Timid, half-hearted and apologetic immigration policy is not the way to tackle prejudice

Remember back in March, I almost spontaneously combusted when I read the consultation paper on immigration. Anything that put the word “robust” before “humane” really didn’t have a place in a liberal party as far as I was concerned.

After I wrote that piece, I became more hopeful at what I thought was a genuine attempt by the working group to engage with members. I know that they received a huge amount of feedback suggesting that they should take a more compassionate and fair approach.

We don’t know what the policy paper says yet as it hasn’t been published but the motion, which appears from page 35 of the Conference agenda actually makes me ashamed.

Let me talk a bit about why it is so important to tackle fear and prejudice. Nigel Farage, the Daily Fail and other elements of the right wing press have spent the last half century dripping poison about immigrants and immigration. They have used immigrants and lately EU citizens as scapegoats, wrongly. The problems we have are as a result of the failure of successive governments to adequately invest in housing and public services. If they had done that, then there would be no need for the right wing to turn groups of vulnerable people on each other.

As we move in to very dangerous times, as Brexit’s economic hit threatens jobs and public investment, when they can’t blame the EU any more, who will the Torykip lot blame next? It sure as hell won’t be them for getting us into this mess. It’ll be disabled people for claiming too many benefits (as if – most can’t get the help they desperately need), workers for demanding such indulgences as a minimum wage, set working hours and maternity leave.

If this immigration paper is an indication of how we as Liberal Democrats are going to stand up for these targeted groups, then we really need to demand better.

The motion is apologetic, timid and half-hearted. Every time it talks about doing something remotely right, it adds in a caveat saying, effectively, “but it’ll save us lots of money.”

It talks about fairness in the title, but there is no underscoring of that in the motion.

It tinkers at the edge of a horrible system that needs to be dismantled and started again from scratch with a new, enabling, compassionate, culture.

I also have a real problem with the paragraph that reads:

Our goal should be a positive, liberal consensus on immigration, partly by rebuilding people’s trust in the system, and that this requires us to listen and engage with those who do link pressures on public services and housing to immigration and to reject the argument that merely labels such people as racist.

That is a worthy goal, but thinking you are going to achieve it with the policies and attitude outlined in the motion is a bit like trying to clean a casserole dish with baked on dirt with a cotton wool ball.

There is nothing wrong with feeling under pressure, that your housing is awful, that you don’t have enough to make ends meet. There is nothing wrong with thinking that isn’t fair. Because it isn’t. Linking that to immigrants and opining that they get everything while you have nothing is wrong, though. We shouldn’t be pandering to it. While we shouldn’t necessarily blame those who have absorbed the Faragesque drip feeding, we need to challenge it. We should be calling it out for what it is while making sure that there is enough investment in housing, public services and jobs.

If that means that some people don’t vote for us, then we will just have to live with that.

My heart sank when I saw a whole section in the motion on trafficking and gangs. Why is that even there? That’s got nothing to do with the immigration system and everything to do with crime and exploitation which are illegal.

It isn’t all awful. There are some sensible policies in there – allowing seekers of sanctuary to work, for example.Or making it easier to bring your parents in. The abolition of the appalling income requirement for bringing in your spouse is welcome, but I would much rather see people have some recourse to public funds if they need it. But a lot of it is less than I would want to see- enabling up to 28 days detention when I thought we were supposed to be abolishing detention for immigration purposes. We should be looking to reduce the exorbitant fees for everyone. Imagine you have a family of five needing to renew leave to remain. We’re talking about £8 grand. If you are renewing a family and private life visa, there is every possibility you are doing  a very low paid job. And the Home Office hardly ever grants fee waivers. You have to prove you are destitute – and that means not being able to afford anywhere to live. But often they will have slapped bail conditions on you tying you to a particular address. It’s a catch 22 situation.

I’m concerned about the section on seekers of sanctuary because it doesn’t mention the particularly vulnerable victims of gender based violence and sexual violence.

What we needed was a document that loudly and proudly shouted that we were an enthusiastically pro-immigration party which put fairness and dignity and compassion at the hart of its policies.  This motion furtively looks at the ground and mumbles.

