Opinion: A Liberal Line on Immigration

For me one of the key tenets of liberalism is our commitment to human rights and fairness. This is why I think fighting the fight on immigration is so important.

On last night’s Question Time, a member of the audience asked whether the rise of the BNP had been down to Labour’s failure on immigration. I think there is an element of truth in that, but perhaps not the element of truth that our home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, thought.

Over the last ten years we have been subjected to Home Office and Immigration policy made to please the xenophobic, right wing agenda of papers such as the Daily Mail. We have had ministers, like Blunkett, talk of immigrant children “swarming schools”. Any time you listen to Liam Byrne you hear nothing but how tough we are being on immigration. So where is the other side to this argument? Why did Chris not use the opportunity to tackle some of these issues?

immigrationIf you are born in a country where there is a good chance your child will die due to lack of access to basic amenities, like drinking water; or where there is little access to education; or where there is a statistically high chance of dying of AIDS – why should you be forced to live in poverty for the whole of your life? Many economic migrants are just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. It is not your choice where you are born. We rightly accept this on asylum, where people are fleeing persecution, violence or death. So why are people who are fleeing a life of poverty and deprivation not viewed in a similar way?

The fact is that the public debate on the question of immigration is too often fought on the BNP’s home ground. We should be making the positive case for immigration. A stronger economy, a more diverse culture. But also a fundamental right for human beings to escape poverty. If people want to come here and make a positive contribution to our society, as a nation why are we treating them with such contempt?

Yes there are issues about the allocation of resources. Yes there are issues around integrating new members of our society. But fundamentally I believe the issue of immigration is one that cuts to the very core of what liberalism is supposed to be about, the values of freedom and fairness.

I wish, for once, that as a liberal party we could stand up and say something positive about the rights of fellow human beings around the globe, instead of trying to out-manouevre parties who have repeatedly denigrated the rights and contribution of immigrants on our planet.

* Patrick Murray is a Lib Dem councillor in Oxford, who represents one of the most deprived estates in the south-east outside of London.

Read more by or more about , , , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Patric
    I understand your idealism about economic migrants and in theory you are right; but you are not clear about how an open door policy would work in practice should it become our party policy. It would be helpful if you would project forward to a Libdem government with an open door to economic and asylum entrants and how we would manage this in economic, cultural and capacity terms, and if the policy would be sustainable.

    This is a tiny country compared with the size and populations of those countries providing the immigrant pressures. Surely it would be better to increase our development aid in these countries so that life chances are better all round.
    For you do not address the other side of the coin. Behind the right of those who wish to seek a better life is the gross unfairness that those, mainly young men, who can find there way to better off countries survive and prosper while their fellow countrymen, women and children continue to suffer poverty.
    As a longtime Liberal and then LD I have found that we do often have lovely ideals that are not sustainable. For that reason I am glad that Chris was wise enough not to blaze away with rash promises.
    My own view is that until world politicians address the underlying question of world population increase, poverty will be with us. We heard this week that the population of Ethiopia has doubled since the last famine 25 years ago.This is a fantastic rate of people growth. We have to increase our food supplies if we are not to submit to Malthusian values. This means making better use of our larger continents and working the land for the people. .
    Not, for example, air freighting beans from Africa to England, but growing crops for home consumption.

  • Tom Papworth 23rd Oct '09 - 1:32pm

    “For me one of the key tenets of liberalism is our commitment to human rights and fairness. This is why I think fighting the fight on immigration is so important. ”

    For me the key tenet of liberalism is freedom, which includes freedom of movement. This is why I think fighting the fight on immigration is so important.

    We agree for different reasons :o)

    “Many economic migrants are just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families… We rightly accept this on asylum… So why are people who are fleeing a life of poverty …?”

    I think the answer to this is that it is assumed (perhaps acurately when international refugee law was being codified) that the majority of refugees from persecution would return to their country of origin when the emergency was over. This is no longer true, in part because the “emergency” (oppressive regimes) don’t go away in the same way as they used to (compare modern Burma to occupied France). By comparrison, it is often assumed that economic migrants are here to stay, though in fact that is not always true, either (though my guess would be that those who come alone are more likely to return home than those who bring their families).

    As I commented elsewhere, if people want to come to the UK to work, and are prepared to pay their taxes and obey the law, we should make them welcome.

  • Tom Papworth 23rd Oct '09 - 1:48pm


    “…people can currently moan about both “immigrants coming over here taking our jobs” and “immigrants coming over here living on our benefits” …”

    Gennerally that is because they are confused (or mislead).

