Weak immigration paper needs to go back to the drawing board

The immigration motion (F16) and policy paper coming to Conference has already rightly drawn the ire of Lib Dem Voice commentators.  It’s weak, indistinct, and includes some seriously objectionable language and ideas. I and the Radical Association, of which I’m proud to be the current chair, will be opposing F16 at conference and demanding a full rethink of this poorly produced and inadequate policy paper.

We’re at a point in rebuilding our party from some bad electoral losses where it’s crucial that we build a clear, separate identity as voices to empower the voiceless, and being proudly pro-immigration is a vital part of that. Passing F16 would undermine rather than support that.

Let’s think about the debates we could – and should – be having over our immigration policy.  We shouldn’t need a conference debate to argue over whether ripping families apart for no crime other than being poor, a system maintained by F16’s ban on recourse to public funds for immigrant families, is wrong. Nor should we need one to tell us that migrants are our fellow human beings and that a motion with calls to “reap economic benefits from the diasporas” is utterly and shamefully inappropriate in its rhetoric.

Liberal Democrat debates on immigration should focus instead on how to best support and empower migrants. We need to show many families struggling with spousal income limits or visa processing fees, or getting wrapped up in red tape just for wanting to live with their loved ones, that we’re in their corner and taking their side. It’s time, too, for a serious discussion on enfranchising permanent non-citizen residents, from whom the UK state happily takes its tax share but who get no say in the system they live under – as sadly borne out in the Brexit vote.

We need to challenge the status quo to find lasting solutions. We know that immigration enforcement is a source of terror for many migrants. So why aren’t we debating how to build a more liberal system for dealing with undocumented migration and visa overstays, one built with compassion and which is subject to effective public scrutiny, rather than pledging to throw more money at the current broken bureau? We know too that EU freedom of movement is a huge social and economic benefit to these islands; why aren’t we having the debate we need on how to expand those benefits and build free movement links with more countries?

Above all, we need to stop apologising for the basic belief that people should be allowed to live and work and love where they want. Apology persuades nobody. Opinion polling on migration shows the numbers moving towards more people feeling convinced that migration is beneficial, with the Oxford migration observatory noting that ‘attitudes have softened in recent years’ and Ipsos finding that one in five people say they have become more positive about immigration since 2016. Liberal Democrats should take our rightful place in spearheading that movement, busting myths, breaking populist lies, and demanding better from government for a more compassionate future. We can only, do this, though, if we’re willing to have big answers that will lead us clearly away from rather than appease the closed-border, anti-immigration status quo.

Big questions need big answers.  Let’s send F16 back to the drawing board, so we can get on with answering them.

* Luke Graham is a Liberal Democrat member from Scotland and is Chair of the Radical Association.

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24 Comments

  • James Belchamber 17th Aug '18 - 2:36pm

    I’ve honestly been struggling to find what is so deeply and structurally wrong with the paper/motion that it has drawn so much ire. The criticisms in this article are very broad and I don’t recognise them based on the text, which doesn’t seem to propose anything “objectionable” or “apologetic”. Certainly nothing that could not be amended, anyway.

    It also strikes me that opposing a motion in its’ entirety, without first seeking to amend it, seems obstinate. Has the Radical Association submitted an amendment, or did they submit an alternative Immigration motion that this could be compared to?

  • James Belchamber:
    FCC typically/usually reject motions which clash with an ongoing working group’s remit. However, there is a motion on the treatment of the Windrush generation also going to this conference. Caron has already blogged about the differences between the motions, and why the Windrush one is more constructive (and liberal!). https://www.libdemvoice.org/now-this-is-how-to-write-a-motion-on-immigration-issues-58226.html

  • James Baillie 17th Aug '18 - 4:04pm

    @James Belchamber – amendments are effectively required to be on a single, specific area. In a paper as wide-ranging as this, if there are several areas one thinks need amending, then the only thing one can do is attempt to refer the motion back to FPC and ask them to deal with it, which I think is the most likely thing at this point.

