The Politics of Immigration
The political posturing on immigration in Britain isn’t based upon detailed analysis of what would be best for the population. It is an example of the impact of pressure on politicians (6.4.6), which in this case can be summarised as balancing their need for popular support against the needs of business, with the media adding more heat than light to the discussion.
Impending elections are focussing politicians’ minds on their need for popular support – but what is popular seems to be more influenced by media reporting than by research findings. A recent survey showed that 77% of the population want immigration to be reduced and that 47% believe that it is bad for the economy, reflecting the impact of popular newspapers which selectively report stories which put some immigrants in a bad light. Stirring up popular indignation, against immigrants claiming benefits or committing crimes, sells newspapers – but it leaves a misleading impression that can wrongly be applied to all immigrants. Academic research suggests that immigrants have benefited the economy – they contribute to economic growth and are less likely to claim benefits than are British citizens.
The government is delaying the publication of information which is favourable to immigrants. It isn’t showing leadership. It should explain the valuable contribution made by many immigrants, such as students who pay high tuition fees and the seasonal influx of people who pick fruit. Targets for net immigration are mere posturing; they are unworkable. Britain needs policies that allow beneficial immigration but prevent abuses.
The Conservative party is trying to match UKIP’s rhetoric because it fears losing support in the upcoming European elections in May. It is more worried about keeping its own right wing satisfied than attending to what is best for the British people.
There are legitimate concerns about accommodating an increase in population – and there is already a need for more housing, irrespective of immigration. It would be possible to reduce immigration, but the Office of Budget Responsibility (as quoted in The Economist) has forecast that the national debt would almost double over the next few decades if Britain shuts its doors. In the words of The Economist:
“The country truly faces a fundamental choice. In the next few years it could lapse into isolation, or it could succeed in combining a smaller, more efficient state with a more open attitude to the rest of the world. So, Britain, which is it to be?”
Answering that question requires thorough analysis and mature political debate, not pre-electoral posturing.