    I, too, am happy to be corrected if I am wrong, but as I understand it, migrants are not eligible for benefits (including social housing) unless they are asylum seekers, in which case they are not allowed to seek work. This is as it should be (I don’t think anybody would defend people coming to this country just to claim taxpayer-funded benefits, though I also suspect that this is largely a phantom problem) except that I think the prohibition on asylum seekers looking for work is stupid.

    If we had an open door immigration policy, allowed asylum seekers as well as economic migrants to work, and categorically refused to provide immigrants with taxpayer-funded benefits (at least until they had accumulated contribution-based credits) then we would completely eliminate the argument that “immigrants come over here to live on our benefits”.

    “Immigrants coming over here to take our jobs” is slightly harder to deal with, as jobs are not doled out by government in the same way as benefits are (thankfully!) so the solution does not lie in policy change. The point to make here is that bringing working people into our country creates jobs and reduces prices, which is a double-benefit for those who were here before. As I noted elsewhere, during the last decade unemployment fell as immigration rose. This is the point I wish Chris Huhne had made on Question Time.

  • Lost LibDem 23rd Oct '09 - 2:02pm

    Elizabeth, you are spot on.

    Its absolutely no use having some ideal view… without stating how any open-door immigration policy would work in practice. The population growth of both the world, as well as the UK, have to be recognised as a big concern to voters. The Lib Dems are in great danger of saying different things at different times on this issue… a great danger in the election. Time to make your minds up what your policy really is!

  • Chris Scanlan 23rd Oct '09 - 2:04pm

    Well said Patrick! The overall economic and social benefits of immigration (alternatively known as the free movement of trade and labour) are so well established, it is depressing that some people (apparently most of the cabinet) still need to have these explained to them! However… hesitant as I am to disagree with my ward colleague 😉 , the potential, immediate effect of unfettered emigration on a developing country must also be included in any full social assessment. The individual’s choice to leave a difficulty life is perfectly understandable, but this choice may well harm the long-term prospects for sustainable development in that society (e.g. why should developing countries pay dearly for the training of a doctor who, quite understandably, might want to move to the UK with his family at the first opportunity?). Similarly it is perfectly understandable that there are some who will come here because of the minimum safety-net life in this country affords, particularly for their children. There are obviously some resource implications for local support and educational services, with the most vulnerable in our own society most likely suffer if extra funds are not forthcoming. The second factor is, as you say, massively exaggerated by those who have a an entirely sinister agenda, so it is, I would argue, particularly important those with a fundamentally liberal outlook can make these points openly. A liberal policy that encourages free trade and movement (perhaps whilst affording some transitional protection to developing economies) and which promotes immigration that brings long-term economic benefit to BOTH countries should be encouraged in place of the current mess. So I think Chris Huhne might have had some justification for what he said, though whether a late-night rant-fest with the leader of the BNP was the right forum to say it, is a matter of political judgement…

  • Terry Gilbert 23rd Oct '09 - 2:09pm

    I find myself torn between Patrick’s idealism and Elisabeth’s realism. Nevertheless, there are valid liberal points that can be made even when adopting the latter approach (e.g. that many economic migrants, especially from the EU, do return home; or that there is a corresponding right for British people to go and live in Spain and other countries, and many do, because travel is easier and the world is getting smaller; or that firm action on world poverty is needed to allow a very liberal policy to become a practical reality) instead of merely throwing red meat to the tabloid culture, which seems to be the approach of many of our Members of Parliament. Even a little bravery would be better than none, because we will lose idealists (who are often activists) to fringe parties if our key spokesmen continue to show none whatsoever.

  • Rod Crowley 23rd Oct '09 - 2:10pm

    Lots of impressive Liberal idealism on here but let’s talk practicalities. Just how many economic migrants would be attracted to Britain by a true open door policy? Where would they live? Where would their children be educated? Where would they be treated if they became ill? And who would provide them with their basic necessities if they were unable to find work?

    But let’s be optimistic. Let’s say many are lucky enough to find work. Some of these jobs, I accept, will be newly created through the positive economic, cultural and social impact of immigration. But how many of their jobs would be at less than minimum wage level? How many current UK workers will be unable and/or unwilling to work for the wage levels and number of hours that an economic migrant would be prepared to work for? And what would be the long term impact on the wages of lower paid workers in this country of a huge increase in the supply of cheap labour?

    It’s admirable and refreshing to see such idealism about immigration but I think there are genuine questions that need to be answered before we fling open the doors.

