It’s time to be positive about immigration

The only publicly acceptable approach to immigration seems to be, more or less, stating “immigration is a problem” and then making vague promises to control it in some way. This was particularly obnoxious in the run up to, and aftermath of, the referendum but it has been the case for some time. If we really want to stand out, and promote a truly liberal approach, we need to do the opposite. We need to stand up and say “immigration is a solution”. As liberals we understand the importance of everyone being able to pursue their own good in their own way. This entails a positive approach to immigration. Right now we should be pushing to make sure we retain free movement within the EEA. In the future we should be working to liberalise migration arrangements with the rest of the world as well.

This doesn’t mean that in practice we have to advocate for completely open borders, no matter how ideologically attractive such a system might be. There are genuine issues with rapid population growth, such as short term strain on public services and downward pressure on wages, and we should address these, but not by following the popular route of promoting the illiberal idea that immigration is a problem in itself. Instead we must emphasise the benefits of immigration, both in economic terms and in terms of individual freedom, and confront the myths that support the xenophobia behind a portion of the Brexit vote.

The response to an issue like wage depression is usually some version of “control immigration”, this ignores the fact that any wage depression is actually extremely small, the fact that a job being filled by a foreign worker is an overall economic benefit (would that job have been filled without immigration? Are they paying tax?), and perhaps most importantly that this isn’t the only available response. An alternative response to wage depression might be to improve support for people on low wages or the introduction of training programmes to allow local people to fill jobs that usually have to go to foreign workers. The promotion of such alternative responses may even end up reducing opposition to immigration as the problems people see as connected to immigration are reduced.

This might not be immediately popular because it is unlikely to lead directly to votes. However, capturing votes is not the only reason to promote policies. From a liberal perspective, policies should be promoted primarily because they are consistent with liberalism. In purely pragmatic terms this approach may go wrong. In the short term, it may lose votes. However, while every party is still obsessed with the same anti-immigration rhetoric, this would at least be a genuinely liberal approach that clearly sets the Liberal Democrats apart.

* Matt Evans is a member of the Liberal Democrats in Bury South

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31 Comments

  • Readers of this article would be well advised to read this brilliant exposition of the Brexit Problem by Dr Mark Wright:

    https://www.facebook.com/DrMarkWright/posts/10153829506615208

    Trying to argue that immigration is good without addressing the very real concerns of people on whom it has most effect will ensure continued electoral irrelevance.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Jul '16 - 4:19pm

    Matt

    I am sorry , uniqueness is not a good selling point if it is uniquely unpopular , wrong , outlandish and naive !!!

    Not that you are, but such an attitude taken to its conclusion would be.

    This party was once sensible and moderate on this issue

    To argue for any benefit to the levels of current immigration continuing , is to argue for society collapsing in a wait for public services and for this party collapsing in electoral destruction

    I am the son of an immigrant and need no persuasion as to its benefits as I would not be here otherwise ! But the current level is not defensible and this party needs to wake up to that

    Thank goodness for TCO and Mark Wright whom he alludes to

  • Lorenzo Cherin
    Immigration has only strengthened public services. It makes the economy stronger and provides a lot of people who work in those services.

    If you have to wait for services, blame the government for not providing them properly, not immigration. It’s not the problem.

  • For too long the likes of UKIP and extremists such as the BNP have controlled the narrative on immigration, and used it to provide an easy focus and scapegoat for a multitude of problems facing society. Problems that won’t go away when we “get control of our borders back” following Brexit.

    Perhaps we should talk about migration, not immigration. Migration is a freedom.

    So yes, other EU citizens are (were) free to live and work here. But we were free to live and work anywhere in the EU too.

    That isn’t a theoretical freedom that just benefits the highly paid executive working for a multi-national. It’s a benefit to the hundreds of thousands of ordinary UK citizens who moved or retired to the likes of France or Spain, and the thousands more who still aspire to do so.

    Wage depression is a globalisation issue, not an EU migration issue. If we shut off immigration completely and a shortage of workers started to drive up wages significantly due to supply and demand, then some companies will simply become uncompetitive against those in lower cost countries, and the jobs will be lost. Unemployment will rise and wage depression will reassert itself.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Jul '16 - 4:44pm

    Chris

    Only partly true unfortunately

    We do not operate our public services in a social market way that mixes public and private contributions as in most countries in Europe for good or bad . We have a system almost wholly reliant on government and managers in those services to decide matters, and that means whoever comes here legally is immediately entitled to those services .