    In terms of what is structurally wrong with the paper: its tone is a major problem even besides its content, continually justifying policies purely in terms of cost rather than stronger arguments that we should treat migrants fairly and equally. I think Luke actually sets out a number of areas here that are reasonable – the paper doesn’t look at free movement expansion or expansion of voting rights, it retains the no recourse to public funds rule which explicitly damages low-income families where one spouse is a non-citizen, and it advocates significant boosts in funding for the immigration enforcement and border force agencies rather than taking the bigger (and necessary) steps to scrap them in favour of a new system that will gain and retain the trust of the people it serves (who should be migrants, not tabloid editors).

  • John Marriott 17th Aug '18 - 4:49pm

    “People should be allowed to live and work and love where they want”. It might be Mr Graham’s ‘basic belief’; but it certainly isn’t mine, nor, I would bet, is it the view of most people living in these islands. Put that in your manifesto and then wonder why the Lib Dem’s are bumping along near the bottom of the opinion polls!

    Mind you, coming as it does from the self proclaimed ‘Radical Association’, it’s certainly radical, idealistic and, quite frankly, in political terms, suicidal.

  • Richard Underhill 17th Aug '18 - 5:26pm

    Is there enough time for the Radical Association to write amendments?
    Consider
    “A. Pursuing their ill-conceived target of reducing net migration to the “tens of thousands”, which has simultaneously eroded public faith in the UK’s immigration system and damaged the country by preventing people with valuable skills, like doctors and nurses, coming to work here.”
    The need for more doctors, nurses and midwives is urgent. Defeating the motion would defeat / delete this paragraph.
    The Cameron-May manifesto has been widely criticised elsewhere / as impractical.

  • Alisdair McGregor 17th Aug '18 - 6:06pm

    For what it’s worth, I voted against this Motion and Paper coming to Conference at all; In my view it’s a terrible Motion that plays to the “let’s appease the racists” angle and is explicitly in breach of the Principles of the Party Constitution.

    I hope that Conference either votes it down, or References it back to a new working group that doesn’t include the previous group, because the Motion and Paper as it stands is not a Liberal Policy.

    Alisdair Calder McGregor, directly elected member of the Federal Policy Committee

  • OnceALibDem 17th Aug '18 - 7:00pm

    In the people who criticise this paper I see a lot of names of people I knew when I was a party member. In the names of people who support I don’t (William Wallace excepted). I wonder how much of a split there is between ‘old’ and ‘new’ members?

  • Alisdair’s comments need taking seriously not least because he makes them without insulting anyone. The motion needs to be picked over very carefully but my guts tell me that there are core values in danger of being compromised here.

  • James Baillie 17th Aug '18 - 8:13pm

    @Richard Underhill: the thing being called for is actually more specifically a referral back, which does *not* reject all lines of the paper, only suggests that there are larger amendments needed to it than can be made by conferences and refers it back to FPC for Alisdair and his colleagues to make the necessary improvements. Hope that clarifies things.

    I and others will of course be submitting numerous amendments, but given that no more than two can reasonably get debating space it seems very improbable that we can fix all the problems with the motion via that route.

  • James Belchamber 17th Aug '18 - 8:16pm

    With regards to justification, our policies need to be sold to the general public. They’re informed by our values, but we have to convince people who don’t share our values to support them too. So it seems redundant to write a policy paper which seeks justification that would only be accepted within the party.

    If I knocked on a door of a non-member and justified our policies with “Well that’s liberalism!” I’m likely to get the kind of response John Marriott just gave.

  • This post makes three points:

    1. There should be completely open immigration. That is a point of view and one that I am sympathetic towards personally. It has not though been the tradition of the Liberal Democrats and one I fear is not politically sustainable.

    2. The policy paper and motion references the research of British Future – not an anti-immigrant body – indeed the opposite. We can wish away the views of a sizeable proportion of our fellow citizens – whether we stick our heads in the sands or not they will still exist. Mainly about fears on pressure on infrastructure and locality. As I argued in a previous comment the pro-EU side as Charles Kennedy argued in his last speech to conference would have been better served by acknowledging and acting on valid anti-EU concerns. Frankly for example I want to order my beer in pints not in 568 millilitres!

    3. The post does make one specific policy change – hurrah at last one from the third poster against this motion. That is on the financial requirements around spousal visas. Let’s be clear many spouses do live apart from each other for periods for many reasons. The current rules (although they were challenged and from memory changed) are not incompatible with the right under human rights to a private life. But I would support an amendment at conference that reduces the no “recourse to public funds” to 2 years and lowers the financial requirements.

