Winning the debate on immigration will take more than dry statistics

When making the case for immigration (which we should) we should also recognise that there will be a backlash if people don't feel they have been consulted about the pace of change.

Today’s figures from University College London, which show that migrants to the UK have made a net economic contribution to the UK economy, are welcome although unsurprising.

I say unsurprising because anyone who has previously looked at the data will already be aware that migrants tend to put more into the pot than they take out.

You wouldn’t know that looking at our printed press, of course, where stories about immigrants ‘flooding over here’ for a ‘life on benefits’ predominate.

However there is now an increasing amount of data suggesting that people do not travel halfway across Europe to stay poor, but rather do so to make a better life for themselves. Scaremongering about EU migrants coming to the UK to claim benefits is a myth, and has been demonstrated as such.

Despite the temptation to celebrate, however, (we were right and the Right were wrong, after all) it is still important to consider how the public feel about migration. And in this respect we may have won the argument but are losing the battle.

Over the medium and longer-term economic migration does not reduce the number of jobs available to indigenous Britons. Nor, apart from in the very lowest paying jobs (a problem, I agree), does it have a downward effect on wages.

However, Quantifiable data on its own, while essential for a higher standard of debate, does not take into account how people feel about the pace of change. Despite evidence of the benefits of migration to the UK, it remains unpopular.

Large majorities in Britain have been opposed to immigration since at least the 1960s, and around three quarters of British people favour reducing immigration, according to Oxford University’s Migration Observatory.

In some instances plain old xenophobia is to blame. But that doesn’t account for the fact that many former immigrants are themselves want to see immigration to the UK reduced.

Once possible cause is the campaign of misinformation conducted by the tabloid press, which regularly runs emotive and misleading stories portraying migrants as people only interested in coming to the UK to sign on.

The data released by ULU today is vital in combating the misleading portrait of immigration put out by the tabloids, and it is important that those of us who believe immigration has been good for Britain hold the scaremongerers to account when they try to mislead the public with intentionally misleading data.

That said, we also need to become better at listening to how people feel, rather than simply throwing dry data at them. As mentioned earlier, quantifiable data on its own isn’t enough, for it doesn’t into account peoples’ myriad of experiences. Rather than simply use it as a clich√©, it really is important that politicians on the Left ‘listen’ to the public on immigration.

That doesn’t mean pandering to misinformed opinion; but it does mean that when making the case for immigration (which we should, often) we must recognise that there will be a backlash if people don’t feel they have been consulted about the pace of change. And if that happens, we will all suffer.

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