Opinion: On immigration, let’s keep out of this race to the bottom

If there’s one area of political debate where perception triumphs over reality, it’s immigration. While the public rate it as the number one issue facing Britain, it tumbles to 12th place when they’re asked what concerns them most at a personal level, behind the more pressing issues of pensions, health and household finances.

This is the ‘disconnect’ between what people hear about in our debate on immigration – fanned by political opportunists and their media allies – and the reality they experience in their daily lives. It’s the doorstep charge of “well there are just too many of them, aren’t there,” qualified – under further questioning – with “oh no, they don’t cause any trouble round here.”

Mountains of evidence point to the benefits of migration, from its positive impact on Britain’s public finances, to the essential role of migrant labour, and the fact that (non-UK) EU citizens are more likely to pay taxes than Brits and less likely to claim benefits. But as Matthew D’Ancona points out, “Cameron is speaking the language of focus groups and saloon bars. This is politics, not empiricism.”

Since Ukip entered the scene soon after 2010 to fill a political space vacated by David Cameron (on the right) and an electoral gap left by the Lib Dems (the previous ‘none of the above’ party), the other parties have been driven into an unsightly bidding war. The challenge: counter the Ukip threat with ever-tougher policies to tackle a problem more serious in perception than in reality.

It reached a nadir when Cameron and Theresa May last week posed for the press in the living room of a home recently raided by border officials. Labour’s response is to attack the Conservatives from the right, rather than the centre or left.

The separate issues of free movement for EU citizens – a two-way street from which Brits benefit as much as anyone – and genuine immigration from outside Europe are muddied to the sole benefit of Ukip’s anti-EU crusade.

Of course there are real, tough issues we must tackle – and may indeed have avoided for too long. Nick Clegg correctly identified sham marriages, exit checks, and abuse of the minimum wage in his much-trailed immigration speech this week.

But Lib Dems should be careful about joining a race to the bottom, on this most sensitive and crucial of issues. Nick’s speech was reported as calling for a tightening of immigration in the left-liberal press (Guardian, FT, Dan Hodges’ blog, etc.). In the French, Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian media, it was widely interpreted as the latest anti-immigration crackdown by a British government.

David Cameron’s mistake is to think he can ‘out-Ukip’ Ukip on immigration. Likewise, let’s not try to play catch-up with either Labour or the Tories on this one. There is a fair, progressive, and liberal space to be occupied in this debate, explaining the benefits of immigration while being honest about the challenges and the European safeguards that already exist. We as Lib Dems must occupy that space.

* Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England.

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66 Comments

  • Max Wilkinson 7th Aug '14 - 9:13am

    Hooray.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Aug '14 - 9:43am

    If this is what Nick Clegg believes, he should have said it five years ago.

  • Interestingly in the Independence debate one of Alex Salmond’s arguments in favour of independence was that an independent Scotland could operate a more liberal immigration policy than the UK is operating – must have had Nigel Farrage/Nick Griffin/Theresa May spluttering into their beer.

    [The context is that Scotland’s current population is aging faster than the UK as a whole is.]

  • Well said and thankyou for saying it.

  • Talking about “race to the bottom”, what about our party and the latest polling.
    13 very marginal Conservative/Labour marginal seats, Lib Dem vote 21.2 % in 2010, now 4.4%, a drop of 17%!!!
    AND in Con/Lib Dem marginals , Famouth/Truro, Cambourne/Redruth and West Dorset swing of 4% FROM LIB DEM TO CONSERVATIVE.
    But still we are unconcerned and carry on our merry way to the apocalpse. You feel like crying.

  • #iagreewithgiles

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Aug '14 - 11:43am

    @ theakes,
    Apparently, 1 in 8 former Lib Dem voters now say that they will vote Green.

    The problem it is that the Lib Dems under the current leadership are just confusing the electorate. We have no idea what the Lib Dems stand for. I welcome Giles’ post, but to many Nick Clegg’s. Speech will confuse even more. Those who are still listening will probably see it as a response to the Ukip threat.

  • “If this is what Nick Clegg believes, he should have said it five years ago.”
    That’s because Nick doesn’t believe it Jayne.
    We are in the *Pledge Zone* Jayne. The nine months before an election, where voters fully expect politicians to say, offer, pledge, promise, suggest all manner of things that they do not believe, have no intention of following through on, and will drop like a hot brick 24 hours after the election day in May.
    All voters can do is vote on the history of what a party HAS done, NOT on what they say they WILL do? That way lies madness and repeat disappointment.
    Ukip have the edge on the immigration debate, because no amount of political bluster and subterfuge, can square the circle on having ‘managed immigration’ with a simultaneous policy of ‘open borders to the EU’.

  • David Allen 7th Aug '14 - 12:03pm

    Certainly the reasonably well-off majority are most concerned personally about self-centred issues like pensions, health and household finances. Certainly, broader issues such as climate change, poverty, and the underclass can in consequence be comparatively overlooked. This should not be viewed as a good thing.

