My favourite Vince Cable quote on Tory immigration policy

Vince Cable smiling - Some rights reserved by Liberal DemocratsThe good news is that more people chose to come to the UK last year. Net migration to the UK increased to 212,000 in the year to September 2013, up from 154,000 in the previous year. As the independent Office for Budget Responsibility has shown before: if you want increased growth, you should welcome immigration.

Here’s how Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable put it, according to the BBC:

Vince Cable welcomed the increase in net migration to the UK, saying the target to reduce it to tens of thousands each year had been set by the Conservatives, not the coalition government. He said: “Actually it’s good news because the reason immigration is going up is because fewer British people are emigrating and surely that’s a good thing – people are getting jobs here.”

But that’s not my favourite Vince quote on the subject of the Tories’ anti-growth “reduce net migration at any costs” policy. Here’s what he said a year ago:

The Lib Dem business secretary, who is the most frequent and high-profile critic of his party’s coalition partners, even mocked the policy, adding: “When you think about the logic of it: net immigration 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 …”

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • The good news is that more people chose to come to the UK last year.

    In a narrow sense Vince is, of course, right. However, Stephen’s opening reminds me of the Daily Express’ constant cheerleading for ever-increasing house prices. That is “good news” (but only in a rather blinkered way) for those who already own property, this is “good news” only if the principle objective of policy is to boost a rather dodgy measure of economic progress, namely GDP. (Actually it doesn’t even do that on a per capita basis except courtesy of the demographic bonus arising from the young age profile of immigrants. As soon as that starts to unwind, as eventually it must, then the GDP contribution turns negative).

    House building in England (the part of the UK where most immigrants will settle) is running at little more than 100,000 units per year and our new build housing is already the smallest in Europe bar none. So in terms of housing provision we are actually going backwards quite fast.

    Perhaps someone would like to explain to my 27 year old niece and her long-term partner why this is “good news” for them as I am unable to think of any reason why it might be. They both have good professional (but not finance) jobs in London and are desperate to settle down and start a family but have no prospect of being able to do so in the foreseeable future. In this they are not alone. There are countless others in the same boat.

  • Stuart Mitchell 27th Feb '14 - 7:50pm

    “The good news is that more people chose to come to the UK last year. Net migration to the UK increased to 212,000 in the year to September 2013, up from 154,000 in the previous year.”

    Surely this is terrible news for people in the South East, who will soon be running out of water :-

    @GF Regardless of what Stephen Tall and Vince Cable are saying now, rest assured that by May next year the Lib Dems will be back to talking about “good migration and bad migration” (the bad stuff being in Lib Dem target seats in the south, mostly), just as they were last time.

  • “if you want increased growth, you should welcome immigration.”

    Depends on what you mean by ‘growth’.

    If we take the figures quoted in the LibDem Immigration Policy paper, and do some simple math’s, we will see that these additional people haven’t actually grown the economy, they have merely enlarged it because they are broadly no more nor no less productive than the rest of the working population and hence their contribution to national GDP is linear.

    So whilst government may, due to it taking a reasonably consistent percentage of GDP, see an increase in revenues there hasn’t really been any growth – we are not more productive as a nation nor are we as individuals better offer.

  • Paul In Twickenham 28th Feb '14 - 8:34am

    @Stuart Mitchell – I think you are being someone churlish. While I agree that the previous policy was ridiculous and nimbyist, if the Liberal Democrats didn’t want to label themselves as pro-immigration then it is most unlikely that Dr. Cable would have said what he said. A statement welcoming the net migration statistics was always going to result in the DM headline shown. Can you imagine Ed Balls saying something similar? Or Ken Clarke? The party has nailed its colours to the mast on this issue now – it would be difficult to reverse track.

  • Nick Tregoning 28th Feb '14 - 11:29am

    I don’t fully accept the argument concerning immigrants not contributing to growth. If we accept the view – based on UK Govt stats – that immigrants put far more into the UK in financial terms than they take out, that some do tasks that members of the resident population are unwilling, and sometimes unable, to do, then surely immigrants must be sustaining present growth levels at the very least? Moreover, given the coming situation whereby the number of those in work upon whose taxes the edifice of the welfare state relies is declining sharply we will need more immigrant workers, not less; let alone the fact that so many work in the very caring professions that provide the welfare state in the first place? Not that UKIP and their little friends in the Tory Party want to grapple with as it doesn’t fit with their narrow badly-concealed xenophobia.

  • @Nick tregoning
    I think you’re getting a little lost by the general immigration debate. To me the question here is whether sustained high levels of net immigration are desirable and really beneficial; particularly given that the actual numbers of immigrants and migrates only has a limited effect on the difference between the two. Net immigration I suggest is more to do with measuring how many additional new residents we are now having to provide for over and above those who have slotted into vacancies left by migrants.

  • @ Nick Tregoning
    When thinking about growth you need to remember that growth (or better, growth/capita) today is one thing but over several decades its another. Of course young adult migrants contribute today but when they retire that contribution goes negative. So what do we do then? Import yet more workers? That’s the implication yet it would be a supremely unsustainable approach, essentially a Ponzi scheme that would imply doubling the total population every few decades to maintain a preponderance of young adults. It simply doesn’t add up; Ponzi schemes ALWAYS end badly.