  • Agree with Patrick 100% but for me the crux is the outdated language of “Immigration”. Lets talk in future about people having rights to move.CH could have said that he wants every British child to have the right to live anywhere, to move round trying different places to live & learn & work. Millions of Britons already live & work abroad & in the future more will join them if they are allowed to. Most will return at some point as most who come here do. That is our future, not retreating to some fantasy of a fortress England.

  • Patrick,

    If it was possible on a blog comments section to yell “testify” in the manner of someone in a charismatic church service I have done so!


    You conjure up a ‘Malthusian’ nightmare about overpopulation, but seem to have forgotten that Malthus was demonstrably wrong. He claimed there was an inescapable trade off between population and prosperity. Between his lifetime and ours Britain’s population has risen immensly yet we are also more wealthy than he could have imagined. Time and again human ingenuity has overcome seemingly insurmountable resource constraints.

    Given your suggestion that the way to improve life in developing countries is to send them more development aid rather than allowing more immigration; you might be interested to know that globally the total value of remitances sent home by migrants far exceeds the value of development aid.

    Chris and Rod,

    There is quite a range of options in between an ‘open door policy’ and what we have now. We have, for example, stopped ALL migration for economic reasons from outside the EU and that’s in a context where the most used high-skilled migrant programs requires you to have a Masters degree. We can have a more humane system without losing all control of the numbers coming in all together.


  • Fred Carver 23rd Oct '09 - 3:09pm

    A fantastic article, I was intending to write one along the same lines but you have written pretty much exactly what I was going to write.

    The only thing I’d add is that we shouldn’t allow the Mail and the Sun to misrepresent this question of resources. Granted, immigration is not a monolith but taken as a whole immigration is a net contributor to our economy. In fact they contribute something like £4billion a year. For the large part they don’t take our jobs, they create jobs for us to fill. For the large part they don’t increase the pressure on resources, they bring in resources and reduce the pressure. And of course the economic argument would be even stronger if we allowed asylum seekers to work.

    For years the Labour and Conservative parties have competed to out do each other and make our immigration policy ever more brutal, ever more counter-productive and ever more right wing. They have done this to pander to the tiny minority in this country who, unfortunately, control the Mail and the Sun. In so doing they have mainstreamed BNP views and misrepresented immigration to the extent that there is now a genuine, and entirely unfounded, fear of immigration. So yes, as Patrick says, immigration policy is responsible for the rise of the BNP but not in the way anyone on the panel thought. And for Chris Huhne to jump on the anti immigration bandwagon at such a time was unconscionable.

  • The problem is, whether posters here agree with you or not, these arguments cut no ice with the people they are aimed at. They aren’t bothered about having a more diverse society or a stronger economy. They aren’t bothered by a theoretical right to freedom of movement round the globe.

    A big part of the problem is that the routes to escaping poverty in this country have been shut off to many people. The benefits trap is bigger than ever, the benefits system is a mixture of incompetence, incomprehensibility and arbitrary decisions. The “average” worker can’t get on, on a typical wage. Council house building has ground to a halt. People can get housing benefit (which goes to landlords) but not mortgages.

    I think Chris was absolutely right, I love the Poles I meet, I recognise their great contribution to the economy and diversity but it was frankly silly for the UK almost alone amongst EU countries to let so many in in so short a space of time in such an ill prepared way.

  • I do sympathise with the lot of economic migrants and the sentiments expressed in your article. However, I do not at all agree with your solution which while laudable is entirely impractical and unrealistic.
    I’d venture to suggest that most economic migrants would prefer to live and work within their own countries if conditions allowed. The sad fact is though that despite spending vast sums of money the wealthy nations of the world have signally failed to address political and financial corruption and have failed to adequately target resources in the migrants’ nation states.
    It cannot have escaped your attention that the vast majority of Britons wish migration to be capped. Surely as well you must be aware there is already a significant housing shortage which seems unlikely to be solved in the short term, if ever. For most all houses built a bit of green land disappears forever. It surely cannot be the case that we wish the whole of the UK to become one giant housing and industrial estate or tent city.
    The real solution is to have a clear objective of significantly improving the life chances and conditions of the current economic migrants within their nation states, to have a clear plan of how that is to be achieved and to target the resources to achieve the biggest benefits in the shortest period of time. Rather than importing raw materials into the rich West for treatment we should insist that multinationals undertake their added value activities in the country of origin. We should eliminate all tarrifs on all products from emerging countries.

    At the end of the day this approach is more likely to meet the migrants real needs. It will be faster and it will be cheaper. It does however require leadership,determination and a direction by the international community which has been sadly lacking to date.