    The Right seem to be better than their opponents at addressing these broader issues and setting the agenda. So, the right-wing politics of climate change is all about fending off green concerns, burning what’s cheapest, keeping short-term prices down, keeping the middle class comfortably off. The right-wing politics of crime, immigration, and welfare is all about tough government stamping hard on the underclass, keeping them in their place, and keeping Britain safe for the comfortably off. The Right finds ways to make these broader issues appear as self-centred bread-and-butter issues. The Right thus broadens its appeal to the selfish interests of the comfortably off by encompassing a broader range of issues.

    The Centre and Left make the grave error of dismissing the Right as ignorant and uncivilised, and overlooking the power of their arguments. When the Left point out truths such as our falling crime rate, the Right just say that they are making excuses for their own wimpishness and failure to act tough on crime. It’s a totally unfair argument, but that doesn’t make it an ineffective one. When liberals and the Left defend unrestricted immigration, the Right have an even stronger response to make. They can validly point out that mass migration would cause massive social dislocation, and that too rapid an influx inevitably causes strain. Meanwhile, both sides gloss over some of the most important questions – that big business is one of the strongest supporters of high immigration, and that its objectives are to bring in cheap labour, drive down wages, and let government deal with the resulting indigenous unemployment and increased benefits bills. To say that immigration is an unvarnished good is to play into the hands of the exploiters.

    Opponents of the Right need to be much more savvy in what they say and do about immigration. They need to show that they care about those who lose out from immigration, as well as caring about the welfare of immigrants. Clegg is moving in the right direction on this. Of course we must not “race to the bottom”. But if we just preen ourselves sitting around at what we think is the “top”, we shall be left in splendid isolation and ignored.

  • “that they care about those who lose out from immigration…”

    You give yourself away. Immigration has huge benefits, especially to the weakest in our society. The idea that some lose out is the lie the LibDems should be fighting.

  • @ Chris
    ” You give yourself away. Immigration has huge benefits, especially to the weakest in our society. The idea that some lose out is the lie the LibDems should be fighting. ”

    Perhaps you should line all your own ducks up in a row before you come out with such a defining cloud cuckoo land statement. Are you seriously suggesting there is no pressure on our education, system, no pressure on our health system, and no pressure on our housing infrastructure , from the unsustainable population growth through immigration.
    We have seen a population growth from 58 million in 2001 to 63 million in 2011, yet we have seen little or no increase in the capacity of the services listed above, and your party has compounded the problme, because whilst you have been in power since 2010, your cuts or the freezing of budgets in real terms has ensured we have either stood still, or gone backwards, once inflation is taken into account. How can that not impact on those most vulnerable, who are also those who do not have the luxury of bypassing the shortages by buying private services.

    I would love to be a fly on the wall as you try and convince somebody on the doorstep. Perhaps they can’t get their child in the local primary school, or perhaps they cannot afford a mortgage by a combination of house price inflation through a shortage of housing, compounded by wage depression across whole sectors caused by a massive overcapacity of unskilled workers,

    There is only one lie being peddled here,

  • @Raddily – care to evidence those statements? They’re often stated but I’ve yet to see any proof for any of that, many studies have tried and failed. The idea that immigration is a big problem flies actively against the evidence I’m afraid, it is the anti immigration sorts who are “in cloud cuckoo land” or “peddling lies” if you insist on that kind of language.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Aug '14 - 4:21pm

    @ John Dunn,
    By the same token, Ukip have no history.

    They can be as crowd pleasing as they like because they are not going to form the next government. We’ve already had Nigel Farage disowning the 2010 manifesto.

    Sorry, John, but when your fat cat MEPs earn their money with childish stunts like turning their backs when an anthem is played, they are unlikely to get my vote.

    You are clearly an intelligent fellow so I suppose I am not saying anything you don’ t in your heart of hearts know.

  • Perhaps someone who is pro immigration, could explain this to me?
    A few short years ago, I could get a doctor’s appointment in 2 to 3 days, now I am lucky to see a doctor in 7 to 10 days. When I do go to the appointment, there are families in the waiting room, and people I hear at the reception desk, plus people in the adjoining chemists waiting for prescriptions, who speak English, but with distinct East European tones.
    Can you see no connection with Labours 13 years of stupid open doors policy (for which they have since apologised !), and the NHS which is now at the end of its tether.?
    And Lib Dem policy is to compound Labour’s mess and make it even worse!?
    This is of course, not about East Europeans in particular, or race, or jonnie foreigners, it is about sheer overwhelming NUMBERS. A weight of numbers which we cannot cope with within our communities, , and is bringing the system to its knees?

  • Richard Dean 7th Aug '14 - 5:13pm

    A few short weeks ago, I got a doctor’s appointment within 2 hours of phoning for one. Mind you, that was Wales.

  • @ Jayne
    “Sorry, John, but when your fat cat MEPs earn their money with childish stunts like turning their backs when an anthem is played, they are unlikely to get my vote.”
    Well I’m proud and thankful they [Ukip MEP’s], turned their backs. Why does the EU even have an anthem !!?, when it is not even a democratically elected entity.? Ukip MEP’s are working hard to get us out of this megalomaniac EU mess, and they are worth every penny they earn, in their pursuit of that objective.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Aug '14 - 5:17pm

    Did Labour have an open doors policy?

    When I go to my doctors surgery, I hear a doctor with distinct South Asian tones, same with pharmacist and several of the nurses.

