Labour’s new immigration policy: more moderate voices needed

The complex views of the majority on immigration are not always easily represented in opinion polls.

The complex views of the majority on immigration are not always easily represented in opinion polls

Almost everyone agrees that immigration is a major issue of concern for the constituents of Rochester and Strood and that these views will influence voters’ intentions on Thursday.

UKIP has exploited fears of uncontrolled EU migration. Both Labour and the Conservatives have also entered the debate, most recently with Yvette Cooper’s speech this morning.

In terms of policy commitments there was little that was new in the speech in relation to policy commitments. Cooper set out the Labour narrative that the party, if elected, would stop unskilled migrants from undercutting British workers.

A Labour government would ensure that the National Minimum Wage was properly enforced and that employment agencies be banned from recruiting abroad and not in the UK. Any company that gave a job to a worker from outside the EU would also have to offer a place to an apprentice.

But there were three aspects of the speech that marked a change in direction. First, Labour pledged to employ another 1,000 immigration officers. This extra investment – £45 million – would be financed by a fee on visitors from nationals those countries that presently do not require a visa to enter the UK: for example nationals of the US and Canada.

There are some doubts about how this system would work and whether the visa fee would raise the required money. But this commitment acknowledges that border control costs money. The public wants tough action on undocumented migrants but there is little comprehension that this costs a great deal of money. Nor is there debate about how much taxpayers are willing to pay for immigration control.

Second, the speech recognises that diplomacy and cooperation are needed to solve the problems in Calais. Cooper did blame the French or the EU, in a bid to court the Eurosceptic vote.

The third aspect of the speech that was important was the acknowledgement that the views of the moderate majority were being drowned out in the current migration debate. She articulated a view that is supported in opinion polls and in some new research from the think tank British Future.

The majority of the UK population have some concerns about migration, to a greater or less extent, but many people recognise that international migration has brought benefits to the UK. It is only a small proportion of adults who are largely hostile to migration. There are also very few people who are overwhelmingly positive about international migration.

Most people’s views lie somewhere in the middle. This was a point made in Lord Ashcroft’s Polls last year. The polling segmented the UK population into seven groups, based on their attitudes to immigration. Some 16 per cent of the adult population fell into a group called ‘universal hostility’ and another 10 per cent were categorised as ‘militantly multicultural’.

But opinions of the vast majority of people fell between these two extremes. They have some concerns, but also acknowledge the benefits that migration has brought to the UK, for example, to the NHS.

But the complex views of the majority on immigration are not always easily represented in opinion polls. Polling collects people’s first responses to an issue, rather than their underlying views, so they do not easily represent the nuances of public opinion. The over-reliance by the media and many politicians on polling means that the views of the moderate majority are not always understood.

As an example of this complexity, a few months ago I interviewed a parent who first expressed a concern that immigration put a pressure on school places. A few minutes later he stated a view that his children benefitted from growing up in a multicultural environment. He was not overtly hostile to migration, nor positive. Rather, his views were complex, acknowledging both problems and benefits.

Tomorrow British Future will publish an important report about this ‘moderate majority’. The report – How to talk about immigration (briefly)draws on three years of focus-group research in all parts of Britain. It offers recommendations about ways to promote a more considered debate about immigration that includes and represents the views of the majority.

At a time when the immigration debate has become increasingly nasty and polarised, it may offer a way forward.

Jill Rutter writes on migration and is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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30 Responses to “Labour’s new immigration policy: more moderate voices needed”

  1. Liberanos

    With no upper limit on immigration our creaking public services will finally collapse. Yvette Cooper seems to have no awareness that spending billions on increasing the size of the bucket is senseless when one can simply turn off the tap. I use our public services, and I want to save them from the nightmare of an unstoppable increase in demand. If that means leaving the EU, so be it.

  2. Michael Simpson

    But that’s just it. Just because you come on the internet and shout about your view doesn’t mean it represents a majority, or even received wisdom. I’m of the opinion that migration is a defining characteristic of human history – prehistory even – and we shouldn’t sweat on it so much, but I appreciate that I’m in the minority.

  3. cole

    They’re endlessly shouting about immigration and the EU, and claim to have a monopoly on patriotism. They always conveniently forget that Brits can go and live in other EU countries and many – around 2 million – have done so.

    Of course the pressures on public services are mostly caused by the government’s austerity policies, but it’s very convenient to blame it all on foreigners rather than Tory donors who want a tax cut.

  4. madasafish

    Between 1995 and 2011, immigrants from outside the EU made a negative contribution of £118 billion over 17 years, the report found, using more publicly-funded services, including the NHS, education and benefits, than they paid in tax

  5. Liberanos

    I don’t quite understand the shouting reference, but many believe that immigration has some sort of moral component. It hasn’t, of course. It’s simply about money. Immigration is a splendid thing if a country needs more people. That’s been proved over the centuries. However, if a country’s public services are under strain, its unemployment high, its energy costs rising, its schools under huge pressure, then it’s stupid to the point of wickedness.

  6. LB

    The problem is that Labour has been caught lying over immigration.