    It means any corresponding input into the public purse does not have an output in services received

    I do not advocate a laissez faire market at all

    But the current more or less laissez fairist stance on European immigration, coupled with a capped , parsimonious and old fashioned prioritising in our public service attitudes and policies , is a recipe for a shocking lack of provision in future

    We as a party need to wake up

    Social Liberalism , fine ,economic Liberalism , ok , not a free for all , movement wise ,in migration from Europe, with a free for all, money wise , in public services

    We gain from the presence of staff from abroad but the presence of so many customers or patients or pupils , call them what you like , is not met in a corresponding like for like way in this country

  • Mark Seaman 15th Jul '16 - 6:12pm

    Aaah.. another ‘The Economic Laws of Supply and Demand do not apply to the provision of labour’ thread.
    I was a member of the Lib Dems for several years, stood for election to Borough and County Councils, and was treasurer of the North-West Norfolk Lid Dems, but the kind of thinking prevalent on this site, which seeks to ignore basic economics teaching, because it does not fit the current party mantra, saddens me.

  • It’s just not a vote winner. “Challenging the narrative” has shown no sign of working so far and I suspect never will.

  • David Allen 15th Jul '16 - 7:04pm

    Britain’s politicians have failed on immigration. Half of them treat it as an evil demon which must be tamed. The other half insouciantly claim that it is an unalloyed boon and that those who disagree are racist xenophobes. Few have avoided gross oversimplification, engaged with the awkward realities, or sought effective solutions.

    The right-wing populists have an excuse for their failure. That is, it wins them votes. Their mendacious campaign seeks coup by referendum, a takeover from the Right by the far Right, and the dismantling of human rights and triumph of unbridled capitalism under a Brexit agenda. Incidentally, if they do “take back control”, they probably won’t actually cut immigration, because their business funders want plenty of cheap labour. Two weeks to go (*** when I originally wrote this piece!), and the empty boasters are winning.

    Pro-Europeans have no such excuse for failure. The Left and Lib Dems are simply in denial. Cameron admits a problem exists, offers no solution, and told voters to stay in the burning building because it’s too high up to jump. These were loser’s tactics.

    In truth, immigration brings gains and losses, both distributed very unequally. Our net immigration figures are undesirably high, if far from disastrous. There is no massive social unrest. We face many worse problems. What magnifies the issue, in the minds of so many, is that politicians just don’t care. Our patrician leaders venerate European culture, respect ethnic minorities, but sneer at the indigenous British working class – and then expect their votes!

    Immigration benefits business, who gain cheap employees, while displacing less able indigenous workers onto the benefits scrapheap. Immigration benefits the middle class, who find good Polish plumbers, travel to restaurants run by immigrants, and broaden their cultural experience. Immigration hurts poorer people who can’t afford travel, see local shops and pubs replaced by immigrant enterprises, and are told that to lament what they have lost is racism.

  • Stevan Rose 15th Jul '16 - 7:58pm

    Well said Lorenzo and TCO. I like some of your ideas Matt, especially coming from Bury South, and we can point out the positives f those already here. As long as we accept the negatives have to be addressed.

    My elderly parents selectively vote Lib Dem in recent years, one naturally hard left, the other naturally true blue (they have argued like cat and dog for nearly 60 years). They both voted Leave because infrastructure and public services cannot not keep up with the rate of net migration, or really population growth. They will not switch to EU support until they see a viable solution to this. You can’t control the birth rate but you can control immigration.

    Young adults can’t get on the housing ladder, priced out by huge demand and lack of supply. Meanwhile wages, especially in the public sector, are going down in real terms. Both are perceived to be made worse by a constant stream of inbound migration that increases housing demand but keeps wages down. There is no doubt we need migrants to maintain our economy. Take them away and whole sectors collapse. But at this moment we can’t cope with many more. If we don’t have answers we will never get the mandate to reverse Brexit, and neither should we. We need to stabilise.