    I would be more convinced of the ‘ respectable ‘ arguments over resources. If I didn’t hear so many people of a Ukip persuasion letting the cat out of the bag by including long term and often British born citizens when they talk about the , as far as they are concerned, ‘undesirable’ changes that have taken place in Britain.

    By the way John, I could be persuaded against multiculturalism.

  • @ Richard
    “A few short weeks ago, I got a doctor’s appointment within 2 hours of phoning for one. Mind you, that was Wales.”
    That is very interesting Richard, and indeed it happened to me, some time ago. The receptionist said “I have a cancellation this morning”, which was very advantageous, but it got me thinking?
    This is pure speculation on my part, but see if the logic flows? A few years ago, when I knew I could get an appointment in a couple of days, I didn’t phone straight away. If I had some infection or other, I would give it a couple of days to see if it cleared up of its own accord. If not, I then booked an appointment 2 days hence. ( So a total of 4 days wait ).
    But,.. Now I know it is going to be 7 to 10 days wait, I will book immediately, and if the problem clears up in a few days, I will phone and cancel.( Not everyone does bother to cancel!), But here’s the thing. By phoning an appointment straight away I am effectively ‘bed blocking’, that appointment slot, even though I might not need it.? Are these not the kind of subtle problems that arise in a system that is being overstretched to its limits, with too many people seeking a limited resource or service?

  • Richard Dean 7th Aug '14 - 5:49pm

    @John Dunn. I’m not sure that that is what I would call “thinking”. In my case I had a persistent pain that could have been a cancer. But I didn’t have to force the issue, or take someone else’s slot.

  • The ‘undemocratic EU’ point seems absurd, given that only three months ago we all had the opportunity to take part in one of the largest democratic experiments in the world.

    Jayne Mansfield has the right of it where UKIP is concerned. I personally have nothing but contempt for a secessionist party that lacks the maturity to engage constructively with the larger entity, as the SNP does, while at the same time lacking the courage to be an abstentionist party, like Sinn Fein. They’re in it for the cash, that is all.

    And if multiculturalism is on trial here, we must step very carefully indeed. Are the critics suggesting that Britain must, could or should be a monoculture? If so, which culture? And what do we do when we find that we ourselves aren’t as culturally self-similar as we might like to believe? Where do the Scots and Welsh fit in, and what do we do about cultures that have been here for decades to centuries, establishing themselves with unique but also perfectly legitimate communities and cultures within ‘ours’? Its a minefield.

  • David Allen 7th Aug '14 - 6:30pm

    Jayne Mansfield,

    “I would be more convinced of the ‘ respectable ‘ arguments over resources. If I didn’t hear so many people of a Ukip persuasion letting the cat out of the bag by including long term and often British born citizens when they talk about the, as far as they are concerned, ‘undesirable’ changes that have taken place in Britain.”

    Not so much “Letting the cat out of the bag” as making stupid overclaims, and thereby dividing public opinion. Racists will line up with the overclaims, some of which have certainly been posted above. On the opposite side, many liberal-minded people will consequently say, with relief “There! You see! Since racists oppose immigration, we must be firmly in favour! We must deny with all our might that there can ever be any genuine, non-racist losers if there is large-scale immigration. We will be denialists and proud of it!

    This idea that cheap labour from abroad can possibly drive down wages, it’s got to be a lie! This idea that immigrant labour can displace indigenous labour and drive up the benefits bill, it’s got to be a lie! This idea that there can possibly be anything wrong with siding with the gangmasters, the sweat shops and the most unscrupulous and greedy side of the business community, it’s got to be a lie! It must be a lie, never mind the objective evidence, because our political need to be completely on the opposite side from the racists ensures that we will call it a lie.

  • David Allen 7th Aug '14 - 6:35pm

    “Perhaps someone who is pro immigration, could explain this to me?
    A few short years ago, I could get a doctor’s appointment in 2 to 3 days, now I am lucky to see a doctor in 7 to 10 days.”

    Allow someone who is not wholeheartedly pro immigration to explain this to you. I know it has also happened in my local area which has a very low level of immigration. It has happened primarily because of increasing financial strain on NHS resources, due to the crash and the austerity which has followed it. Immigration brings more patients but also more doctors and nurses. Immigration needs to be looked at objectively, but it sure doesn’t cause every problem that people attribute to it.

  • Little Jackie Paper 7th Aug '14 - 6:35pm

    TJ – ‘And if multiculturalism is on trial here, we must step very carefully indeed. Are the critics suggesting that Britain must, could or should be a monoculture?’

    I would suggest Britain should and could be pluralist. There are points between monoculture and multiculturalist.

  • Little Jackie Paper 7th Aug '14 - 6:40pm

    David Allen – ‘Immigration brings more patients but also more doctors and nurses.’

    Well….That though would assume that we are short of doctor and nursing skills. We are not. What we are short of is robustly funded posts. Big difference.

    Similarly, just because immigrants have (in this case) medical skills it doesn’t follow that they will be skilled in the areas where the UK has skilled shortages. Just because the geriatric ward in poor areas struggles for staff does not mean that the central London baby heart units are undersubscribed. The liberal implications of having doctors come to the UK conditional on them only working in particular shortage specialties….well I’ll let others pick the bones out of that. However that scenario would be the implication of a points based system.