    As James Belchamber says: “I’ve honestly been struggling to find what is so deeply and structurally wrong with the paper/motion that it has drawn so much ire.” Indeed with some amendments it is full of good policy that would make a real improvement to people’s lives. We should pass the policy, elect Lib Dems, get at least a non-Tory government and implement the policy, improve the operation of asylum and immigration and STOP GRANDSTANDING.

  • Mick Taylor 18th Aug '18 - 5:24pm

    The problem for people like me, who have been in the party and its predecessor for a long time (54 years in my case) is that we remember our party taking principled stands against The Commonwealth Immigration Act, The Kenyan Immigrants Act, almost alone against both other parties. We remember Paddy Ashdown’s solid support for Hong Kong residents who were denied passports by the UK government.
    We were proud that our party alone stood up for the rights of would be immigrants and refugees and we are ashamed of the platitudes that pass for policy in both the white paper and the resolution.
    Neither the motion nor the white paper adequately trumpet our stand for human rights and a welcome for both immigrants and refugees in our country. Instead they adopt the language and attitudes of the anti immigrant brigade in the (vain) hope that we can capture a few votes. There are three parties already competing for this vote so this would be a futile gesture as well as being morally wrong.
    I agree that we must tackle the very real problems of housing, education, health and social care that affect far too many in our society, but to even vaguely connect it to immigration is just not Liberal.
    A resolution that set out to challenge the myths of immigration and set out clear plans to tackle the very real problems of the left behind would have my support. This white paper and motion are not that policy and should be referred back or rejected.

  • suzanne Fletcher 18th Aug '18 - 10:21pm

    It would be good to see what amendments other people are putting in.
    See http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1371
    any constructive suggestions welcome please, asap.
    [email protected]

  • Peter Davies 19th Aug '18 - 11:36am

    If we pass this motion, we will have a much more radical and liberal policy on migration than either of the main parties or a substantial majority of the public. We can rely on our opponents (who are reported far more widely than conference motions) to portray our policy as something much more liberal and unpopular than what we actually pass.

  • Mick Taylor 19th Aug '18 - 6:04pm

    Michael 1. The most likely non-Tory government would be a Labour one and their record on immigration is almost as bad as the Tories. Witness their support of the Tory Commonwealth Immigration Act in 1962, their betrayal of Uganda Asians in 1968, their acquiescence in the denying of passports to Hong Kong residents in 1997 and their illiberal home secretaries during the Blair years. So they certainly won’t be implementing our policies. Aping the three parties with anti immigration policies (UKIP, Labour and the Tories) is not only wrong, it is futile.

  • paul holmes 19th Aug '18 - 8:34pm

    @OnceALibDem. I don’t think your thesis that this is split between old and new members holds us up if you look at the comments in the two threads. Apart from William Wallace who you acknowledge there is John Marriot (30 years a LD Cllr), Michael1 (whoever that is) a long standing member and former Cllr, myself 35 years a member and collectively a Cllr and MP for 25 years. On the other side you have some newer young member such as George Potter. So it is not a clear split at all.

    My fear has always been more that the wave of new members since 2015 lean more to Economic Liberalism than to the the Social Liberalism that typified the Party up to December 2007. Although I am pleased to say that my fears on that are receding to some extent.

    A more apparent division on this issue seems to be more between those who believe in, for example, an open border immigration on demand policy (which has never been Party policy) and those who believe that immigration policy should be managed as humanely and Liberally as possible – in the way that Michael1 and Peter Davis argue above that this policy paper aims to do.

  • OnceALibDem 19th Aug '18 - 9:32pm

    George was IIRC a member pre 2015

    There has certainly been a change in the party since 2015 – and certainly 2017. Immigration is to me less of a touchstone issue than civil liberties. But the latter has been nearly completely dropped. (see the lack of response on facial regcognition and Vince leaving that out of his leadership ‘manifesto’) . It’s not a party worth voting for ATM – if that changes it would be a good thing but I don’t see that as likely.