  • This is brilliant Patrick. Thank you very much for saying it. It wants saying loud and long. All parties seem to have accepted the BNP view on immigration. The current government is led by a man who used the phrase “British jobs for British workers,” a piece of whistling unsubtle enough to pretty well deafen the dog. We get to hear constant racist rants about “uncontrolled immigration” even as our country gets harder and harder and harder to get in and out of. I’m sick to the back teeth of the racist agenda which dominates this subject. I’d love to see a fight back from the Liberal Democrats.

  • Cllr Patrick Smith 23rd Oct '09 - 4:54pm

    1. The duty of Government should also be prepared to bring forward a much more deeper and trenchant Motion before the next General Election, as it is this policy that presents as the `elephant in the room’ across all members in all mainstream political parties,especially those with liberal instinct for fairness and humanity and an ability to be understood on the practicality of the issue.

    2.Chris Huhne has said that he is concerned about the lapses of this Government, in failing to count out the `visor visitors’ into the UK each year.The point being that there must be countability of numbers of people coming into and leaving the Country, to know exactly what the net migration pattern figures are, each year.The concern that this figure is still unknown is nothing to do with the enormous contribution made by economic immigrants to the British Economy and widening of culture and diversity and education etc. since 1945 and since EU doors opened in 2004.

    3.I support the view already mooted of granting amnesty to the hidden immigrants i.e. potentially after 5 years stay,and most being low earning and continuing to remain deprived of a proper day time life, in the UK.There is a significant immigrant community living in the shadows, that exists in London and Cities across Britain.Surely it is not humane liberalism to allow this situation to remain so in the future? These immigrants should each have personal dignity but have never been counted and many have families and are honourable workers and deserve to be able to stand up and claim a new British Identity and in fact start a new life.

    4..There are estimates that there are several tens of thousands of unregistered `economic immigrants’ in the UK, often on minimum wages,who do not appear as actual taxpayers, since they are scared of authority and do not register with GP`s or Dentists but should be included on the next Population Census 2011.

    5. The ability of the UK to interview and investigate all genuine cases of humane applications from real `Asylum Seekers’ especially if they seek escape from life threatening or potential rape or physical mutilation situations abroad should be an essential task of liberal governance and is vitally important to get right.

    6..At present there are `holding stations’ for Asylum Seekers that have been made subject of investigative Panorama reporting but the system clearly requires clearer rules of humane accountability,fairness and humanity.

    7. The fact remains that a true record of the British population can be fixed, until the results of the next Census 20111,if then,but not until can the estimates of immigration be predicted for the future decades.

    8..Demographic net immigration trends require to be more precisely possible to know regardless of the understanding of views on the vitality of immigration to the British Economy and diversity of life.

  • Passing Tory 23rd Oct '09 - 5:02pm

    Patrick, you put forward a (rather typically Lib-Dem-ish) theory which looks lovely on paper but would be utterly disasterous practically. Underlying the problem is a typical paradox between the individual scale and the macroscopic scale. On an individual scale we want to help individuals such as asylum seekers and those with the desire and motivation to come here to work. On a macroscopic level the effect is far less positive. What we have seen over the last few years (where the government has come very close to following the kind of policies you advocate) is a net movement of migrants working industriously to support and increasing number of those who do not work. Not surprisingly, this growing underclass are not happy about the situation and until you devise policies that address their needs too, you are just pushing them into the hands of parties such as the BNP. But there is another, probably more concerning, macroscopic effect: the environment. It is farily obvious that, in the long term, economic growth through population growth is not sustainable (we can have this debate in detail if you don’t believe me but it comes down to some pretty simple energetics). At some point you model for growth MUST break down and so the question really is how close we are to that point. There is considerable environmental evidence that we have reached population levels where the concerted effect of human behaviour has a measurable and noticeable effect on the environment (again, we can debate this if you don’t believe me). Therefore I very much doubt the wisdom of following your agenda.

    To reiterate; at some point we are going to have to control population levels somehow, and there is a strong case from an environmental and social perspective for doing this sooner rather than later. I don’t pretend that you couldn’t go on packing people into the world for a good deal longer and they would all probably live rather cheery lives. However, whether there is any real value in doing this is highly questionable (and, if you are pretty much any species other than human then you probably have a vested interest in not having your living space slowly squeezed).

  • Mark ,
    Malthus. The example you give is a bit misleading, because the wealth you cite was built on the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Because of our industrial wealth we were able to buy in our food supplies from abroad instead of having to provide more land for growing food. But it remains true, as Malthus showed, that populations expand by geometrical progression while food supply can only grow arithmetically. There is much scientific concern about our ability to feed the world of the future, and much research on crop yields and genetic engineering to meet the challenge.
    So we do need our big continents to make themselves more able to feed their populations. Post industrial Britain is not going to be the scene for a second economic revolution.

