfere with the breeding rates” of anyone, just promote education & contraception alongside development & watch sensible family planning emerge.

    We need programmes like afforestation, which is currently underway & is long overdue. Additionally, because ancient woodland is more environmentally valuable than new plant, we need strict conservation of that. You may wish to read any publication by the Woodland Trust (another organisation to which I belong, as well as CPRE & the National Trust: I’m a fully fledged joiner of these organisations, even if I don’t generally go beyond reading their magazines).

    Whether this leads us to agree on a specific policy is yet to be seen…

  • The BNP have environmental pretensions, but they are not green because they are against internationalism (which is the only realistic way to sort out the environment, as this country’s ecosystem canot be taken in isolation) & they also support heavy industry.

    Now we’re onto alternative sources of fuel. I am a sceptic about “clean coal” & undecided on nuclear. I think there’s the possibility for definite savings on the amount of energy we use without a great effect on quality of life: we can all go green & save money, as a certain D. Cameron informs us, & the fact that he says it doesn’t necessarily make it false! 🙂

  • PT, you are being obtuse because the only point you disagree on is how to manage immigration.

    You prescribe additional legislation to patch up a rip, I say we need to enforce our current powers in order to tailor the suit seamlessly.

  • passing tory 11th Sep '08 - 11:52am

    I do? Where?

    Boy you were in a grouchy mood yesterday; not Croatian by any chance, are you?

    As far as I can see the thread was (initially at any rate) looking at the overall principles, not the mechanisms by which any change could be implemented.

    Take a look at the original piece; the survey cited was just looking at immigration rates. Not a sniff of “integrated border service” or anything like that.

  • So ask yourself how exactly do we come to make any conclusions about whether the rate is too high, too low or about right.

    I don’t think we are capable of making that judgement because we don’t collect enough data and therefore the discussion is always going to descend into confusion and rancour.

    Perhaps it is frustrating to try to get away from an argument about opinion and understand the political principles which inform the framework of our judgement, but need it always be so?

  • passing tory 11th Sep '08 - 1:16pm

    “I don’t think we are capable of making that judgement because we don’t collect enough data and therefore the discussion is always going to descend into confusion and rancour.”

    Well, given that it took all of two responses to me for you to indulge in a bit of Tory baiting, it may well be that it isn’t possible to discuss such matter with YOU without it descending into “confusion and rancour”. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible.

    Personally, I don’t think this is a matter or a shortage of data. There is simply tons of data; much more than most people could ever assimilate. It is more a matter of the weight you should allocate to each piece of information.

    And that, of course, underlies how we come to a judgement about whether immigration rates are too high, too low, or just about right.

  • PT, I don’t think my response can accurately be described as ‘tory-baiting’, rather that it provides a good explanation of how personal biases lead political choices. I merely suggested you subjectively assume the accuracy and objectivity of your perspective while I felt citing the example of Mauritius as evidence correctly justified contradicting you on this point.

    I accept you have grasped part of the argument that there is a link between wealth and environmental impact, but the specific outcome remains contingent and inconclusive. Therefore I think it is also perfectly fair to dig deeper into the equation to see that differential wealth distributions (and particularly wealth inequalities) are an additional factor which create the uncertainty of outcomes you originally failed to account for.

    It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.

    So today’s conciliatory approach makes sense to me. I am glad you have reassessed your position and made a slight shift – I also am prepared to admit that I too don’t think this Labour government has shown itself capable of drawing together fully the data sets it has collected and weighted them correctly or provided an adequate response, though whether this means there aren’t more things to be learnt or whether this justifies new legislation at this stage remains something we can discuss.

    My feeling is to err on the side of caution as regards encouraging the state to appropriate additional powers, especially by this Labour govt, but it concerns me that Conservatives such as yourself are willing to react to the current state of affairs with an equal haste to that which Labour has shown.

  • James, yes, let’s keep things in proportion.

  • passing tory 11th Sep '08 - 3:45pm

    Orangepan, you really should get a dose of reality sometime. Precisely where have I shifted my position? Indeed, I don’t recall ever having stated my position in full. Not surprising really, as it runs to 1000s of words and would be dead boring for the vast majority of readers.

    Which means that in terms of not approaching the problem as a whole you are of course correct. So far we have only been looking at some first order, and even fewer second order, terms:- not an unusual process when trying to analyse a complex issue such as this.

    No, we haven’t looked at wealth distribution, although it is an interesting question whether spread of wealth across a population or the rate at which an individual’s wealth changes over time is more important in this particular context.

    I am afraid that you last paragraph (“My feeling is to err on the side of caution …”) is too pathetic to really warrent a response. Right now I am only interested in analysing and understanding the issues. The policy level is a later stage and I have not said anything other than we should not have porus borders. You demonstrate extreme intellectual laziness by feeding words into my mouth.

  • “But also I am not blind to the problems that porus borders lead to, so at a policy level I see the need for regulation.”

    is what you said.

    Was I then wrong to infer that you promote additional legislation as part of your proposed policy platform?

    Or was I wrong to overlook the potential that your grammatical structure may have garbled your intended meaning?