We should have said up front that we wanted to create a system that inspired the confidence of everyone who used it and the organisations working to support them.

It falls well short of what is needed and I am not certain it can be fixed. The paper will be published soon and I’m sure there will be much discussion on here.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • James Baillie 2nd Aug '18 - 9:17pm

    Absolutely agreed with all of this. 28 days detention for people who have committed no crime is an absurdity, and a paper that berates (correctly) past governments for building a top-heavy, expensive, anti-immigrant infrastructure and then *advocates throwing money at the Border Force* is a mockery of itself. The proposed “Training up Britain” programme sounds like a ridiculous gimmick as well – exactly one of those things that gets rolled out with much fanfare and then embarrassingly withdrawn two years later when only a few hundred people have been able to make use of it. There are much better ways to promote cohesion by empowering migrants rather than clunky statist “go and be happy together” policy programmes imposed from on high. Most importantly among those would be to give all permanent residents the right to vote, which I’m extremely disappointed to see hasn’t been included in this paper.

    Of course the “no recourse to public funds” test should still be unacceptable in a liberal society, too. If we’re not a party that believes people should be allowed to marry who they like without penalty, what on earth are we for?!

  • Immigration remains a tricky area for our party, many voters feel we are soft I. This area and would happily let in everyone irrelevant of criminal record. However, facts tell a different story, and we need to send the message out that there is no preference on housing and NHS services and the lack of these are down to lack of funding got health, housing and local government and a failing to foresee a ageing population. Caron highlights some key areas we could have been more positive and some good policies included. However for lib dems to make a difference we need to be in power and that means winning over more voters and we do this by having a sensible, clear , positive message on immigration. And make it clear that we will have a fair system that would never allow a windrush scandal but also ensure there is a human process for those entering Illegally but one that considers national security.

  • Fully in agreement with you Caron. If voters see us as soft on immigration that’s GOOD. It’s at least a position.

  • Well said Caron.

  • nigel hunter 2nd Aug '18 - 9:50pm

    Yes we need clear policies that can be seen so. when you nail your colours to the mast others see you as clear in your direction,you give firmness, a way to go,lead. Not,as I notice in other things ,a fudge.

  • Mark Blackburn 2nd Aug '18 - 10:16pm

    Absolutely Caron. Yet more evidence that though the Coalition is long gone, many of the suits (irrespective of gender) in positions of power are still calling the shots from stage Centre Right.

  • Laura Gordon 2nd Aug '18 - 10:21pm

    The main reason I’m annoyed I can’t go to conference is to vote against this motion. Sadly I don’t think it’s even amendable – we need to chuck it out and start again.

  • I was prepared to be outraged when I saw Caron’s piece but I actually think it is a very good motion.

    We do have to have some awareness of the background and of the feelings of our fellow citizens. There needs to be some “selling” of the policy to those that might not be as liberal as us – that not only is good policy but it saves taxpayer money. A recognition that people feel that incomers are threatening them economically – a wrong conclusion in my opinion. Opinion has moved in favour of immigration has a net benefit for this country – partly I suspect due to the increased debate around it on Brexit and partly because we are further away from the recession which was tough for many. But we need to encourage further movement in that direction. We do not achieve that by taking our ball away and going off in self-righteous liberal sulk – however good it might feel.

  • Nick Barlow 2nd Aug '18 - 10:24pm

    Agree with most of the comments and Caron, and glad I’m going to conference to vote against this. If there’s any point to being a liberal party its to have policies that are actually liberal in ethos and implementation not just stuff that’s slightly less monstrous than everyone else is putting forward. Challenge the consensus, don’t co-operate with it.

  • People need to be faced with the reality that if you have less immigration on the whole you will be poorer, with poorer services. Now they may feel that is a price worth paying but at least they’d know the cost. The cakeism of stop immigration and all our problems are solved should not be pandered too.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 2nd Aug '18 - 11:12pm

    Caron says “But a lot of it is less than I would want to see- enabling up to 28 days detention when I thought we were supposed to be abolishing detention for immigration purposes.”
    We haven’t seen the policy paper yet, so not commenting, but to put the record straight on Detention. What our Lib Dem policy has been for the last 4 years, and that it is in line with all major NGOs including Detention Action, UNHCR, Red Cross and Refugee Council etc, is that we end the current indefinite detention, and that 28 days is a maximum. We are still pushing for absolutely minimum time that is actually in detention, and detention is of a last resort.