  • Tom Papworth 24th Oct '09 - 9:11am


    “If it was possible on a blog comments section to yell “testify” in the manner of someone in a charismatic church service I have done so!”

    Just shout it out!

  • Elizabeth,

    Yes the ability to import food – which was something Malthus thought impossible – helped us escape from the Malthusian trap during the Victorian trap. It seems to me a pretty good example of how humanity tends to be smarter than it’s given credit for.

    Human ingenuity was something Malthus, as a reactionary who didn’t believe humanity could improve itself, conspicuously left out of his theories. Because we can invent ways of increasing crop yields per acre and not just – as Malthus claimed – cultivate extra acres, food supply can in fact increase geometrically. We’ve seen spectacular examples of this past, think of the Green revolution in India, and you yourself mention “the research on crop yields and genetic engineering” which might yet deliver similar results in the future.

    Malthus’s view was not one any liberal could endorse. It was a counsel of despair that sought to condemn millions to poverty. It’s Ricardo’s view, of the better life that an open economy could deliver is the far more liberal one and it’s the one we should be putting into effect when it comes to immigration.


  • I think there’s a way of putting forward a liberal line on immigration without sounding like sandal-wearing Guardinistas. Of course it’s right to welcome those fleeing genuine hardships; it’s just as right to welcome someone who’s got a job with a multinational or a construction firm.

    The real issue and one that keeps coming back time and again is wage protection. Oops, I said the p word, but really, in a single market with harmonised directives and regulations, how can it be right for corporations to disregard wage agreements or even not pay the UK minimum wage in the name of the common market? Labour conditions, education, and quality of craftsmanship differs from country to country, and the law and reality should reflect this.

    Let’s implement the points raised by ECJ-Laval about the Swedish system immediately, let’s increase British Council and consulate funding to allow them to be one stop shops for finding out about migration, and let’s throw open the borders. Until we do that, we can’t claim to support a liberal line economically or socially.

    (Yes, I did bang on about this at conference, but I do feel passionately about this, as do some friends who have worked in the system and seen the truth that our asylum and migration systems create. It makes me angry to see Huhne doing this and crafting a policy like ours to satisfy the Tories in his own constituency.)

  • I think the answer is that Chris comes from the soc-dem tradition and so perhaps isn’t a natural instinctive Liberal?

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Oct '09 - 11:16pm


    If you are born in a country where there is a good chance your child will die due to lack of access to basic amenities, like drinking water; or where there is little access to education; or where there is a statistically high chance of dying of AIDS – why should you be forced to live in poverty for the whole of your life?

    Well, yes. There are hundreds of millions of people like this across the world. So why don’t we just make arrangements for them all to come to Britain and lead better lives?

  • Jane Leaper 25th Oct '09 - 8:32pm

    I used to share Patrick Murray’s ideals, and indeed have put them into practice by immigrating to Canada with my husband when he was made redundant in the UK in ’06, and was able to find re-employment in Canada. However, my experience as a community activist has made me question my previous stance on immigration.

    Prior to ’06 I was living in a rural area in the Midlands. We were close to a large rendering plant which was a significant provider of local jobs, but also unpopular with its neighbours for the noxious smells that came from the plant itself and the lorries, carrying rotten meat, travelling to it. The company’s solution was to start buying up local houses and housing Polish immigrants who were employed at the company. The company was then able to re-draw their employees contracts insisting on less favourable conditions. The company had effectively provided itself with a source of cheap tied labour, reducing the number of jobs available for local people and reducing wages in an already low-waged area. The imported workforce also made it more difficult to stem the inexorable expansion of the company, which while providing employement, also made the area (on the edge of the Peak District) less attractive to tourists, and so acted as a dampener on the local tourist industry.

    While campaigning in the area, I never heard anyone say anything remotely racist about their Polish neighbours, but it is useless to preach the benefits of immigration to people affected adversely by this kind of thing.

    We were just outside Stoke-on-Trent, one of the towns on the edge of the Pennines which provides most support for the BNP. Noxious though the BNP is, it is not diffiicult to see why so many people in towns like this feel failed by all three main parties. We need to do more than keep pointing out that the BNP are weird nazis, and start dealing with these communities real concerns. And that includes immigration.