  • LJP, what do you mean when you say Britain should be pluralist, and what are the differences between a pluralist society and a multicultural one?

  • Malcolm Todd 7th Aug '14 - 8:59pm

    David Allen
    “many liberal-minded people will consequently say, with relief ‘There! You see! Since racists oppose immigration, we must be firmly in favour!'”

    Works both ways, of course. Some, for example, will say “There! You see! Since big corporations oppose immigration control, we must be firmly in favour!”

    Of course, we must all have our own straw men, or how would we each defend our own corny arguments?

  • @ Jayne
    It proves a bit difficult to move this debate beyond race, and the silly ‘fear of foreigners’ slur, when in reality it is an argument about *numbers*, and moreover, about supplying the needed skills to create a sustainable society with a sense of wellbeing and community cohesion in the whole of the UK.?
    Let me reverse engineer this debate if I can.? At this moment in time we have about 65 million people here, and to be frank our whole system is ‘wobbling’ a little in its attempt to try and service that number. But, I ask the question, does anyone think these islands could support 250 million people,.. 200,… 150,….100 million people? Even keen ‘immigration~ists’ must surely accept, that there has to be *a sustainable number*, a limit? So the obvious next question is, what do you feel that sustainable limit is, and how do you propose to manage its sustainability for the benefit of all who live here?

  • Well said Giles, I hope that this is the last Nick Clegg Immigration speech this side of May (or perhaps ever) because the only effect it has on me is that I suddenly stop delivering leaflets for the an unspecified period of time

  • “But, I ask the question, does anyone think these islands could support 250 million people,.. 200,… 150,….100 million people?”

    Based on what criterion? We grow only 60% of the food we eat, but that figure was almost identical 50 years ago.

    Our population density is far from being the highest, even in Europe. It’s 65% of that of the Netherlands, for example. Net migration is raising the population by 0.3% a year. Why should anyone think we are imminently approaching some kind of Malthusian crisis which requires emergency measures to restrict immigration further?

    And of course, provided your East European neighbours are paying their fair share in taxes – and European migrants are known to do that, with some to spare – there is logically no reason at all why their presence should be over-stretching the public services. (As they speak English, there isn’t even any cost to the public purse for translation services , which seems to be one of Mr Clegg’s major concerns.)

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th Aug '14 - 7:16am

    @ John Dunn,
    I have no problem discussing numbers, but I am confused as to why Ukip used the immigration card at the last election.. The vast majority of immigrants are not migrant workers from the EU.

    In what way would leaving the EU change this?

  • Maurice Leeke 8th Aug '14 - 8:26am

    I agree with Giles

  • @ Chris
    “Based on what criterion? We grow only 60% of the food we eat, but that figure was almost identical 50 years ago.”
    That question poses a long response that drifts well away from topic which I don’t want to do on this thread, save to say that I believe that there are limits to growth, and by definition there *must* be a population number that creates a tipping point into un-sustainability.

    @ Jayne
    “In what way would leaving the EU change this?”
    We’d be free to use the Australian model, and manage immigration more biased to the skills our economy needs.

  • Rebecca Taylor 8th Aug '14 - 10:20am

    #iagreewithgiles

    In response to those who say it’s “all about numbers”:

    – There are 2 millions British immigrants in other EU countries (but strangely they get called “expats” even when on the dole in Germany…), which is only slightly less than the number of EU citizens living in the UK (2.3 million). So if all the EU citizens living in the UK (most of whom are healthy working taxpayers) left and all the British free movers (perhaps half are pensioners) come back, please explain how this would help relieve the alleged strain on public services/infrastructure etc? Or put more simply, anyone want to try persuading retired Brits returning from the Costas to replace Spanish NHS nurses?

    – I currently live in a not posh part of zone 2 North London which has a mixture of social and private housing side by side, high population density and people from all over the place including other parts of the UK (my next door neighbour is from Nottingham), other EU countries (mostly Irish, Italian, Spanish and Polish) and further afield (particularly Turkish and Somali) as well as native born Londoners (whose origins vary and include English).

    This should mean according to some of you that I can’t get a doctors’s appointment to save my life. My local GP surgery is very well run and I can ALWAYS get an urgent appointment the same day and even a non urgent appointment within a week or so. In fact I called on Monday this week, said it was not urgent and got an appointment for 10.30 this morning. I’m off there in a few minutes! When I was living in Central Leeds in the last two years, I could also get a GP appointment easily. When I was living in another not dissimilar part of London 5 years ago I could never get a GP appointment (and ironically I was working for the NHS at the time) so I think that the way a GP surgery is organised has a lot to answer for.

    – Spain (smaller country than the UK) has a greater total number of EU citizens living there than the UK (so a greater proportion of the population). Do Spanish people blame EU free movement for the economic problems their country is experiencing? NO. Spain doesn’t even have a UKIP like political party never mind BNP/EDL type organisations.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2172345/2-33m-EU-migrants-living-Britain-Only-Spain-Germany-popular-UK.html

    To those saying that this is about “too much multiculturalism”:

    – Why did UKIP do so badly in London? (They lost an MEP and only elected only 2 councillors in all out local elections in 31 boroughs). London is one of the world’s most multicultural cities and has a lot of EU free movers. A UKIP spokesperson said it was because London voters were “educated, cultured and young”.