    Moreover, many (most?) migrants aren’t rocket scientists and the like but relatively low paid carers and cleaners . It defiles logic that their full lifetime contribution (including pension, housing and other costs) will lift the national average wellbeing. And that’s even before factoring in the fact that, as Stuart Mitchell says, we are running up against all sorts of limits especially in the South East of which housing is merely the most acute. When people talk of the net tax contribution made by immigrants they are not including the capital cost of new infrastructure – housing, schools, water etc. yet these are clearly huge.

    Then again one has to ask who benefits and who looses. Winners include landlords and employers; losers include almost anyone in a low paid job. In a more sensible parallel universe we would pay carers and cleaners a proper wage; together with affordable and decent housing that would enable a huge reduction in the benefits bill (which is really a measure of the failure-cost of public policy and not, as the Tories like to spin it, a measure of the feckless idleness of the poor). Losers also include those like my niece who don’t already own their own home and the wider economy that has a horrendously uncompetitive cost base since we must all live somewhere.

  • It’s getting on for 24 hours since my first post on this thread asking how I might explain to my niece that mass immigration is “Good News” for her and her partner despite it’s contribution to pricing them out of the property market.

    Yet NOBODY has made any suggestions although the Great and the Good of this Party apparently remain committed to this theory – a theory unsupported by any evidence that I can detect.

    It’s going to be fun on the doorsteps come canvasing season.

  • @GF
    your dilemma is slightly different and more immediate than mine – I’ve a few years yet before I have to face the same situation; but expect the backlash their generation will give, will make the barracking the LibDems got in 2010 about tuition fees look tame…

  • Melanie Harvey 1st Mar '14 - 2:29pm

    I long for the day, though it will be highly unlikely in this life, that all borders across the world are open as they lock us in as much as keep people out. The shackles we place on others we place on ourselves. It is only really since the passport came into being that such boundary existed to the extent they now do.

  • @John Minard
    Agree, I found it interesting just how much (web) digging I had to do to get below the headline net immigration and population figures.

    With the immigration figures, the next level of detail breaks out immigration and emigration into UK, EU and non-EU, Looking at previous years, you can see that the coalition has had some success with reducing non-EU immigration, but EU migration has more than cancelled out this success, plus you get a glimpse of just how big the population ‘churn’ is now compared to the early 90’s say.

    I suspect the details and trends behind a net population figure would also be quite interesting and informative.

  • middleclassliberal 2nd Mar '14 - 7:35pm

    I agree with Vince Cable – it would hardly be a vote of confidence in the UK if things were moving the other way. I think that the economic advantages of the EU and free movement benefit most people in the UK even though it may not be immediately obvious to them. If the LibDems aren’t prepared to make these arguments, then what distinguishes us from Labour?

  • middleclassliberal 2nd Mar '14 - 7:57pm

    The housing shortage in London and the south of England is probably as much to do with internal migration and planning as it has to do with immigration.

    In terms of the generational aspect, I remember reading some polling statistics recently that indicated that the younger you were, the more likely you were to be in favour of EU membership and freedom of movement.

  • Chris Manners 3rd Mar '14 - 8:02pm

    “When thinking about growth you need to remember that growth (or better, growth/capita) today is one thing but over several decades its another. Of course young adult migrants contribute today but when they retire that contribution goes negative. So what do we do then?”

    There’s a particular short-medium term problem with the ageing of the boomers. You don’t have to import more and more young workers- the problem peaks and gets less severe.

  • Chris Manners 3rd Mar '14 - 8:06pm

    “It’s getting on for 24 hours since my first post on this thread asking how I might explain to my niece that mass immigration is “Good News” for her and her partner despite it’s contribution to pricing them out of the property market.”

    A very easy thing to do would be to point out that there isn’t a finite number of jobs or capital in the economy.

    By your logic, the young in Italy must be lying in bed turning down telephone salaries.

  • middleclassliberal 3rd Mar '14 - 10:22pm

    @Chris Manners
    What about the need for London to attract top talent? That’s part of the reason why international companies base themselves there. That and being an English speaking gateway to the EU.

  • middleclassliberal 4th Mar '14 - 9:05pm

    The hole in all “the country’s full” arguments is that they assume that there is a finite number of jobs, which ignores the fact that the supply of skilled workers in London fuels growth which creates jobs. Also, in terms of the house prices and population density in the southeast, that’s partly due to the internal migration taking place in the UK. The country overall isn’t that densely populated. It’s ultimately a story of the rise of global hub cities that serve the desire of employers to be near a large number of workers and the desire of workers to be near large numbers of employers. If you want to be near where all the employment opportunities, then high cost of housing is inevitable, and that’s the same the world over. The flip side is that wages are much higher is London than elsewhere. For the individual, there is always a trade-off between how much you can spend on housing and how far you’re prepared to commute.

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