  • Can we have just one party in this country that isn’t debating immigration in imagination space.? We do not have an open door policy. Has anyone here tried to get into Britain recently? We’ve got the most incredibly overdone border controls. I can travel between France and Spain all I like, but when it comes to getting into or out of my own country I have to beg some jobsworth for permission and be put on the great national computer. People who blame everything that they think is wrong in their lives, or the fact that they haven’t got everything in life they think they could possibly want, on immigration should be told firmly that it’s not acceptable to blame it on “people who aren’t from round here.” These aren’t reasonable concerns. It’s pathetic racism and it’s disgusting.

    And shut up about Malthus. He was utterly discredited a very long time ago.

  • Passing Tory 26th Oct '09 - 11:01am

    Chris, indeed things have changed drastically in recent years (and some of the implementation leaves much to be desired) but the fact remains that for much of the New Labour period there was, de facto, a very open policy. While philiosphically this is lovely (and if I were to design my utopia, this would be part of it), in practice it has led to very major problems. Are you denying that there has been a high level of net immigration over the last ten years? Are you denying that one of the large net products of this has been a growing underclass, generally drawn from 2nd generation and above immigrants?

    In many ways the immigration debate is a proxy for the question of the role of the nation state in a hyper-mobile international system, but that is also a debate we should be having. It also, to my mind at any rate, touches on the key point of whether “best prctice” should be pushed or pulled. Many people across the world like the way that the UK operate (which, incidentally, we should take as a great compilment). How do we handle this? Either we can try to accomodate all those who think that on these shores (which seems to be pretty much your suggestion), or else we can help them to understand why the UK works the way that it does and help them to use this knowledge to change (and hopefully improve) wherever they come from. Of course, reality will rest somewhere between these extremes, but there are good moral and practical reasons for pursing a line nearer the latter.

    So, for instance, I think it is crazy that the government has effectively cancelled the au pair program, and makes it very much more difficult for overseas visitors (I have frequent contact with Russia and it is now clear that the UK visa system in Russia is now more convoluted and unfriendly than the Russian visa system in the UK, and that takes some doing!). But, as explained in a previous post, I do not think that pursing economic growth through population growth is either sustainable or desirable, from either an environmental or social perspective.

  • Alix, you say there is an argument to be made. Is there? Is there really evidence to show that magical efficiencies will solve everything?

    Often politicians will conjure up huge efficiency savings and use the money to fund other things. Yet, speaking from memory, such efficiency savings are not evidence-based and do not materialise

  • I think the analogy is useful as it should prompt us to make explicit the claims and the evidence for those claims.

    What is the precise name for the economic cycle you mention and can you cite evidence that it does occur, making immigration a good thing?

    I know these are tough questions but if more tough questions had been asked before, we might have avoided the financial crisis

  • I am not saying that the two things are the same.

    I am merely saying that just because a politician can claim something does not make it so. The efficiency saving is merely an example of that, nothing more.

    I think that the Lib Dems need a better economic expert than Jock Coats. It seems reasonable to me to say that more people looking for jobs will produce a downward pressure on wages if wages are an elastic phenomenon.

    Tim Leunig is potentially someone who could convince me. I have just done a google on him and the words: immigration creates jobs

    I did not find interesting hits. What article by Tim Leunig would you recommend?

  • What kind of benefit can we put forward to voters if we take the approach that lower wages are a price worth paying to provide more jobs?

    It does not seem like a very saleable message

  • Lost LibDem 26th Oct '09 - 2:38pm

    Agree with Judith. Why are so many people so patronising and think that the UK should be the country of choice for people from other countries? Do we have no respect for the culture and values of other countries beside the UK?

    Many of the arguements presented here are based on pure economics or just plain materialism . It is surely much more important to value the diversity of places around the globe and help everyone make the most of their lives wherever they live. Why is it assumed that the western/UK lifestyle is what every person on the planet should apire to?

  • It seems to me (and I may be totally wrong here of course) that even the claim of general higher disposable income (proportionate to prices) resulting from increased efficiency is questionable. This is due to the fact that people have certain fixed costs like mortgage payments which may well not shrink in line with salaries.

    There is a school of thought which believes in an “efficient market hypothesis” but I have heard that this school has taken a hammering recently. Can we really believe that the failing banks are indeed efficient? The amalgamation of banks following failures would actually decrease competition

    My reasoning is all pretty much common sense but I agree that this may not actually reflect reality which may be more subtle

  • Passing Tory 26th Oct '09 - 3:22pm


    “Isn’t it a kind of smug self importance that leads people to imagine that everyone else in the world would be immensely better off if they all came to live in our country? Er, what’s so wonderful about us?”

