Tim Farron MP writes…The liberal challenge on immigration

It’s not often that regional elections in other European countries get much attention in our press, let alone become headline news. The fact that elections yesterday in a handful of German states made front pages here today demonstrates the unusual situation Britain and Europe find itself in. It also highlights the growing need for strong, liberal voices across our continent.

Those of you who heard my speech on Sunday, or in fact have heard me speak since I became leader, will hopefully have a sense of my beliefs on the refugee crisis and on the wider issue of immigration. Our government has tended to bury its head in the sand, but with no short term end to the conflicts scarring the Middle East and climate migration on the rise, we cannot let a policy of ignorance be maintained.

More than ever, it is our responsibility as liberals to stop the immigration debate descending into hard line, xenophobic rhetoric that sets community against community. The relative success of Alternative fur Deutschland in these German elections shows how challenging that can be. Especially when the “pro-immigration” parties in Germany still vastly outweigh the anti, just one story makes better headlines than the other. Similarly, here in the UK, we would be foolish to think the decline of UKIP will see an end to the blaming of the other. 

Instead of backing away from the fight, we should be standing proud in our commitment to refugees, and our belief that immigration benefits our culture, our economy and our communities. Where these benefits aren’t felt, it is a failure of governments, local and national, not a failure of the migrants and refugees themselves.

By pursing ideological cuts which put further strain on the household budgets of people across the country, the Tories are empowering those who use migrants as scapegoats and putting community cohesion at risk. The fact of the matter is, where people have sufficient access to housing, schools and the NHS they are much less likely to be worried about immigration. Instead we have a government putting strain on every one of these services without fully considering the consequences.

On Wednesday Osborne will have the opportunity to provide additional funding to refugee services. These could facilitate better integration and enable all those Local Authorities who have offered to take refugees to fulfil that pledge. Wider than that they have a chance to give Public Sector workers a pay rise, to increase investment in our schools and to properly fund the NHS – all of which will in turn have a positive impact on attitudes towards refugees.

The government has consistently shown reluctance, at home at abroad, to take leadership in this crisis.  Here’s their chance to reverse that trend, and take action here in the UK at this critical time.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Refugees and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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34 Comments

  • Two points to pick up on:

    ” immigration benefits our culture, our economy and our communities. ”

    So does Tim advocate any limit on immigration? If it benefits us, surely a greater amount will be of greater benefit?

    “where people have sufficient access to housing, schools and the NHS they are much less likely to be worried about immigration. Instead we have a government putting strain on every one of these services without fully considering the consequences.”

    Is it the Government putting strain on schools that mean that almost every year-group in every school near me has a “bulge class” (bulge has become the new normal) when 5-10 years ago they did not, which has resulted in precious outdoor recreation space to accommodate the classes. Or is it immigration putting strain on the schools.

    Answers?

  • Sorry: precious outdoor recreation space *being built over* to accommodate…

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Mar '16 - 1:06pm

    Tim makes some good points and I think he is improving, but I also now think we need a shadow Lib Dem cabinet.

    The shadow cabinet wouldn’t be like Labour where they are determined to remove Corbyn, but one that sends a different message out to the public, focusing on the issues the public are most concerned about: the economy, the NHS and immigration.

    It might look confusing to the public, but I think some ambiguity is better than just putting all the eggs into the progressive basket. Some intellectual competition would also be good.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Mar '16 - 1:29pm

    It is perhaps also worth pointing out that those same regional elections saw a rise in the fortunes of our sister party the FDP, who now have a real chance of returning to the national parliament in 2017.

  • Oh dear, not a great start. There is indeed a strong case to be made for immigration but this sounds hollow given Tim’s recent approach to immigration. The LibDems look like they see a problem and look at a short term quick fix and assume a short term cause. The public know may of these things are long burn issues and can require a longer term solution if you don’t sound like you are contributing to that then why would the public consider the LibDems relevant?