    There are however problems related to how quickly funding for local services changes in response to popularion change, but this applies to places eg York and Leeds which have growing populations the majinky because people from other parts of the UK move there.

    Off to the GP now!

  • “I believe that there are limits to growth, and by definition there *must* be a population number that creates a tipping point into un-sustainability.”

    Well, unless you have some idea what form the unsustainability would take, or some reason to think we are near that population number, it’s absolutely irrelevant to immigration policy in the short to medium term.

  • @ Rebecca Taylor
    “So if all the EU citizens living in the UK (most of whom are healthy working taxpayers) left and all the British free movers (perhaps half are pensioners) come back, please explain how this would help relieve the alleged strain on public services/infrastructure etc?”
    Why would they need to leave.? This is about control of *future* immigration into the UK, not the past. Where in my comments did I suggest sending people back to their former home countries.? People who came here legally should stay here, and people who decided to go to Spain should also stay put, if that is what they want.? Your question has set up an argument that does not exist.
    “Why did UKIP do so badly in London?”
    Why did Wales and Scotland both get a Ukip MEP, when Lib Dems didn’t?
    London and the South East, is in such a bloated, overheated, and blinkered world of its own, that it could easily be seen as some remote ‘gated community’, separate an distant from the rest of UK reality. And just to prove my point about this unreal gated community in the South East, where does the Lib Dems *one and only* MEP sit?… Err… South East.?
    And let’s not forget that even Chris Huhne, saw the dangers of too much immigration.? Did he not suggest at one point that your beloved gated community in the South East, should be a special case, and *have restrictions on new future immigrants*?
    Finally, do you not see that, if Lib Dems continue to base all of their thinking, reasoning and policy only on what is happening in the bottom right hand corner of the UK, you will never grasp the problems and bigger picture that the rest of the UK have to deal with, and you will continue your retreat from relevance as a party?

  • @ Chris
    “Well, unless you have some idea what form the unsustainability would take,”
    Unsustainability is not a one off event, happening everywhere equally all at the same time. If you find yourself in Edinburgh, York, Chester, London…. you would likely shrug your shoulders and ask ” what’s the problem, It looks to be thriving very well ?” But you are missing the shrinkage of services and stretching of needed resources, that is very evident in other towns, villages and communities elsewhere in the UK, which are daily becoming less sustainable.

  • David Allen 8th Aug '14 - 2:46pm

    It isn’t “all about numbers”. Whilst it’s undeniable that our expanding population places strains on our environment (think housing on flood plains etc), we can cope, at least until the earth’s resources start running out, and in that respect of course immigration has little net effect on the problem. Britain isn’t especially “crowded” and as pointed out above, net immigration is relatively small.

    Difficult access to GP surgeries can sometimes be related to local net immigration. However, more often it has nothing to do with immigration, everything to do with varying organisation and NHS austerity.

    What it is about is importing cheap competent labour, displacing less competent indigenous labour onto benefits, driving down wage rates, and making bigger profits for business. It is COMPLICATED! Net inward immigration has major net benefits for the nation as a whole, and yet causes major problems for the losers. It is a force for widening inequality, exacerbating conflict between the employed and the unemployed – and shifting votes to the Right.

    Until we understand the complexities, and produce rational policies which deal with them, we shall continue to lose votes, and deservedly so.

  • “But you are missing the shrinkage of services and stretching of needed resources, that is very evident in other towns, villages and communities elsewhere in the UK, which are daily becoming less sustainable.”

    If the increased revenue from the immigrant population isn’t being directed to public services so that they can expand in proportion, of course there will be problems. But that’s a consequence of political and administrative incompetence. There’s absolutely no intrinsic reason why net immigration should result in such problems, any more than natural population growth should do so.

  • Many good points from David Allen and others on this thread. It is a complicated issue.

    There was an interesting program on BBC2 yesterday http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04b6865#clips showing the interaction between a number of British immigration sceptics and newly arrived immigrants. Many of the British born citizens were themselves 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants. For the most part they accepted that the immigrants they met were net contributors to British society but ingrained perceptions are not so easily displaced.

    Cambridge Economist, Professor Rowthorn writes in a recent report: http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/LargescaleImmigration.pdf, “Immigration helps to slow down the inevitable ageing of the UK population and also leads to faster population growth. To the extent that fast population growth is seen as undesirable, the resulting costs must be weighed against the presumed benefits of rejuvenation through immigration. It may be better to settle for less immigration and much slower population growth at the cost of somewhat faster ageing. A rate of net migration equal to 50,000 annually is almost as effective at rejuvenating the national population as a much higher rate of net migration. It does so with much less impact on population growth.”

    This being the case a managed immigration policy based around absorbing net migration of circa 50,000 per year would appear to be an appropriate basis for developing policy. I would consider that foreign students and other temporary migrants such as inter-company transferees etc., should be excluded from such targets as well as EU migrants following a suitable transition period, who are more likely to return to their home countries after a time. Also, the non-EU quotas should be split out from net migration, so that incoming migration is not adversely impacted by falls in numbers of emigrants.

    In this way we may be able to establish a planning basis for new housing, school places and public service requirements as well as significantly reduce the social tensions that periodically arise from sudden surges in mass immigration.

