Ending the race to the bottom on immigration

Over the last five days the leaders of three political parties have made speeches about immigration. Cameron’s latest speech suggests that there is now a race to the bottom on immigration.

Over the last five days the leaders of three political parties have made speeches about immigration.

Nick Clegg’s was the first, last Friday. He proposed a financial bond for entrants to the UK from high risk countries. Looking back to his 2010 Manifesto, where the Lib Dems were attacked for their proposed regularization of undocumented migrants, Clegg also announced a review of his party’s immigration policy.

Nigel Farage followed Clegg on Saturday, signifying that UKIP intended to make immigration just as much of campaigning issue as membership of the EU. Then yesterday David Cameron weighed in, with his first speech solely on immigration since his election.

While Cameron’s speech did contain some workable proposals – for example, closing some of the benefit loopholes – much of the speech was premised on imaginary threats.

Take his proposals on housing, where he is saying that councils could introduce a local residency test where someone would have to live in an area for two to five years before they could go on a waiting list for social housing.

The problem is that existing regulations already exclude most migrants from social housing. The two groups who do qualify – EU migrants and refugees – the latter a numerically tiny number – are overwhelmingly young and single, and in this respect unlikely to qualify for social housing.

Cameron’s speech suggests that it is now a race to the bottom in terms of immigration. Perhaps more than any time in the last ten years, immigrants have emerged as a scapegoat, a view highlighted by the Bishop of Dudley’s recent intervention.

This poses a dilemma for Labour. It could carry on with its existing strategy which involves ignoring UKIP and trying to reframe the immigration debate in its own terms. This reframing or triangulating approach has been to try and recast immigration as an employment problem.

Labour has argued, most recently in Yvette Cooper’s speech, that the party needs to enforce the National Minimum Wage and oblige employers to train their workforce. In this way, the demand for migrant labour will be cut and UK-born unemployed will stay in jobs that have previously been the preserve of migrant workers.

This reframing is an attempt to acknowledge concerns about immigration and to appeal to existing supporters.

Yet reframing the immigration debate is hard to pull off, particularly when the tabloid media is not on your side. All opinion polling shows that cultural concerns are a major component of anti-immigration sentiments, particularly about Islam.

These are not being addressed by the current approach.

Perhaps there is an alternative approach, with a recent Policy Network paper showing the way.

Democratic Stress, the Populist Signal and Extremist Threat argues that “the ‘framing space’ of politics is competitive…. no matter how talented a communicator a mainstream party may have at their disposal, if they do not address anxieties head-on by talking about cultural as well as social and economic matters, they risk irrelevance.”

The paper argues for a new statecraft and for democratic renewal as the alternative approach. Anthony Painter, its author, argues that statecraft is:

“[where] local needs are met, new voters are mobilized into mainstream democracy, hate and extremism is challenged, support for community life is extended, and social capital is developed within communities is a crucial component of the ‘new statecraft’. This is not simply through political parties – which have to fundamentally change nonetheless – but through community organisations, campaigns and local authorities.”

Above all, the paper calls democratic renewal and for debate about migration, within political parties, community groups and associative circles. Now, above all, we need to talk about immigration, in all its complexities.

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7 Responses to “Ending the race to the bottom on immigration”

  1. Mick

    It’s simply a question of too large a number coming in, which is setting off a runaway system of requiring ever more people coming in to aid the numbers already here. For example the pensions crisis.

    Immigration affects everything in one way or another, such as housing or services. Not for nothing does research show the Caucasian will be a minority across the UK in fifty or sixty years and you have to provide for all the extra people somehow.


  2. TONY

    If you ask any UK born person what is wrong with this country and why is ther so little jobs, and why is the nhs so stretched they would all say ther is to many immigrants. Why is housing such a mess and the benefit system such a mess it is because ther is to many immigrants here. Plus how does people get benefits as soon as they get here when they have paid nothing in to the system ,its wrong an leaving the country in debt . If ther was not so many immigrants working over here then that would create more jobs for British people .its time something is done about this British people are now sick of this broken britan and its starring the government in the face “IMMIGRATION” NEEDS TO STOP

  3. bluesguit

    I live in Peterborough and its like a miniture version of the world. All the local shops are now selling foreign produce( stuff the balance of payements problem ) and its getting much harder to find English foods unless you jump on a bus to the city centre.
    The jobs black market is growing so the minimum wage means nothing.
    Car insurance is higher than elsewhere due to large numbers of un-taxed un-insured non-mot’dcars with drivers without an English driving licence despite having been here for years.
    It is out of control and with reduced policing numbers can only get worse.
    The time has long since passed to nibble at the edges of the problems but ignoring the fact that a problem exists is even worse.

  4. Dave

    Offer them money to go home and make sure they ALSO sign a legal and binding document saying they won’t come back. They came for the benefit hand-outs, so they’ll take the money and leave just as fast. The UK is a disgrace and no fit place for native Britons. I got out, after suffering a lengthy period of unemployment and being forced to live in a ghetto, and won’t come back to a country in that state. Realized that all my working years, the taxes were funding the lifestyles of single-parents and people who are without shame and are not willing to work. The whole place stinks. Tories/Labour/Lib Dem’s, all the same when it comes down to it. Do as I did come to America if you can.

  5. Dave

    This week has been interesting and obviously the Tory reaction/response to UKIP. But the damage is already done, and will keep happening. Watching Britain under the Tories is a joke, as native Britons are forced to do without, and suffer very extreme penny pinching policies, meanwhile newly arrive immigrants have every single thing thrown at them, jobs, benefits, housing, family allowance for children who are not even living in the UK. I’m not some UKIP or EDL member by the way, I’m a Socialist who has come to realize that it is not a question of racism, it is a question of ECONOMICS. There is nothing wrong with a level of protectionism, because in countries like Romania or similar you would find they were not fond of you coming to take their jobs, homes and milking their Health Service. Britain is a soft-touch, a country led by some right-honourable cowards who care only for their expenses and how many boards they can get on. It’s shameful.

  6. henrytinsley

    Sorry, but there loads of supermarkets in Peterborough (both in the centre and the surrounding area) selling all sorts of food. Sure, you often have to get on a bus or drive there, but that’s the same everywhere, and a result of big supermarkets dominating the food business.

  7. henrytinsley

    Aren’t there around 11 million illegal immigrants in the US, mostly from Mexico and Central America? I wouldn’t have thought you’d like that, especially as they may now be offered a ‘route to citizenship’.

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