    “The government has consistently shown reluctance, at home at abroad, to take leadership in this crisis”

    The problem is that no one has taken any leadership in this just shouting about the UK government when you haven’t proposed any long term solution doesn’t carry much weight. The government is making a mess, but none will care unless you are able to say what the right course of action should be.

  • The real challenge to the Libdems on immigration is actually having a sensible immigration policy and implementing it. At some point the Libdems are going to have to face up to reality and start saying ‘No’.

    It’s commonsense really.

  • Could Tim give us an indication on what limits of net inward migration ,if any, he has ?

    How do you square the ever more houses, schools, hospitals, roads,airport runways etc. with concern for the environment ?

  • “Those of you who heard my speech on Sunday, or in fact have heard me speak since I became leader, will hopefully have a sense of my beliefs on the refugee crisis and on the wider issue of immigration.”

    Not really, and this is the problem – I haven’t the faintest idea what Farron believes other than that he is convinced of his moral superiority over people in other parties. Does he believe in the benefits of limitless immigration? If not, why not? t what point does immigration cease to be beneficial, and why? These are the kinds of key questions people want honest answers on, but Tim Farron always evades them.

    “immigration benefits our culture, our economy and our communities. Where these benefits aren’t felt, it is a failure of governments, local and national”

    A few facts :-

    Proportion of people in UK born outside UK: 13%
    Proportion of people in South Lakeland born outside UK: 4.83%
    Number of asylum seekers housed in South Lakeland: 0 (that’s zero)

    Personally I’m getting pretty tired of a politician who lives in a part of the country which has no asylum seekers whatsoever lecturing the rest of us on how we should treat refugees. Does it not occur to him that if his own and similar areas took their fair share of refugees, then community cohesion in places like Middlesborough and Rochdale might not be under quite so much pressure?

  • @Glynn – Not much of a policy…

    As I said at some point reality will dawn and the LibDems will have to get serious about not only administering migration but also capping and managing it, if the LibDems aren’t to find themselves being guilty of “putting strain on every one of these services without fully considering the consequences.”

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Mar '16 - 12:00am

    As Glynn pointed out, there is a Lib Dem policy on immigration, and in the emergency debate on Syria at the Spring Conference last weekend, Conference called on the Government to ‘increase the number of refugees the UK takes both from the region and from within Europe’, while working with the EU to create safe and legal routes for refugees. Tim Farron’s personal long-term commitment to this cannot be doubted by anyone who has followed his efforts to alleviate the plight of Syrian and other refugees. As to there being few refugees in Cumbria as yet, that will be partly because local councils have paused until their own householders who have been flooded out are able to return to their homes. There is also a desperate shortage of homes for local people in the National Park. However, Cumbria also faces a shortfall in numbers of people of working age needed to fill an expected increase of thousands of jobs: a current statement in the local press is that an estimated 56,300 jobs will need to be filled by people from outside the county by the end of 2021. The refugees to be accepted here will be a vital resource as a working population.

  • @Katharine Pindar
    “…local councils have paused until their own householders who have been flooded out are able to return to their homes.”
    Are you aware that asylum seekers/refugees have been coming to the UK for a little longer than the recent floods? Was Mr Farron been pestering his local councils to take more asylum seekers/refugees prior to the floods?

    “… current statement in the local press is that an estimated 56,300 jobs will need to be filled by people from outside the county by the end of 2021. The refugees to be accepted here will be a vital resource as a working population.”

    Are you aware that there are currently 1.6 million people unemployed in the UK?

  • As long as I can remember I have heard anti-foreigner sentiments said in Britain. British society is of no way unique as regards this but as one Israeli psychologist once told me people who express strongly racist views have personality problems.

  • Chris_sh
    Are you currently aware of nearly six million Britons live overseas.

  • Loving it, Manfarang, with your one psychologist and your tarring people who are asking perfectly reasonable questions as racists. Really helped move things on that has.