  • Giles Goodall 8th Aug '14 - 4:00pm

    David Allen: You’re right that this is a complex as well as emotive area. Which is all the more reason to reject the easy answers (which happen also to be wrong) put forward by populists like Ukip. As noted above though, they are unlikely to ever be tested on them (which is both a good and a bad thing, depending on how you look at it).

    On the broader debate, we do need to restore trust, and should do so by rationally addressing the actual issues, as you say. The immigration policy paper adopted by the party at Spring Conference makes a good start http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/4138/attachments/original/1392840151/116_-_Making_Migration_Work_for_Britain.pdf?1392840151

    My plea is to stick to our principles, address the issues, and keep out of the Ukip/Tory/Labour race to the bottom.

  • Simon Banks 8th Aug '14 - 4:06pm

    So, Raddiy, if you clamp down much tighter on immigration, where will the care assistants come from for our nursing homes? Who will do the building work or pick the fruit? Yes, in relatively few places large-scale immigration causes problems, especially in education. The vast majority of the country is not so affected and yet people talk as if immigrants are ruining their lives (though admittedly in north Essex we count Londoners as immigrants).

    The negative impacts of immigration are balanced by positive impacts and both our housebuilding system and the NHS would be in serious trouble without it. Oh, right, we’ll just take highly qualified people? Well, a lot of the jobs employers struggle to fill are not highly qualified. And how Liberal is it to say, we’ll milk poorer countries of their best qyalified people that they have trained, and keep the rest out?

    Population growth is a world problem, we export a lot of people too and one person is still one person wherever the move to.

  • @ Joe Bourke
    “…..who are more likely to return to their home countries after a time.”
    With respect, that sounds closer to ‘fingers crossed’ than concrete structural population data, that a government would need to plan for future infrastructure and resource needs on?

  • Lets develop this immigration thing a little?
    When it comes to imported talent, and home grown talent, let me throw in some food for thought.? Take just one profession. A qualified doctor.
    Lisa from Colchester has just finished her studies and qualified as a doctor. In the process she has run up a tuition bill of some £50,000 [ plus her Uni bar bills 🙂 ]. At the same time in Poland, Peter from Krakow also qualified as a doctor. As a Polish citizen, his tuition outlay is zero [ although he too has extensive Uni bar bills 🙂 ].
    They both get jobs at Leeds Hospital.
    When it comes to forming their lives and careers, Lisa (home grown doctor), is at a disadvantage to Peter, (imported doctor), given that she has a £50,000 bill to contend with, whereas Peter does not.?
    Seriously, is there no-one in the field of Lib Dem policy development that can’t level that playing field for Lisa?

  • “This being the case a managed immigration policy based around absorbing net migration of circa 50,000 per year would appear to be an appropriate basis for developing policy.”

    I don’t see how it’s remotely appropriate to base the whole of immigration policy on a figure plucked out of a single report by a single academic.

    Moreover, looking at Table 4.1 in the report, which is the basis for Rowthorn’s argument about what he calls “very low migration” being “almost as effective at rejuvenating the national population” as higher levels, his figures look very questionable. The rejuvenating effects of net migration of 105,000, 165,000 and 225,000 are taken from calculations by the ONS, but the one for 50,000 is “derived by extrapolation from the ONS projections”. Looking at the figures, his extrapolation technique is almost linear, but the process he is looking at is extremely non-linear. If he extrapolated to zero migration using the same technique, he would get completely the wrong answer.

  • John,

    Professor Rowthorn notes “Net migration from the EU is currently at around 130,000 per annum. The future scale of such migration will depend on what happens to the economies of eastern and southern Europe. Poland is expected to grow quite fast and the migration of Polish workers to the UK should begin to fall in the near future, although there is no sign of this happening yet. Prospects for southern Europe and the poorer eastern states, such as Bulgaria and Romania, are less rosy, and immigration from these countries is unlikely to fall any time soon.”

    The high levels of youth unemployment in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy have resulted in a significant increase in inward migration flows from these countries to the UK. That will, most likely, only change as and when the economies of these Southern European counties begin to recover and they are once again in a position to generate jobs for the younger generation. The UK was in this position in the early nineties, with many workers going to Germany and elsewhere to find work. Eventually, the UK economy turned around and most British workers returned to the UK, as it will in these Southern European states.

    This scenario is one of the key benefits of a single European Market – Brits and other Europeans are free to move around in search of work, wherever it might be at any point on time.

    Government policy towards immigration from outside the EEA (and Switzerland) has become more selective, making it more difficult for unskilled workers to enter, but encouraging the entry of skilled and talented individuals. That is the basis, I think, on which a managed migration policy can be successfully developed and maintained for the UK.

  • @ Joe
    “That will, most likely, only change as and when the economies of these Southern European counties begin to recover and they are once again in a position to generate jobs for the younger generation.”
    Again, this is a fingers crossed approach to how things *might be*, with no considered concrete route on how it is going to actually come about.? The EU economy, growth, and employment prospects are slowly, descending once again into recession, even possibly deflationary depression. Whilst I admire (even envy), your Panglossian view, seriously, how is the EU economy going to resurrect itself?
    “This scenario is one of the key benefits of a single European Market – Brits and other Europeans are free to move around in search of work, wherever it might be at any point on time.”
    This oft repeated political ‘meme’, has little bearing on reality for most folks Joe. So you think that UK workers whose income is undercut by immigrant workers, can always get on the train to Europe and do *..what..* and *..where..* ?
    We really need more grounding in reality, than throw-away rhetoric.?