  • Absolutely right. We need clear Liberal policies that will actually excite and inspire people. Why do our policy folk keep acting like civil servants??

  • David Becket 2nd Aug '18 - 11:30pm

    @ Laura Gordon
    I also cannot attend this year for family reasons. I hope it will be thrown out, and those that wrote it removed from any policy making forthwith. That goes for whoever wrote the agenda.

  • Our problem is that after the Brexit vote the liberal political elites decided that we had to start listening to the people who felt left behind, the marginalised, often older white working class who had benefited little from globalisation (you know how he analysis goes).
    It was no longer good enough to tell them that they were simply wrong and that the establishment knows better. One of the things that concerns the people who have turned to populism is immigration, or so the polls tell us and we have to start meeting their concerns. Well, this is how the narrative goes and it would seem the policy working group have simply gone down that route. Like most others on this thread I don’t agree, but you can see how it happened.
    And one more thing. Lots of people here strongly opposed to this motion who won’t be at conference and won’t have a say. Isn’t it time we had true OMOV in our party ? Don’t tell me you have to sit in the hall and listen to the debate to know what you think on this one.

  • Graham Evans 3rd Aug '18 - 8:26am

    It is one thing promoting the benefits of immigration but political parties are not the same as pressure groups. Political parties exist to fight and win elections. In the absence of PR adopting niche positions will result in the perfect being the enemy of the good.

  • Most rational people believe that certain forms of immigration are a good thing but can concede that some forms of immigration (e.g. trafficking of people in defiance of the law) are problematic. That’s why countries have immigration policies.

    Caron’s comment that we are simply “pro-immigration” runs the risk of misconstrual. “Mishearing” unnecessarily loses us the votes of perfectly decent people and for example held back our expected advance in the 2010 General Election. It’s also an example of the polarised politics which dominates the political scene at the moment.

    On one side is the simple all permissive option ; on the other side the rejectionist, anti-foreigner option- and anyone who wants to adopt a more qualified position is ushered loudly into one quarter or the other as though there were no other alternatives.
    Similar polarisation is evident in the EU debate which is often reduced to mere name calling or reciprocal demonisation by both sides – usually ‘courtesy’ of Twitter.

    Immigration and the EU are sensitive issues where intelligent and nuanced views and debates are to be welcome but where often political polarisation inhibits and forbids this.

    Liberalism as the most rational form of politics cannot thrive and does not in an atmosphere of political polarisation. There’s no future for Liberalism in the dialogue of the deaf.

    It’s tough in politics not living at the poles wrapped up in whatever flag,slogan or badge you have to hand and hurling abuse across the great divide at your identified polar opposite- be it Farage, Corbyn or whoever….. but someone’s got to do it.

  • You don’t win an election by adopting watered-down versions of your opponent’s position. You win them by selling your own principles. There are a lot of people out there who _are_ liberal, and would like a party to vote for who are also liberal.

  • Andrew Daer 3rd Aug '18 - 10:26am

    As Caron points out, this topic exposes a fundamental question for Liberals – we can choose to a remain high-minded, holier than thou party, never wishing to be elected to the dirty business of government, and thereby allow members to retain the high moral ground, or we can try to meet the electorate half way. Although she clearly prefers the former, the policy committee have taken a more realistic look at the issues, and I applaud them.
    Unfortunately, whereas a few tens of thousands arrived here from Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, and slightly larger numbers from India and the Pakistans, the potential number of immigrants due to economic and other forms of hardship is now in the millions. If global warming is as bad as it might be, the number could be tens of millions. Resistance to immigration is a political issue all over Europe and beyond. The hard and unpalatable truth is that we simply can’t absorb unlimited numbers of people, and we have to restrict the numbers.
    The idea of making potential migrants feel to some degree ‘unwelcome’ is a perfectly sensible idea; one alternative is for other countries to do that, leaving the UK the destination of choice for millions of people. The policy paper is a good basis for discussion.