  • Graham Jones 16th Mar '16 - 8:24am

    The school where I’m chair of governors has 75% of pupils speaking one of more than 30 home languages other than English. This is in the half of Oxford where housing shortage is acute, some areas are in the worst quintile in the UK for deprivation, and life expectancy is up to 10 years less than in the wealthier part of the city. My next-door neighbours are ‘unaccompanied minors’ – children sent off by their parents to escape war or persecution. We have not one but two Polish shops round the corner. We have four mosques. So do most people on the doorsteps complain about migration? No.
    If migrants add to demand for public services, they also overwhelmingly add to the Treasury’s tax-receipts that pay for hospitals, roads, schools, and so on. We need more young workers, not fewer, if we’re to pay for the NHS and social care of our rising numbers of young people.
    Growth is in our DNA as a nation. At the start of the industrial revolution our population was back to what it was under Rome and since then has been growing steadily. Supply meets demand as newcomers enter the taxpaying workforce. There’s no magic formula on numbers. Any inordinate lag between demand and supply is our fault as voters, politicians, and managers, not the fault of our new neighbours.
    Dealing with the wider issue of global migration is something we need to deal with by staying in the EU and leading the argument for Europe-wide policies.

  • @Manfarang
    Are you aware that your comment has no real relevance to the conversation?

  • Graham Jones 16th Mar '16 - 10:06am

    Sorry, I meant to write ‘rising numbers of older people’!
    And just in case anyone thinks our housing and health problems in east Oxford are caused by migration, the first is partly a result of buying up of cheaper properties to house students, partly due to lack of land for housing, and partly to inflated prices. The second is due in the main to decades of dependence on fatty diets, smoking, etc leading to lung and heart disease.

  • @Graham Jones
    However surely it would make life easier for everyone if the load was spread more evenly across the Country (including areas where the well off retire)?

  • @ Graham Jones “The second is due in the main to decades of dependence on fatty diets, smoking, etc. leading to lung and heart disease”.

    You forgot to include fatty liver disease, Graham, which is rising in epic proportions..

    What irks me is that the Scotch Whiskey Association seems to have an iron grip on the party north of the border, funding a major stand at the Scottish Conference. They also persuaded Lib Dem MP’s to vote to reduce the spirits tax escalator in the last budget – and are trying to do it again this year. Reducing tax revenue to incentivise increased alcohol consumption doesn’t seem like progressive politics to me………….. especially when it costs the NHS £ 500,000 plus for a liver transplant.

  • Jonathan Hunt 16th Mar '16 - 11:09am

    In the south London constituency where we have lived for more than 40 years, immigration ceased being a “problem” too many years ago to remember. White people have long been in a minority, as the reality of living in a truly mixed community ensures a high level of harmony.

    It is the fear of immigration and the unknown that causes resistance. Many first and second generation immigrants have the confidence, energy and ability to get on and create businesses and jobs. The number of jobs is well above the 4.2 national average of new jobs per immigrants.

    As for the Syrians, the Tory government shames us all by taking only 4,000 a year — or one for every 150,000 citizens. Many have skills, education and experience that this country desperately needs because business have been too penny-pinching to train people themselves.

    The only immigration that concerns some local people of all races in Camberwell and Peckham now are the white non-Londoner gentrifiers moving into hugely expensive developments, that is driving our children out. But I am sure those will also be soon absorbed into wonderfully diverse communities.

  • “More than ever, it is our responsibility as liberals to stop the immigration debate descending into hard line, xenophobic rhetoric that sets community against community.”

    There is an import point in this statement! Remember the issue that is causing problems and much discussion is the high levels of net immigration we’ve been seeing for nearly 20 years and which shows little sign of reducing. Aiming to reduce this imbalance and even going negative potentially does little to change the unlying levels of immigration and migration, but does radically impact the level of provision we have to make as a society. Hence what Tim is effectively saying is the pro-immigration brigade need to stop calling anyone who disagrees with their cloud cuckoo land ideas of unconstrained mass migration xenophobic!