    Years ago when free movement was first introduced it was fairly balanced with limited push and pull factors, nothing we couldn’t deal with easily. But the entry of poorer Eastern European countries completely unbalanced the equation and our relative prosperity is a massive pull we are not equipped for. If you merge a country with a GDP per capita of $7,000 with another of $40,000 and put up no barriers, guess what happens next. Our immigration problem is nothing compared to Bulgaria’s emigration crisis so this isn’t a one way issue.

  • Peter Watson 15th Jul '16 - 8:34pm

    @David Allen 15th Jul ’16 – 7:04pm “In truth, immigration brings gains and losses, both distributed very unequally.”
    Excellent points well made.

  • Sue Sutherland 15th Jul '16 - 9:26pm

    I think immigration probably improves the lives of most of us Lib Dems, especially those of us who like to have an erudite chat on LDV, however, I’m pretty convinced that it doesn’t improve that of those who have been left behind in our polarised society. I think that our party should take up their cause, Labour forgot them many years ago, UKIP misled them and seems to have abandoned ship so its about time we stood up for the have nots and turned our preamble into reality.

  • The leave side scaremongered that Turkish membership of the EU was imminent and for some reason every one of them would want to come here. Tonight there is a military coup in Turkey which must surely set back their chances of EU membership by decades. Yet another rotten plank of the leave case falls away.

  • Al

    So you think ‘Leave’ had advance warning of the coup in Turkey ?

  • Peter Watson 16th Jul '16 - 12:00am

    @Al “The leave side scaremongered that Turkish membership of the EU was imminent”
    David Cameron said that Turkey’s membership of the EU was something he would “fight for” and Nick Clegg described it as a “strategic necessity”, so the Remain campaign’s arguments against Turkey’s membership lacked credibility. It was also amusing to hear Bremainers slate Turkey while simultaneously calling Brexiters xenophobic.

  • @Peter
    I have said before during the campaign that the official remain campaign was rubbish. I am no supporter of Cameron or Clegg.

    Even without the coup, Turkey doesn’t meet the criteria of having a stable democracy, good human rights or respect for minorities – The Copenhagen criteria for EU entry so the leave line was always just scaremongering. Of course they and any other country, should be encouraged to try to meet these criterion. That the Turkish state is a long way from doing so is not a comment on the people of Turkey themselves.

  • Why do people keep talking about the Left Behinds and the White Working Classes when the reality is that survey after survey consistently shows that 70-77% of the population wants lower immigration? You could argue that this is because of a narrative created by the Right Wing press, but you could equally argue that the press is simply exploiting popular opinion. Virtually no population in the entire world actively supports mass immigration. Multiculturalism is itself in essence an admittance that cultures don’t really mix.

  • David Cooper 16th Jul '16 - 9:09am

    @uniqueness is not a good selling point if it is uniquely unpopular , wrong , outlandish and naive !!!

    Amen.
    Matt Evans analyses the situation in economic terms and completely fails to recognize the importance of cultural identity. The “the importance of everyone being able to pursue their own good in their own way” is fine for the managerial class but has trampled on the cultural identity of the English working class. Presumably he considers they are too racist and xenephobic to matter?

  • suzanne fletcher 16th Jul '16 - 9:59am

    People do keep forgetting we have a credible policy on immigration.
    http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/4138/attachments/original/1392840151/116_-_Making_Migration_Work_for_Britain.pdf?1392840151
    Also I think we should be concerned about the other side of the coin when the “brightest and best” leave countries poorer than ours come here to work.

  • “People do keep forgetting we have a credible policy on immigration.”

    They can only forget if they knew it was there. To be credible it needs to be widely known of and understood. It looks a little dated and in need of some major tweaking in the light of Brexit. Why on earth wasn’t this high up on the agenda during the GE and, in updated form, pushed during the referendum? Could have made the difference but given how mismanaged Remain was I’m beyond despair now. Also there’s a substantial section of the party in denial about (a) the referendum result and (b) that net migration is a genuine issue that impacted on the result and thus needs serious solutions.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 16th Jul '16 - 1:49pm

    I think the poster TCO nailed it in the very first post. People have real and very legitimate concerns over immigration, those concerns must be properly addressed.

    That does not mean the lib dems should make a positive case for immigration if they are in favour of it, rather that the must face up to the fact that the benefits and negatives of immigration are not equally distributed across society.

    I believe that had they done this years ago the bell the remain side would have won the referendum.

    We are leaving the EU because of all mainstream parties failure to address these legitimate concerns.