  • Mick Taylor 19th Aug '18 - 9:36pm

    I beg to differ with former MP Paul Holmes. The problem with this motion (and the policy paper) is that the tone and language are all wrong and they both push the party in the direction of those who are anti immigration.
    What I wanted to see was a radical Liberal policy that acknowledged the party’s constitutional commitment to open borders, stood up against the current tide of anti immigrant propaganda and at the same time put forward proposals to tackle the very real problems that exist in the NHS, social and low cost housing, education and social care and for which immigration is wrongly scapegoated.
    Sadly we haven’t got that. Whilst the LD4SOS amendment greatly improves the motion, I believe is is impossible to amend it into an acceptable form. FCC won’t accept an amendment ‘delete all and substitute’ so I believe that the resolution needs to be referred back to a new working party to be brought back to conference in Spring 2019.

  • Mick Taylor 19th Aug '18 - 9:50pm

    @Paul Holmes: prior to 1962 the UK did have an open border for commonwealth citizens, which our predecessor party fought to retain. As members of the EU we have had freedom of movement for many years and the Lib Dems have opposed moves to end it, though they have supported introducing a 6 month limit after which those unsuccessfully seeking work in the UK would be required to return home.
    Of course any country needs to be able to record those coming in and going out of their country, but some Lib Dems clearly believe the propaganda about immigration or we wouldn’t be debating a questionable policy in which apparently we think that moving towards the anti migrant beliefs of many citizens is necessary because that’s what they believe. Tony Greaves said it all on the other thread when he said you can only beat racism and anti immigrant sentiment by standing up strongly against it, not by kowtowing to it.
    Please be clear that I am not implying motive to any individual, but in politics perception is highly important, and especially so on the highly contentious issue of immigration. We should proudly follow our Liberal predecessors in their clear stand against treating immigrants as scapegoats, not try and ape the Tory and Labour parties in their highly illiberal policies. That, I fear, is how the white paper and the policy motion will be seen.

  • suzanne Fletcher 20th Aug '18 - 3:59pm

    just to aid the debate, this is the LD4SOS draft amendment, and how the motion would look with the amendments agreed, sent to FCC for drafting advice, and sent to Ed Davey and Policy Unit to ask for a meeting around drafting amendments and the additions.
    http://libdemfocus.co.uk/ld4sos/archives/1371
    whilst obviously having a lot of reservations about the paper, there are some good policies in there, and the motion if amended alters the whole tone of the original motion.
    I and others very want to get out there and campaign on the items we want to push. Don’t forget it is up to us what we pick out to campaign on. Assume (hope!) the party will after all of this use the best bits to put in manifestos.
    I live, eat and sleep a lot of the asylum issues, hearing day after day of huge problems, many of which would be dealt with by our amended motion. I want to tell people we are proposing to ban forced bedroom sharing; that we are going to close down detention centres; that the vulnerable will not be detained at all; about right to work after 3 months; that we are standing up for existing and converted Christians. that we would end the terrible housing contracts. I could go on, but these are the sort of issues we need to campaign on, and people are looking for someone to do so. Many were unhappy with the last policy paper, but LD4SOS picked out of it lots of good things to put into our mini manifesto and have successfully used it for the last 4 years.

  • @Mick Taylor. I’m not really clear which of my comments you ‘beg to differ with’ Mick. I observed that:
    1. William Wallace had produced a very rational analysis of an emotive subject. Do you then think he is not rational in what he says? You may disagree with him but surely you don’t regard him as irrational? Or as somehow so lacking in intellect that he has ‘been taken in by the racists’?
    2. I didn’t think that the differing views on the immigration paper could be ascribed to ‘new’ members versus ‘old’ members since the evidence of those commenting does not fall into those 2 neat ‘sides’. And that was so even before the excellent new post by Jennie Willot’s former caseworker who dealt with immigration cases for 10 years (just as I did for 9 years although my staff did most of the legwork of course).
    3. I thought that one clearer division was between those wanting an open to all immigration policy (ie no policy at all in effect) and those who thought these policy proposals were a move forward in making immigration policy more humane (for want of a fuller description). You actually seem to agree with that as you posit your support for entirely open borders.

    Incidentally, having Free Movement of People within the closed camp of the EU States is not of course the same as having an Open Border policy. It both excludes the vast majority of the world’s population and indeed treats people with say family links between India/Pakistan and the UK more harshly than say someone from an Eastern Europe Member State with no links whatsoever in the UK.

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