  • passing tory 11th Sep '08 - 4:28pm

    Where the **** did the “additional” spring from? That isn’t inferring, it is just making things up to suit your prejudices.

    And don’t go blaming my grammar for your brain burps.

  • So what is your policy position then – do nothing different? If so why do you waste your breath and not go curl up to sleep somewhere?

  • passing tory 11th Sep '08 - 4:56pm

    You really haven’t been reading, have you. I don’t have a policy position yet (as fairly clearly stated above). I am just at the point where I am fairly happy with my understanding of the problem in general terms, but then there is the whole question of how the current implementation of legislation is related to the legislation itself, before we get to the best policy deltas.

    Ironic really; you were castigating me for rushing to a position just a few posts ago and now you are having a go becuase I am not proposing anything firm yet. Make your mind up, will you.

  • passing tory 11th Sep '08 - 5:04pm

    Oh, and the reason I don’t “go curl up to sleep somewhere” [you’re a bit of a charmer, aren’t you. Bet you’re a whizz with the chatup lines] is because I think that this is an issue that warrents serious consideration. And I fear that takes time.

  • Stop wriggling.

    I did not say you had rushed into a position, but that the position I had tried to disentangle from your words was that you wished to act in haste.

    Thank you for clearing up your mess, now would be so kind as to explain why you are getting so peeved off about agreeing when you’d clearly prefer to manufacture some sort of disagreement.

    If you’ve got nothing to positive to contribute then your attacks are empty partisanship. Is it cos you is a Tory? Or is it cos you isn’t a Tory?

    Perhaps my problem is that I have been reading what you’ve been writing, whereas it is clear you haven’t.

    Perhaps your problem is that everything you say and believe shows you are in the wrong party – why else would you be hanging round here?

  • passing tory 11th Sep '08 - 5:54pm

    The reason I hang out here is that I appretiate the chance to discuss issues with people who are not necessarily going to agree with me. I just tend to find it more constructive.

    Indeed, having just waded through a long-winded explanation from a local Lib Dem of why competition is an inherrently bad thing, maybe an appretiation of the strengths of oppositional politics, and competition in general, is one of the factors that keeps me so merrily in the Conservative fold. [ Something which your tetchiness about having someone disagree with you on any point only confirms to me. ]

  • PT, I’d be interested to know what it is exactly you disagree with about what I believe.

    The only thing you disagree with is my interpretation of what you have said – where I thought you had something to say, you tell me that you have nothing to say; when I put it to you that if you’ve nothing to say that it would be more constructive to say nothing, you tell me that I’m being unfairly critical; when I explain that your bad grammar gives rise to confusion, you accuse me of being tetchy; when I ask why you comment, you state you wish to hear dissenting voices.

    Then I wonder whether you can be trusted in anything you say.

    The perversity of your logic is a perfect explanation of why you are a tory. So keep drinking merrily away at the conservative saloon, secure in your haze about why so many people find you so insubstantial.

  • passing tory 11th Sep '08 - 7:11pm

    OK, I’ll bite. E.g.

    1) You said

    “I don’t think we are capable of making that judgement because we don’t collect enough data and therefore the discussion is always going to descend into confusion and rancour.”

    I think that this observation fails on almost every level. Even if we are underdetermined (in the mathematical sense of the word, we can still come up with an optimal judgement. And there is no reason why either of the two statements means that discussion cannot remain reasonable.

    In fact, I think there is more than enough data to work off and as I said previously the difficulty is not in the lack of data but in the weightings you give each piece of information.


    I wrote:

    “The question you have to ask yourself is which barrier we are likely to hit first; the point where the population rises until the average global quality of life rises to the point where we naturally end up with a neutral replacement rate, or where we start squeezing ecosystems to destruction. My money would be on the latter.”

    to which you replied:

    “As far as where your money goes, that’ll be because you’re a tory and that’s what the consequence of conservatism in government is.”

    I see vanishingly little connection between my political beliefs and the question of how likely it is that we will reach a point of stable population AT A GLOBAL QUALITY OF LIFE COMPARABLE TO THE CURRENT DEVELOPED WORLD before we start to put undue pressue on the environment. You are just playing the man rather than the ball. Sure, I will retaliate in kind; I ain’t no saint, and because you have a history of making partisan comments like that I assume it is the way you like to play the game.
    Please prove me wrong.

    In addition, the impliction is that you disagree with me, although I note you failed to provide any evidence.

    Note that we are not talking about a small system like Mauritius but the entire global system. I noted today that 7 of the 10 most poluted rivers in the world are in China. I really am concerned that there is a lot of “off-the-balance-sheet” pollution going on. Once the quality of life in China and India start to become comparable to that in Europe (and production costs start to match too) then either the East is going to be a real mess, or we are going to have to start manufacturing more in Europe and a whole bundle of our enviromental targets are going to be pipe-dreams (or, of course, production switches to Africa and that gets _really_ screwed).

  • I’m so glad you’ve opened up, now I don’t need to respond to your partisan toriness in kind.

    Firstly we were talking about population policy and then broadened it out to included environmental considerations (I’d conflate social and natural environments for the purposes of brevity).