  • The immigration problem is already solved. As the UK becomes more isolated, less connected to the world, increasingly xenophobic, with fewer jobs, anemic research, no industry, unattractive to investment, poorer, and dirtier — in short, a cultural backwater — no immigrant will want to come here.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Jul '16 - 3:53pm

    David Cooper

    Thank you for agreement re my comments and your responding

    Suzanne Fletcher

    I have several times here alluded to our realistic policy not promoted even by our own leadership , instead of a mantra of everything fine and dandy , our actual policy expresses peoples concerns

    Stevan Rose

    As of several comments lately , you are talking real sense ! I despair at how both mainstream and dynamic this party is and could be more if people would stop at top or local party level , turning it into wither a libertarian left or right wing party , which it is not ! Nearly all the members I know are in the mainstream of the radical centre and moderate centre left and keen to develop policies that are related to the real world

  • james jardine 16th Jul '16 - 4:12pm

    Net migration is a serious issue and does need serious solutions.
    How do we tackle the demographic time bomb the ageing populations across the developed world or do we ignore it.
    Many Japanese for instance see the solution as very low immigration and increasing the retirement age to 80.

  • Stevan Rose 16th Jul '16 - 9:41pm

    @David-1. You mean like Australia and New Zealand and Canada and Japan and Hong Kong and Singapore and the USA. All with massive unemployment, anemic research, no industry, unattractive to investment, poorer, and dirtier — in short, cultural backwaters. Must be reading different sources to me.

    Or like Greece and Portugal and Spain and Romania and Bulgaria and Cyprus, economic basket cases. Or France, Italy, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, (unemployment all twice ours or more, over 10%).

    We have a highly skilled workforce, great R&D facilities, a strategic location with first rate port facilities, and attractive investment terms and returns for international business. A free trade agreement with a degree of free movement that doesn’t overload our infrastructure and services would be a very welcome addition to that list, and we should be fighting for it now not drowning our sorrows. We’re not down and out. It depends on how well Mrs M and whatever her cunning but currently bizarre plan works out. In all our interests, hopefully it works out well.

  • Nom de Plume 16th Jul '16 - 11:07pm

    Cunning plans. I can not think of one. There was someone else who had cunning plans.

  • Nom de Plume 16th Jul '16 - 11:35pm

    To TCO’s comment at the top. It was predominantly elderly people who voted leave, not the young who should be most effected by immigration, and many areas with high immigration voted remain- notably London. Dr Wright’s analysis is a gross simplification. Although it remains a valid point of concern.

  • Peter Watson
    I thought Remain slated Turkish policies, not dog whistle racism, which was the Leave approach?

  • Richard Underhill 17th Jul '16 - 8:11am

    Look at the figures for Turkey, the number of courageous people on the army who in the hope that soldiers would not fire on them, the number who died, the widespread arrests of soldiers, some senior, the capture of a military vessel by the coup plotters, the President’s intention to purge a large number of judges? why?

  • Richard Underhill 17th Jul '16 - 8:12am

    Please insert “took on the army”

  • Nom De Plume.
    It was mainly suburban and rural areas that voted leave, especially ones next to cities that have been changed drastically through mass immigration(notably the Midlands) and coastal towns with large numbers of migrant workers. The initial reports suggested that the young didn’t turn out.
    Either way Leave won and unless you believe that certain votes should count for more than others, who voted for what is irrelevant.

  • Simon Banks 18th Jul '16 - 8:11pm

    It would be foolish to deny that there are places – Wisbech, say – where large-scale immigration is a problem if accompanied by inadequate government support for agencies struggling to cope. But the big numbers come where the labour market demands them.

    What is revealing and depressing is when people in places like Clacton and Harwich, which have very few immigrants (and those they have are often working in the NHS or private care homes), go on about the evil of immigration. Immigration has NOT had a bad effect on their lives – and when you get down to it, they’re often assuming that people elsewhere of different skin colour – in London, say – are “immigrants”. Taking the UK as a whole, immigration brings benefits and problems. Many of the problems can be solved without bans. But it suits commercial and political interests to scapegoat immigrants so people do not turn on the real causes of poverty and squalor. Reduce immigration so drastically that the complainers accept it’s no longer a problem – a difficult task indeed – and wait for a new scapegoat, benefits claimants probably.

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