  • “unconstrained mass migration”
    1. From outside the EU immigration is heavily restricted.
    (Overseas students are counted in the figures but most will return to their home countries)
    2.The immigation/migration figures are net so the number of Britons going to live abroad does matter.
    3.Free movement in the EU. Many Britons enjoy their right to live in another EU country.
    4. No-one in Britain is officially restricted as to where they can live. There are internal population movements,mostly to southern England.
    Immigration/migration is a complex issue and placing limits on numbers is no quick fix.

  • Jacob Collins 16th Mar '16 - 6:42pm

    @ Graham Jones
    Spot on that there’s no magic number, at least not one that any government can define. I would add though that we do add an artificial demand in low paid workers by topping up immigrant wages with benefits. Unfortunately we can’t do this whilst still a part of the EU.

  • Jacob Collins 16th Mar '16 - 6:46pm

    Sorry meant to say ‘Unfortunately we can’t do anything about this whilst a part of the EU’

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Mar '16 - 10:16pm

    Chris_sh, I wonder if you have a problem with a woman venturing into this debate, with your attempted lofty put-down? Actually, it isn’t up to Tim Farron to ‘pester his local council’, it’s up to him to keep demanding a more generous response from this Government, which he has been doing consistently as Leader. Your comment about the currently unemployed in this country is irrelevant, since Cumbria’s problem is that the county has an ageing demographic and can’t attract sufficient people of working age to stay or come here, despite a good increase in apprenticeships locally.

  • @katherine the argument isn’t about whether or not there should be immigration. It’s about who should control it and who should be answerable for those decisions. All that you’ve said doesn’t mean that there should be unlimited immigration from the EU. A bank of England report has stated that there is a 2% hit on some people on the lowest wages. UK ministers should be accountable to the public regarding explaining to those people why they should take the hit for short to medium term economic interests for the UK.

    But then if any of the political parties were interested in the low paid in terms of immigration they’d have tasked or demanded the civil service to report on the impacts of immigration on the low paid. As it only affects the unglamorous perhaps no party is interested.

    It really matters not whether there’s a need for millions of immigrants or just a thousand – we need to have the British government accountable. It needs to be part of a full economic strategy to account for the impacts on our public services and housing costs.

  • @Katharine Pindar
    TBH I don’t care what the gender of the person is, if you bother to scroll down you’ll see I used the same term to a man, what I don’t like is hypocrisy. The asylum/refugee issue has been going on for a lot longer than the floods, yet Stuart drops the little bombshell about there being none in that area. I believe that he may have picked this up from the committee report that did the naming and shaming. Prior to that shaming the Government was relying on Councils volunteering to help, obviously Cumbria didn’t volunteer.
    As to the response that it isn’t his responsibility to pester his Council, I find that rather strange considering his “personal long-term commitment” to the issue. You are telling me that he won’t lobby/pester the councils up there to accept refugees (or that is what your response seems to imply), yet he was willing to write to retail firms to try and get them to open stores in the area (which I assume he did after liaising with the council).
    However, accepting that I don’t know the area, I decided to search for him on the westmorland gazette web site to see what he had been saying locally. What there was (and it wasn’t much really) followed a familiar path, the UK must take these people, it’s all the Governments fault. I couldn’t find any criticism of the local councils for not volunteering to take these people, not even anything about tub thumping speeches in town halls exhorting the locals to embrace them. Seems more of a “give them over there your huddled masses” than an open armed embrace.
    Actually you are wrong when you say “Your comment about the currently unemployed in this country is irrelevant, …”, it’s very relevant. You stated that your(?) press reported a shortfall of 56,300 in the workforce by 2021. The current plan is to bring in 20,000 refugees over the next 5 years (i.e. to 2021), even if every single one is sent to Cumbria it won’t solve your problem. Another point though, if the package available isn’t good enough to attract people from outside the area, why do you think these people would hang around once they were able to work. Surely they would be the same as the local population in wanting the best package possible to raise their families?