    The Cream study says 20 bn benefit from recent EU migration, 120 loss from other migration.

    Labour has been saying repeatedly that migration is an economic good when it isn’t.

    That’s even when the UCL lot cook the figures to minimise costs. ie. No pension costs. No opportunity costs (common goods). Omitting dependents. Even with those fiddles they couldn’t make it add up.

    So if Labour lies over migration then they are clearly lying over lots of things.

  7. LB


    Asylum is a form of migration, that has a moral dimension.

    Marriage and migration is another where there is a moral dimension.

    Even with economic migration, does taking a GP out of the 3rd world do good?

  8. LB

    They always conveniently forget that Brits can go and live in other EU countries and many – around 2 million – have done so.


    That also depends on the other country accepting them.

  9. LB

    Even that’s been fiddled.

    Pensions – 6,300 a year – ignored
    Dependents – cost ignored
    Common goods – migrants pay none, Brits pay all the costs.

  10. LB

    The public wants tough action on undocumented migrants but there is little comprehension that this costs a great deal of money.


    So lets take the banking approach.

    Civil servants and MPs let them in.

    Civil servants and MPs pay for the costs out of their wages.

    If it works for banks, it will work for civil servants.

    After all if one banker is guilty, all are. Same with Civil servants.

    The new left wing logic

  11. Guest

    Keep arguing that you’re going to de-fund services, as you try and shoot holes in the bucket, and not only turn the tap off, but disconnect the water supply.

    The nightmare of sufficient taxpayers…save Britain from it, right.

  12. Guest

    Yes, it’s your demand that workers get less money, since you’re cutting off a vital supply of high-skill workers and ending trade in your world.

    You want higher unemployment, more strain, more expensive energy, less schools and housing…wicked man.

  13. Guest

    Fiddler, stop blaming everyone else for your actions,
    YOU are a financial loss to this country, sure.

  14. Guest

    And you want British people rejected, right.

  15. Guest

    Keep looking at an incorrect news article on a report.

    Moreover, you’re ignoring trade, as ever.

  16. Guest

    Nope, your logic. You blame all civil servants, as you try and force workers to pay you ever-more, Banker.

  17. Guest

    Oh, so they act like you, I see. Nope, YOU act like YOU. Keep making it up, though.

    You keep screaming hate at data, because their report is not as fraudulent as you and your calls for genocide. Fiddling..dependents…you go on and on.

    The research doesn’t say what you claim it does either, of course, as you attack the concept of refugees and ignore trade. And of course you’re against EU membership and hence starting with dismantling the largest revenue generators..

  18. Mike Stallard

    James, I have a lot to do with immigrants of one sort or another. Do you know what? I like them too (on the whole – there are exceptions…)
    At the local Academy, which is vastly improved, there have been cut backs in administrative staff, in canteen staff and in the teaching assistants. This means that children of 14 or so are sitting in class next to people who do not speak English.
    The mass of immigrants also affects the NHS. My wife has found, to her disgust, that to get to be treated for her back pain, she has to pay a private physio. She has worked faithfully for the NHS all her life and is passionate about it remaining free for everyone. My cat (honestly) has had better treatment at the vet’s.
    The influx needs sorting. And fast. Large parts of my native Peterborough, for example, are now firmly Muslim complete with Mosque and complete with hi jabs and a lot of young men walking around during the day. Or aren’t I allowed to mention that?

  19. Sparky

    No, he’s correct. I have the report in front of me. Look at Table 5 Panel A.

  20. Liberanos

    Asylum must be separated from immigration. It is our duty to take genuine refugees to the limit of our capacity. It is not our duty to allow our precious public services to be crushed by numbers…numbers over which we have no control.

  21. LB


    Economic migrants

    Each have different issues relating to them.

  22. Julia

    How far will Labour move to the right?

  23. Guest

    No surprise you’re reading a single line from a single Table and ignoring the data analysis.

  24. Guest

    Oh, you hate them for different reasons. Right.

  25. Guest

    So you want to crush them by ending trade, I see.

    Well, thanks for that. And who’s a genuine refugee? Someone waving a few million?

  26. Leon Wolfeson

    It’s their last best hope to win the election at this point.

    Sadly for Britain.

  27. Guest

    So you need to “sort” those nasty immigrants, fast. To expel people, and have totalitarian restrictions on clothing and what people are allowed to do in the day.

    We don’t have “free welfare” or an “open door”, keep pumping out the myths, as you simply try and hate on welfare and try and close the borders, as you bitterly oppose the NHS and free schooling, as you try and ensure that the poor get what they can afford, period – little to nothing, in your poor isolated kingdom.

    Keep chanting those anti-British myths.

  28. Mike Stallard

    I signed my name: you did not.
    British? Who he?

  29. Liberanos

    Quite possibly. Money is not always a guarantee of safety. We should try to avoid bias and judge on need.

  30. Michael Worcester

    Coopers talk was all about EU migration which is not such as concern. No mention of the Non-EU migration. UKIP have just said they want to have EU and non-EU immigration on the same basis this will cost them votes as people like Poles as they generally work and the kids they are having (in modest numbers) don’t want to kill us.

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