David Cameron still doesn’t get it on immigration

by Atul Hatwal

There he goes again. David Cameron’s attempts to relaunch his policy on immigration are becoming ever more regular. Doubtless he’ll be back in January for another go because this speech will soon be forgotten and trouble from his backbenchers will drag him back to the podium.

Although the PM’s tone was better than recent efforts, and certainly better than the pre-briefings to the media, it repeated the strategic mistakes of every past peroration.

The fundamental question defining the current immigration debate is about numbers, specifically how can numbers be cut?

Yet again, Cameron accepted this as the problem to be tackled and yet again he failed to announce anything that would directly impact it.

Rather than demonstrate how he could control immigration from the EU, Cameron talked about benefits and the incentives to migrate to the UK.

According to research from the LSE, barely 1% of EU migrants fit the term “benefit tourists” and even if the latest fixation with removing in-work benefits from migrants were to be somehow legally implemented, it would only have a nugatory impact on numbers.

If migrants looked at the detail of benefits, and even average wages, they wouldn’t head to the UK, they would go to other EU countries.

For example, in Denmark the average wage is 20% higher than in the UK and the welfare system is considerably more generous. Yet net migration to Denmark is almost twenty times lower than to Britain.

Migrants come to this country for more than just the narrow economism of the pounds and pence in their pay packet; they come because of a wider sense of Britain as a place of opportunity. Where they will have a chance to work hard, get on and be accepted, where their hopes can be fulfilled.

Britain’s economic recovery has served to underpin and reinforce this view. Nothing David Cameron said in his speech will make any difference to this broader image of hope that Britain offers to migrants.

Barring an unforseen, devastating crash for the UK economy, immigration from Europe will keep on rising and David Cameron will keep on failing to meet the challenge that he has set himself.

To escape this bind, David Cameron, and for that matter Ed Miliband, must change the question at the heart of the immigration debate.

They should do that thing which politicians talk about incessantly but rarely do: be straight with the public.

They should acknowledge that with freedom of movement in the EU, there is no direct control over immigration and that it is likely to go up – or at least stay at the same levels – in the coming years.

There will be some difficult headlines, but these will be transitory. Very quickly, the debate will refocus on a new question, the right question: should Britain leave the EU?

Ukip’s strategic triumph in the past few years has been to shift from being an anti-EU party that is sceptical about immigration to being an anti-immigration party that is sceptical about the EU.

The key to reversing their rise is to reverse this shift.

By reframing the argument to be about EU membership, politicians like David Cameron and Ed Miliband can free themselves from the confines of a discourse on immigration that they are doomed to lose.

Ukip and most of the Tory right will continue to obsess about immigration as a reason to leave the EU, while on the other side the case can be made on jobs, the economy and Britain’s position in the world.

With the broad support of business, the union movement and the mainstream of every major party in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, this is a debate that can be won and certainly one that will be more constructive than the current race to the bottom on immigration.

Ultimately, if and when the referendum on membership comes, this is the debate that will be had. The sooner we get there, the better for British politics.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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14 Responses to “David Cameron still doesn’t get it on immigration”

  1. Landless Peasant says:

    “If migrants looked at the detail of benefits, and even average wages, they wouldn’t head to the UK…..”

    Exactly. It’s not a nice country to live in. Most of us Brits would like to escape if we could.

  2. Tafia says:

    Atul it’s you who doesn’t get it. Cameron is saying what most voters think. Even Miliband has come up with a watered down version.

    So know we have a choice of:-

    Ban them from all benefits full stop (UKIP)
    Ban them from all benefits for 4 years (tory)
    Ban them from all benefits for 2 years (labour)
    Leave things as they are (Libdem)

    As for Denmark having a 20% higher wage than the UK – that is meaningless. It’s what it actually buys that counts and Denmark is an extremely expensive country – even it’s VAT rate is 25% and they have a whole range of other taxes to such an extent that someone on even a low wage is paying more tax than their equivalent here in the UK. Food is cheaper here but housing is more expensive and cars are massively more expensive there to both own and operate.