    Well, you skip between two issues here; what people perceive and the reality on the ground. For the first, how many other places in the world you have lived? The freedoms and opportunity in the UK still far outstrip those in many countries. There is very little chance, for instance, of getting killed because you support the “wrong” political party, for instance (although it was somewhat alarming to see the UAF threatening to break down this particular barrier outside the BBC last week), or because you refuse to tow the line in some corrpution scam.

    “We should be helping to develop opportunities in other parts of the world, not imagining that our country alone is worth living in. More lateral thinking needed, in my opinion. Keep your nerve, Chris Huhne.”

    Indeed, but that raises the awkward question of how you do this. Does “helping to develop opportunities” mean “helping them to do things the way that we think is right”. This normally turns into “using trade deals and aid to force them to do what is convenient for us”. Not quite so ethical. And, how keen are we on having representatives from other countries (Saudis, for instance) telling us that we have got it all wrong and “helping” us to see the light (with the aid of a few homemade explosives, maybe)?

    While I come instinctively from a “free movement” background, I think that in fact there is significant value to the nation-state firewalls, and keeping tabs on (and restricting) movement across such firewalls is necessary.

  • Malcolm Todd 26th Oct '09 - 4:57pm

    “Isn’t it a kind of smug self importance that leads people to imagine that everyone else in the world would be immensely better off if they all came to live in our country? Er, what’s so wonderful about us?”

    Ironically enough, Mr Passing Tory (and have you tried any tablets for that? 😉 ), I think Judith’s point in the remark you quoted was precisely that we shouldn’t be letting all and sundry into the country on the assumption that they’d be better off here. Which, of course, rather misses the point, since no one here has argued that people from other countries should come to Britain, only that they should be allowed to do so if they believe that there lives will thereby be better – a position which, by the way, I wholly support, and to hell with the consequences.

  • Actually, looking above, I see that Alix did not say higher disposable income. She said more disposable salaries which is quite different.

    It seems to me that as long as we accept the idea of continually increasing populations, people are bound to get smaller and smaller pieces of the pie, as the Earth and the sun are not increasing

  • Malcolm, libertarian ideas are quite attractive to some but what about the cost?

    Freedom is all very well but people want to be both free and have a decent quality of life which is dependent on their income and the environment

  • Malcolm Todd 26th Oct '09 - 5:23pm

    “It seems to me that as long as we accept the idea of continually increasing populations, people are bound to get smaller and smaller pieces of the pie, as the Earth and the sun are not increasing”

    But there isn’t some defined-size pie, and it isn’t made of Earth and sun. “Gross Domestic Product” may sound like something that necessarily involves making hard, lumpy things, but if someone sings a song in a room and charges people to come watch and listen, then that’s economic activity, which is part of GDP, but nothing is consumed (i.e. used up) that wouldn’t be anyway. And a lot of economic activity is like that, particularly in an advanced economy that pretty much has the basic resource needs sorted. This is one part of the reason that the pie really can go on increasing for, at least, a very very long time.*

    Anyway, it’s no good citing arguments about the ultimate, global finiteness of resources as an argument for limiting immigration, as it’s no more relevant to people moving from Kenya to Kent than to those moving from Middlesborough to Middlesex. (Ooh, get me, I could be a politician with this quality of alliteration.) There may be reasons why the global human population needs to peak soon (though any argument that depends even a little bit on the idea that we’re simply going to “run out of room” should promptly be run out of whatever room it’s showed up in this time), but it makes little difference to resources whether those people are in Britain, Poland, or Timbucktoo.

    *Of course, there are still problems about overconsumption of specific resources that need to be addressed, and I’m not suggesting that economic growth as presently constituted doesn’t involve consumption of resources, or indeed that we can all live on music. Though it might be nice to try, and would certainly be good for my waistline.

  • Malcolm Todd 26th Oct '09 - 5:28pm

    Voter, I’ve never been called a libertarian before, and I find it quite uncomfortable. Please desist before I break down completely and unmask myself as a free-marketeer. Or a Stalinist. It could go either way.

    Anyway, I can’t see what your remark is getting at, I’m afraid. “People” do indeed want both freedom and to have a decent quality of life. That’s basically why people who live here stay here, and why people who come here come here – because they want those things. (It’s also why people who leave here leave here of course – because they think they will be freer, or more prosperous, or more content, somewhere else.) I’m saying, let them.

  • There are plenty of utopian theories which suggest there is no pie or at least the pie is a lot bigger than we think. Most of my daily expenditure relates to hard items or energy. If you keep increasing the number of people without increasing the size of the Earth or the number of photons coming from the sun, something has to give.