  • @Jane
    Hi Jane, you are absolutely right of course, UK ministers should be where the buck stops. However I think there is also another element. Lib Dems often state that local politicians should have more say as they know what is best for their area. I think the Government tried to do the right thing (don’t get used to me saying that sort of thing btw) by asking councils to volunteer, however as an experiment it seems to have failed badly.
    Politicians at the local level must also take some responsibility, if they want the power they can’t just point at Westminster and moan when the going gets tough (obviously I’m not saying it’s just Lib Dems who are guilty, but nor am I saying that they should be exempt from this criticism).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Mar '16 - 2:33pm

    This is not good enough to get us noticed for the traditionally practical and humane policy of this party on this issue .Tim always sounds humane , not always though , does he sound practical.There is no economic need that overides a social need if the former is trivial and the latter not .Example , a restaurant needs staff , it brings in workers .If it were allowed to , and it now would not easily , thankfully , but once could , how is that economic need greater than the impact locally of more people in line for services ?!

    Tim is correct on funding . But more than most countries we suffer because we do not have a comprehensive social market in areas such as health or education.Supply and demand does not really fully happen in the funding of our services .Capped budgets need a rocket to budge them .And no tinkering with local boards shall do it either .We need a fully integrated accross the bord approach to public services , massive investment , money following every user of them , individual power .Then the immigrant can be seen to be a net contributor . Not yet .

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Mar '16 - 12:48am

    Jane, we are talking about refugees, and our Government’s duty to help take them in, not about immigrants in general. Chris, I was merely pointing out that Tim Farron’s principal task is to keep pressing the Government to extend its current shamefully small commitment. Fact, I talked today to a Cumbrian county councillor, who told me that the County Council is ready and willing to take in refugees, but that the Government seems too fearful of a backlash about immigration to allocate them, especially with the Referendum coming up. (I urged him to get the Council to keep pressing.) As to whether refugees would want to stay here, after what they have been through I should think they would be happy to.

  • Phil Culmer 18th Mar '16 - 3:01am

    @David The population is growing, and will continue to do so with or without people joining us from elsewhere. The problem with class sizes isn’t immigration, whether economic or refugees, (which are frequently conflated whenever it seems useful) its successive governments’ lack of funding for education, and hostility to anyone who chooses their job from a sense of vocation rather than for a grossly inflated salary.
    The problems in education are similar to those in the NHS; a generation of chronic underinvestment, a policy of divide, conquer, and privatise, and governments’ accurate perception that people who have a burning passion to teach, or heal, or care for people, will continue taking abuse until the retire broken from the field, and leave the profession.
    The wheels are starting to come off that last bus, as the number of people who will take that abuse are no longer sufficient to maintain our services, and the government and their mouthpieces continue to tell us to ignore the man behind the curtain, and instead to blame those fleeing the countries that we have destroyed, and those that we import to provide cheap labour and keep the wages down.

  • Neil Sandison 19th Mar '16 - 5:01pm

    Our schools and hospitals and GP practices face colossal problems with recruitment and retention as current staff either retire or head for the US or Australia for better wages and conditions .New technologies developed in the US and EU require skilled technicians to operate them until our own workforce is adequately trained up to use it.
    People are still not prepared to take on the dirty jobs in the waste industry or agriculture .In a single market migration does have an economic benefit .Lets keep to the policy we have and not change it just to be fashionable.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 22nd Mar '16 - 6:44pm

    Has anyone else noticed that we are liberals? The point I think Tim is making is that an anti-immigrant tone of political debate is backwards and counter-productive. Lets politicians off the hook for failure and instead blames immigrants. We need a positive, tolerant approach to immigration.

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