  3. John Reid says:

    Landless peasant, you could go live in North Korea, they gave view you like

  4. Dave Roberts. says:

    So, let them all in then? No border controls and if immigration at the current rate is good then more must be better.

  5. Mike Stallard says:

    Immigrants from Europe have by and large the same history as me, the same religious and social background as me, they look the same as me and can disappear in a crowd; they celebrate Christmas like me and they understand the relationships between men and women in the same sort of way that I do myself. The class system and all its ramifications is as familiar to them as it is to me. The only difference is, actually, the language.
    Immigrants from outside Europe, by and large, have different histories to me, they have different social customs, they do not look the same and they do not dress the same or even eat the same stuff as I do. Very often they have a totally different religion too which colours all their actions in a different way to my own. And, of course, many fit right in and I welcome and encourage that.
    Add in a bit of historical racism, a touch of xenophobia by silly Brits in the past and there is an anger building up among both them and the historic working class of Britain which suddenly can, as in 2011 or in Ferguson or as in Syria or as in Calais, erupt into a volcano of violent looting. I was appalled as the riot in Tesco yesterday. I was shocked at the antics in Tower Hamlets over the election (and they got clean away with it too). Like many other people, I am deeply troubled by Rotherham and all the other places.
    Meanwhile, the people who are doing very nicely are pleased with the Filipina nanny, the Portuguese nurse at the clinic and the charming little fellow who cleans their shiny shoes in the hotel. And they are enchanted by their independent school with its vast spread of children from all over the world.

  6. Madasafish says:

    Yet net migration to Denmark is almost twenty times lower than to Britain.”

    Population of Denmark: 5.614M 89.6% of Danish descent
    Population of UK: 64.1M. 89% of British descent.

    Hmm.. I really think you should read some statistics first.

  7. 07052015 says:

    Its certainly a subject where many voters ,and therefore politicians,find it difficult to think rationally.

    Immigration has to be managed it cant be a free for all,the EU is too big and too diverse to expect free movement not to cause tensions-as it does in many other countries across apart from the uk.

    Its a reasonable expectation that a lot of the current anger will start to dissipate as ukippers fall off the perch and if the uk economy grows at or above its trendline.

    So political leaders need to keep their nerve and leave the flapping to those who think ukip will threaten their mp job for life.

    I thought Sir Major was on to something when he pointed out that becos of falling birthrate the German population will fall from over 80 to under 70 million in the next 35 years or so.Meanwhile the Uk and France will both be over 70mill , bigger than Germany and maybe have bigger economies.

    So what happens then ?Germany will be pleading for economic migrants.Seems to me thats the basis of a sensible conversation if voters calm down and allow it to happen.

  8. swatantra says:

    Its not stupid immigration, its the stupid economy, stupid.

  9. steve says:

    Landless Peasant: “Most of us Brits would like to escape if we could.”

    Very true. Unfortunately most of the EU is an economic disaster zone.

  10. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Reid

    Sophism is alive and well.

  11. Michael Worcs says:

    It is time to tell the public what is Labour’s policy on non-EU migration

  12. BenM says:

    The guffawing at Cameron and the Tories during this speech on Friday was audible up and down the country.

    Waah it’s all Labour’s fault! Cameron repeated. Again. The mirth was unconfined.

    Boohoo it’s the dastardly Lib Dems too! He whinged. By this time they were rolling in the aisles.

    Besides proving yet again that the Right is utterly incapable of taking responsibility, Friday marked a watershed. It is clear the Tory attempt to hijack reality and insert their own fantasy vision of their appalling record in government is no longer being taken seriously.

  13. Henrik says:

    @BenM: “Besides proving yet again that the Right is utterly incapable of taking responsibility…”

    Now *that’s* satire. We all recall the detailed and sincere apologies from the Labour Party for the appalling series of blunders committed between 1997 and 2010, right?

  14. Landless Peasant says:

    @ steve

    “Unfortunately most of the EU is an economic disaster zone.”

    True. I’m thinking of going to live in India.

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