  • Little Jackie Paper 8th Aug '14 - 9:00pm

    John Dunn – Exactly. Integrationists would say that Lisa does have a level playing field though because following the integration of medical qualifications she can up and leave to Poland and work there. Maybe she can then buy a big house in Poland for, probably, a couple of ice-lollies. At least in Polska B. The differential in tuition debts doesn’t matter because under subsidiarity it is for member states to decide what tuition debts are charged to home citizens – its not relevant to integration processes. After all, Lisa could have gone to study medicine in Lativa or Romania or Hungary just as easily. Supposedly.

    The real question about the EU today is reciprocity. Why is it that Peter and co can move here yet the flows of people West to East are rather more scant. I would argue that if the flows of people are not at least vaguely even in both qualitative and quantitative terms then there is not meaningful union. Just for good measure, if Peter has Ukrainian family there’s the helpful EEA rules for them too that UK citizens generally don’t get.

    In many ways Lisa has it easy because of qualification recognition. It’s far more telling in industries like food processing. If large numbers of economically low-skilled people are not heading for Riga, Cluj, Talinn or Thessalonika for jobs/housing/wages then perhaps it might be at least worth asking why that is and what it says about the quality of the union. The phrase, ‘two-way street,’ gets thrown about a lot – but no one ever seems to look at how people from different parts of the EU are affected by the roadworks.

    The suspicion is that integration is placed as a higher priority than a level playing field. Integration helps corporates and as we are open for business then the level playing field doesn’t matter too much. Whether this is in the interests of the man on the street or for that matter East Europe’s health services is rather less clear to me. I’ll also leave it to you to think about how confident you are that wealth from integration will be trickling down.

  • @ Giles
    In the policy document you posted is says :
    “We should say ‘yes’ to doctors, experts and investors coming to help Britain grow”
    That is fine, but as my comment at 4.44pm 8th Aug, asks, what are you going to do to help level the playing field for Lisa, the ‘home grown’ doctor?

  • @ Chris ~ comment 3.36pm 8th Aug
    “If the increased revenue from the immigrant population isn’t being directed to public services so that they can expand in proportion, of course there will be problems. But that’s a consequence of political and administrative incompetence.”
    If I take your point as accurate and at face value, then where is Lib Dem policy for those regions of the UK, which is designed to sweep away the imbalance and ‘political and administrative incompetence’, so they [regions], can all be upgraded to a London level of services and lifestyle?

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Aug '14 - 3:58pm

    @ T-J,
    When it comes to multi-culturaIism, I believe that we have been too careful.

    I never wanted my children and my children have never wanted to expose their children to illiberal ideas about homosexuality, nor to accept forced marriage or female genital mutilation as just another alternative cultural norm.

    I am also worried having read that there are now schools where the children almost all belong to one ethnicity and religion, such as in some Birmingham schools recently in the news. This is not multiculturalism, this is not diversity, this is a form of apartheid where children from different ethnicities and religions do not get the opportunity to play in the homes of school friends from different backgrounds and learn real respect for others .

  • Adding to my comment at 4.44pm 8th Aug ~
    The Lisa (home grown doctor), and Peter (polish doctor) issue has escalated.
    It has just occurred to George and Glenys (Lisa’s parents), that some of their taxes went to the EU who passed it on to Poland. [ UK are net contributors, ~ Poland net recipients ].
    George and Glenys are very angry!. Why? Not only, has their Lisa run up a tuition bill of £50,000 to train as a doctor, it has occurred to them that some of their EU directed taxes, have subsidised the Polish economy, to degree, whereby Peter the newly trainer Polish doctor, got his training as a doctor, absolutely free!!!!!?.
    Now,… Let’s see you explain the benefits of immigration to George and Glenys on the doorstep?

  • “If I take your point as accurate and at face value, then where is Lib Dem policy for those regions of the UK …”

    Not being a member, or even a supporter of the party at national level, thankfully I have no responsibility to defend Lib Dem policy.

  • Giles Goodall 10th Aug '14 - 10:40am

    Have a look at this from today’s Independent:
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-typical-ukip-voter-has-little-experience-of-immigration-9659499.html
    “Ukip are especially garnering support in communities with very low levels of diversity, experiencing the effects of immigration second hand, perhaps influenced by the media and word of mouth. People are often more concerned about levels of immigration nationally than in their own communities. They vote Ukip because of their perceptions of the issue rather than their day to day experience.”

  • @Giles
    Delving through that article in the Independent, it says:
    “Mr Mason – married, a rolled-up copy of The Sun in his shorts pocket – is the archetypal Ukip voter.”
    Yes, that is so very accurate, I’m never without my copy of the Sun in my back pocket. It can be a bit lumpy in bed, but hey-ho, being archetypal has its price.
    And the whole dubious article in the Independent (it seems), is based around :
    “………..a paper published next month by the think-tank Demos will show.”
    So who funds, supports and inputs their ‘thinking’, to this think-tank?
    From Demos web site:
    “Demos collections are about bringing together leading thinkers and experts to illuminate and challenge major issues facing politics and society. We consult intellectuals and commentators from the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg,………….. * say what ???*….”
    So Demos base their reports on inputs of valuable information from leading intellectuals like………. Nick Clegg ???
    Give it a break Giles, Lib Dems have completely failed on the immigration argument, and people beyond Watford know it, and as May25th showed, are voting accordingly.