  • Peter Hirst 3rd Aug '18 - 10:46am

    The first priority must be to know who is in this country by imposing strict entry and exit checks. Then we can have a sensible debate. Without this minimum of knowledge, we have emotional discourse from both sides that help no-one.

  • I am a little confused. What policies do those objecting to the motion object to? And what policies would they like to see instead?

  • Mick Taylor 3rd Aug '18 - 11:22am

    As the son of an immigrant, I want to have an immigration policy that treats everyone as a decent human being. This awful fudge just won’t do. It is clear that the working party, or at least the resolution writers have not listened to those of us who told them their approach was unacceptable.
    I suspect an amendment on the lines of delete all and substitute will not be accepted by FCC and I don’t think the resolution is otherwise easily amended. Reference back anyone?

  • OnceALibDem 3rd Aug '18 - 1:29pm

    If a motion is passed saying “Conference endorses policy paper 131, A Fair Deal for Everyone: Prosperity and Dignity in Migration , as a statement of Liberal Democrat
    policy to meet these challenges.” as part of a motion which is amended to say things that are the opposite of what is in that paper, what is the actual party policy?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Aug '18 - 2:29pm

    I am really struggling to understand what this is about, where is this policy to be able to read it, has it been released or are the well connected complaining about something they have access to?

    Please can we know where this is to formulate a view.

    Graham Evans and particularly John Pugh herein are the only people offering a Liberal view, what happened to respect for colleagues, this site says we have to treat each other with respect to each other, not much of that for members who have worked on this policy we apparently think is awful.

    I am the son of an immigrant father and married a wife of immigrant origin.

    These issues are too sensitive to not be discussed in a friendly and open minded manner.

  • Alex Hegenbarth 3rd Aug '18 - 8:35pm

    I’m actually looking forward to the debate – I don’t want us all sat in a hall nodding and agreeing to warm, cuddly, Mother’s Apple Pie motions; I want people ready to (metaphorically) storm the podium to defend and define Liberalism and how we can make a positive difference.

  • Andy Hinton 3rd Aug '18 - 9:46pm

    Lorenzo: The motion is linked to in Caron’s piece, but again, you can find it on page 35 of the conference agenda (as Caron mentioned) here: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/43501/attachments/original/1533112838/Aut18_Agenda_for_web.pdf?1533112838

    The full paper is here: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/43501/attachments/original/1533290054/Policy_Paper_131_-_A_fair_deal_for_everyone.pdf?1533290054

    There’s a lot wrong with the paper, but I think the bottom line is that it is coalition-think; pre-compromised somewhere halfway between liberalism and a sense that we can’t rock the boat too much.

    A microcosm of the issues can be found in the “conference believes” section of the motion:

    Conference believes that:
    I. Liberal Democrats should continue to champion migration
    policies that put our national interest first, treat migrants and
    seekers of asylum with dignity and courtesy and expose the
    flawed arguments of people seeking to exploit concerns that
    people do have about immigration.
    II. Our goal should be a positive, liberal consensus on immigration,
    partly by rebuilding people’s trust in the system, and that
    this requires us to listen and engage with those who do link
    pressures on public services and housing to immigration and to
    reject the argument that merely labels such people as racist.

    Section 1 of “Conference Believes” wants us to make a liberal case for immigration and “expose the flawed arguments” that link underfunded services and lack of housing to immigration. But Section 2 wants us to pander to those self-same arguments, for fear of alienating voters.

    This is the sort of instinct that leaves voters saying things like “I don’t know what you stand for”. It is time we moved on from that state of affairs, and regained our confidence in advocating liberalism wholeheartedly.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 3rd Aug '18 - 11:58pm


    Thanks, after trawling the agenda found the motion, which I do not think is bad though mixed, the policy in full paper appreciated. Shall read on…

  • Stephen Yolland 8th Aug '18 - 5:31am

    It’s rubbish. Should be referred back.

  • As an immigrant, I actually thought it was a good motion. Though it could have had something on abolishing the NHS levy – makes no sense to charge that when most people coming on visas are here for work purposes and paying tax.

    I suggest others read the motion and the full paper before condemning though, as just attacking ‘the tone’ is a little lazy.

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