    Anyway, Mauritius is a good case study for a global system because its insular status ensures that it is as self-contained as any you will find on this planet. As the Mauritian state went through various transitional phases to its development so too government policy went through several adjustments.

    The conclusion is that population growth can only be supported by continued growth as well as economic transition (where environmental protection is encompassed within transition). My impression is that you don’t note this emphasis.

    As to how this relates to immigration, well, outside input is vital for creativity and the development of new opportunities, so if you can successfully manage the transition to a state of higher development then it is because you have created additional capabilities whereby previous problems can be resolved (it is not necessarily because you have exported your problems).

    Thus population growth and quality of life could potentially be unlimited – so I simply cannot understand why you wish to place a cap on the ingenuity or imagination of humanity to artificially prevent this possibility. Perhaps such a state of affairs is beyond the scope of your or my imagination, but that is no reason to deny it.

    We’ve had agricultural, industrial and technological revolutions throughout history, why should that stop?

    Please explain why economic and environmental concerns are necessarily in competition with each other.

  • passing tory 11th Sep '08 - 9:51pm

    “Anyway, Mauritius is a good case study for a global system because its insular status ensures that it is as self-contained as any you will find on this planet.”

    I disagree.

    As you say, we have had many changes through the ages. Why not another? I guess the difference now is that we have reached the point where the external environment can no longer be considered an infinite sink.

    So I think that if we are interested in global environmental impact then Mauritius is a singularly bad example. The impact on the entire global ecosystem of change within a small island is likely to be infitessimally small.

    However, note that even within the closed system of Mauritious itself things are not quite as cosy as you make out. My understanding is that the island’s coral reefs are in a pretty bad way, almost certainly as a direct result of the increase in the tourist trade.

    Scale such problems up to the scale of Asia and the sub-continent and the results could be pretty scary.

    So, whereas you seem to argue why not see how human ingenuity can try to fit on more and more people, I look at it the other way and wonder what benefit there in this. I am not claiming that we live in the best of all possible worlds, but if we are interested in the impact on the environment and in looking after species other than humans then there is a definite case to be made for not promoting population growth.

    In a sense you are right that we don’t _have_ to live in a world with wilderness and virgin rainforest (or indeed, any rural areas at all if we are willing to subject oursleves to the likes of Soylent Green). But, having spent most of the last two years overseas, it is amazing how cramped the UK is, and how quality of life seems to suffer as a result.

    I guess it seems sensible to me to aim for a world with few less people and a little more space per person.

  • “how cramped the UK is” depends entirely on the part of it you are referring to and how close you remain to the beaten path. From my experience our country isn’t cramped at all, and our urban centres are much more spacious than most comparable towns or cities in western Europe.

    re: mauritius. If you disagree with whether it is the best case study on this planet please suggest an alternative where changes in population economy and environment have been measured to the same extent.

    I accept there are limitations to how the evidence can be extrapolated, but if you can provide no better study for example you are merely hypothesising.

    The Mauritian govt has already dealt with the environmental problems of deforestation and water supply and it is taking steps to deal with the reef destruction and coral degradation. Coral mining and collection has been restricted by the creation of protected habitation zones while pollution from sewage outfall and waste water from industrial and agricultural outwash is being reduced through a variety of measures.

    There is however only a limited amout it can do as the greatest threat is ocean warming – which is an external impact – as you yourself mention the limitations of any Mauritian impact on the global eco-system.

    My point is that population changes cannot be considered simply good or bad, whether the population grows or falls: this is only one factor in our collective ability to make the best of the resourses available to us.

    It follows from this that immigration is not either good or bad, but instead has consequences for (1)what our collective needs and abilities are and (2)how these changes create a new balance.

    Government has the dual responsibility to respond adequately to each of these questions and to do so it must recognise how they are connected.

  • Traditionally liberalism is for free free immigration. The history proves that many countries, notably the Netherlands and later United States, have benefitted of skilled immigrants and got rich with the help of their contribution.

    But social security has changed this, and attracts immigrants less motivated to contribute to the general well-being from countries with a lower social security.

    I think the only solution is to make living and working in the country for a certain period, for instance five years, a condition for the social security benefits, excluding of course the real (not economic) refugees.

    This would ensure, that the immigrants would really be prepared to contribute to their new country, not only to enjoy its welfare system. Or, adapted from J.F: Kennedy, “Ask not what your new country can do for you – ask what you can do for your new country”.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • John Waller
    I only did 3 not 5. Thank you from crazy USA. What sense....
  • Alex Macfie
    This "non-aggression" pact between us and Labour is presumably supposed to apply only to each other's Tory-facing battlegrounds (I don't think we're holding bac...
  • Robert SAYER
    Totally right. Having experienced the same stresses as described it can be lonely and you can believe that the most unwinnable seat can be won. But to those fig...
  • Joseph Bourke
    Liberal values are not easily distinguished on a political scale of right versus left. It is rather the scale of authoritanism versus Liberaiism. The Presidn...
  • William Wallace
    All of us who campaign in the north of England will agree with this article. But we will also have to recognise that a parliamentary party overwhelmingly dra...