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Aug '14 - 11:40am

    Ukip voters really aren’t racist are they? They just worry that the colour of people around here are really changing.

  • @ Jayne
    “Ukip voters really aren’t racist are they? They just worry that the colour of people around here are really changing.”
    And Lib Dems aren’t all self satisfied metropolis elites, they just fear the hoi polloi, getting any real say over their lives ?

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Aug '14 - 1:48pm

    @ John Dunn,
    I might be described as middle class but my extended family are the sort of ‘hoi polloi’ that you refer to. They are not racist and they do not vote Ukip.

    I find it deeply offensive when people assume that it is working class people who are racists. They are very perceptive though, and they know a racist when they hear one, like the woman in the piece who referred to racist ar——s.

    Please do not judge the Liberal Democrats on the basis of my comments. I am no politician or diplomat.

  • @ Jayne
    “Please do not judge the Liberal Democrats on the basis of my comments.”
    Do don’t judge the Liberal Democrats on the basis of your comments.
    “I might be described as middle class but my extended family are the sort of ‘hoi polloi’ that you refer to”
    ‘I’m truly sorry to hear that. Have you informed them of that fact?
    And you are right about the working class not being racist. My best guess is that they are fed up being totally ignored by the incumbent politicians? And Ukip is their only game in town?

  • @ Suzanne
    (Policy Paper 116)
    List of Policy proposals
    Item 2. Liberal Democrats propose that students should be taken out of any future net migration target.

    The obvious cynical reason for this is so Lib Dems can ‘fudge’, the real immigration figures. (Nice try). But think beyond that cute (but obvious), little ploy. If you just assume the students go back to their home country, and they don’t(?), how as a government can you plan for infrastructure and other societal needs with any measure of accuracy?

    You can’t remove a whole strata of people from census data, on the whim that they *might* go home. !!!

  • Little Jackie Paper 10th Aug '14 - 8:14pm

    John Dunn – Students can be taken out of targets, I understand most other countries do the same. We can certainly have an argument about how many/what type of students there should be, but I think that the point is sound.

    The number of GRADUATES should certainly be in any target, but graduates and students I think can be separated. Provided that distinction is respected, the proposal looks sound to me.

  • Jayne Mansfield 10th Aug '14 - 8:43pm

    @ John Dunn,
    Have I informed them that they are hoi polloi? Well no John, because it is your terminology not mine. If you were not referring to ordinary working class people when you referred to the hoi polloi, who were you referring to?

    There is a saying , ‘You can fool some of the people some of the time but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. Many of the working class people who vote for Ukip are the sort of working class tories who voted for Thatcher. I am sure that you will scoop up plenty from the BNP too. It was reported that the EDL ‘s Tommy Robinson endorsed Ukip in 2013.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if there were not people who thought Hitler did some good things within your ranks and that Putin had admirable qualities.

    There are people who despair of the three main parties and I have some sympathy with them, but Ukip is not the answer. Voting for a party just because it is not one of the mainstream parties seems a very negative thing to do. Working class people need to look at the policies and see who would really benefit from Ukip policies, and looking at the 2010 manifesto, it would not have been them.

    Many of you describe yourselves as Powellites. Well, you claimed that it was not race but numbers that were of concern to you. Powell was in favour of repatriation when there were significantly fewer new immigrants.

    I have queried whether Labour had an open-door policy and you have not answered me. You have also not satisfactorily answered my question as to why, if your concern is about numbers, we need to leave the EU given the majority of new annual immigrants are not from the EU. and that this is something that governments already have control over. I was under the impression that a points system was introduced in 2008. Could you please clarify?

  • Former Lib Dem 3rd Sep '14 - 5:44pm

    It’s these reasons that I’ve gone from someone who has written party policy and stood for election, to someone who is letting their membership expire this year.

    The debate about immigration is more than a set if thinly made “economic” criteria briefly and lopsidedly made above . There are economic and social impacts for the migrant, the host community and the community they leave behind. We have to acknowledge that not all migrants are equally valuable, and those from societies very different to our own will have a harder time integrating.

    The idiotic “either-you-are-for-or-against” debate we have had has just resulted in the door being left open and the result is the rise of UKIP. We need a braver policy which recogises that not all migrants are equally valuable and some have a negative value to our society. It is possible to reduce migration while protecting the economy, it just takes a political party to A take their head out of the sand and B have the guts to radically remake our immigration policy. Didn’t you think it was sad that the public appetite for immigration is so low we only took 2000 refugees from Syria? Surely it can be better than this.

    Right now the Lib Dems seem to be stuck in a time warp as far as immigration is concerned, and even though I’m married to an Indian immigrant I don’t see how we can carry on in this way and as a result I’m leaving the party. Not sure which party I’ll go to (if any) but I won’t be ticking the Lib Dem box at the next election.

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