    Saying “let them come here” and expecting things to just work out does not wash (to use a Paddy Ashdown word). That is the same kind of thinking which said that banks can do what they wish and all will be well. Dreams of eliminating risk have come down to Earth with a thump

    Surprise, surprise. That is human nature

  • Malcolm Todd 26th Oct '09 - 7:58pm

    Look, I’m not a utopian, I don’t “expect things to just work out”, and I don’t know what the banks have to do with it. In fact, it’s a bit wierd that voter complains about people wanting to eliminate risk (who said anything of the sort?), but apparently daren’t take a risk on opening on our borders. Of course it’s risky, I don’t deny that. Doing the right thing often is.

    As for the energy question: Well, you could try increasing the number of photons from the sun, but really – we’re an awful long way away from using the photons that are already coming here. When it comes to energy use in particular, the problems we have are chiefly about using carbon-based, non-renewable resources; there are plenty of answers to these problems out there, though if we wait for free-market economics to bring them online we’ll probably suffer more than we need to in the meantime. (Of course, when I say ‘we’ I mostly mean the people in poor countries that we apparently don’t want to allow in here. That’s also human nature.)

    There’s a cracking little rant over on the People’s Republic of Mortimer — I’ll link to it here if I can get it right – which expresses better than I can how exasperating this sort of green negativity can be:

    Humans have a phenomenal capacity for technological innovation, and it’s just a modern-day sort of millennialism to cry doom and assume that the only answer is to get back under the rock.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Oct '09 - 10:51pm


    Isn’t it a kind of smug self importance that leads people to imagine that everyone else in the world would be immensely better off if they all came to live in our country? Er, what’s so wonderful about us

    Life may be bad here, but it’s much worse in many other parts of the world. There was a time when I had some fairly extensive contacts with one particular group of people amongst whom there were many illegal immigrants, and I know the desperation they had about staying here, and the ingenious ways they would use to get here. Some of of it is “grass is greener on the other side” thinking, but a lot of it is that a menial job here still pays what would convert to keep many people alive back there.

    Britain is also popular because we speak what is a universal second language in many parts of the world, so there’s less of a language barrier than other European countries. There is also a big same ethnic community the illegal immigrants can mix into for almost any ethnicity you can think of in London. Plus, I am afraid, yes, we are considered a fairly soft touch compare to other European countries.

  • Passing Tory 26th Oct '09 - 11:11pm


    “Voter, you seem to be dealing in generalities about “room” again, which means the argument is back onto ground I don’t understand. The limited resources point was actually dealt with above – to say that resources are finite and cannot be expanded is what Malthus said and he turned out to be wrong. What makes you think that what was wrong three hundred years ago should be correct now?”

    I think the argument Voter is making is not about room but about energy. For now ignoring the possility of colonsing other planets, there is a hard limit to the energy that can be used to support life (over a long period of time we are limjited by the energy coming from the sun).

    Here, I guess we have to look at timescales, because yes, eventually, the sun will run out. But the timescale of human reproduction is rather faster than that. Also, yes space travel might allow us to move across to other planets although unless we can crack the light barrier it is unlikely that this is going to be significant on the timescale of the current population issue.

    So, at some poiny Mathus must be right (in that the population must either colapse or stabilise, depending on certain criteria. He wasn’t all doom and gloom :-). The question is how close to this point we are. amd that is a tough one. Of course, you can argue that we can keep on growing more food, but at what cost? By increasing the human-domninated part of the ecosystem, everything else will get squeezed out. Now, of course we can imagine a human in which virtually all other creatures have ceased to exist outside of controlled environments, but is that the sort of future we want? Personally, I would prefer one with a fewer people and a bit of rainforest left. And the crucial point is that at some point we wil have to face these issues. Why not now?

    In fact, I don’t have any huge argument with the idea that immigration boosts economic growth, just whether economic growth is really the metric we should choose to determine the success of a policy such as this.

    I know, sounds a bit radical for a Tory 🙂 But in fact, a surprising number think like me (and I had never put you in the “squeeze the wilderness” camp!)

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

  • Eric P
    Interesting the pro-Russian propaganda / talking points do not have any sources. I suspect it is because there aren't any reputable sources....
  • Chris Moore
    Gordon is back with his pro_Russian propaganda....
  • Roland
    @Roger - The principle is good sound bite, but the reality is your second statement: No representation without taxation. So all those overseas “residents�...
  • Roger Billins
    The principle should surely be no taxation without representation. If I pay tax in a country, I should have the right to have a say as to how my taxes are spent...
  • Simon R
    In NATO's on words, "NATO’s purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means." (https://www.nato.in...