The UK government promised to lower immigration levels to the tens of thousands. They are nowhere near meeting this target; do they really want immigration to drop?
By Bobbie Mills
Immigration is up there with the NHS and the economy as the issue which most worries Britain’s electorate. When politicians start on their immigration spiel, what we hear are numbers, numbers, numbers.
One number in particular keeps coming up: Net migration figures. This is the total number of people coming in to the country minus the total number of people going out.
If 100 people come in and 99 go out, net migration is 1.
If 1 person comes in and 0 go out, net migration is 1.
This figure includes people coming or going for more than a year for reasons of: work, study, joining family and seeking asylum. This means we are counting a very mixed bag of people –including students, children who arrive as dependents, senior managers transferring to their company’s London branch, and asylum seekers who cannot work while they await a decision on their refugee status.
The most recent statistics show net migration in the UK to be at 330,000.
This figure is enormously greater than Cameron’s pledged reduction of net migration to the tens of thousands. The Conservative government have since renewed their commitment to reducing net migration to these levels, but literally no one believes this is possible. Fail!
Why is the government failing so monumentally at meeting this target? Why do we want so badly to reduce immigration in the first place? Is it really such a good idea?
There is one simple answer to these questions: Not everyone wants to reduce immigration – INCLUDING THE GOVERNMENT.
Yes. We’ll say it again – the UK Conservative government, and pretty much any rich democratic state, does NOT want to reduce immigration by anywhere near the amount it says it does.
Cameron’s government could not be clearer in what it says about immigration: the current rate is too much and must be reduced. We know, however, that there is often a difference between what politicians say and what they mean.
Behind the scenes, the government is being pulled in two different directions on the subject of immigration.
This is because there is a great demand for immigration (both high-skilled and low-skilled) from the business sector. Rich economies like the UK rely on immigration to function properly. This not only goes for the National Health Service but also for processing plants, hotel cleaning, public transport and food processing, the list goes on.
The government has great interest both in keeping the economy moving and keeping the business sector happy. Therefore, it has great interest in allowing immigration at a reasonable level.
Why does the business sector favour higher levels of immigration? Business leaders tend to favour the free movement of highly-skilled workers because this allows them to take their pick from a wider pool of talented people. No surprises there.
Business leaders also tend to favour the freer movement of low-skilled workers because these people are more likely to take the jobs that British nationals simply do not want to do.
There are certain jobs that most Brits will not do because the education and aspirations that come with living in a rich economy mean they tend to want well-paid and fulfilling jobs which are seen as better than manual jobs. Even if we don’t want jobs from the top of the pile, we still have an idea of acceptable working hours, acceptable pay, and an idea of our rights.
Migrants, like everyone else, also have education and aspirations for decent jobs and a decent life – and this is why they decide to leave their country where they see few opportunities to come to work in a rich economy. Those who come to Britain, rather than another country, do so because they speak English (which all politicians agree they should do) or because they already have friends or family living there.
Not only are migrants more likely to take jobs that Brits do not want; migrants are also much more easily exploited than British nationals. This is because their visas are conditional on them remaining with a particular employer. If they quit their job because, say, their wages are being withheld, they automatically become illegal immigrants. Therefore, even if there were plenty of British nationals who wanted to do the hard and poorly-paid work typically done by migrants – like picking vegetables and cleaning toilets – employers would still prefer to employ migrants because they are cannot quit. They are a captive and exploited workforce, unlikely to complain.
This is the harsh reality of why the business sector prefers higher levels of immigration. Because the government needs to keep the economy growing and to keep business happy, it has great interest in allowing immigration at a reasonable level. This is why the government does not want to reduce immigration as much as it says it does, and why in many ways it does not want to meet its net migration target.
On top of this, there are reasons why the UK government cannot meet its target. All liberal democratic governments (who are committed to freedom, equality and human rights) are under a number of obligations under international law to guarantee human rights.
The UK is bound by the UN Convention on Refugees which requires it to provide shelter to people fleeing war and persecution.
The UK has passed the Human Rights Act, which brings its law into line with the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 8 of which guarantees the right to a family life.
This means that the government cannot really control the number of people who settle in Britain as refugees or through family reunification. Neither can it control the number of people arriving, settling or leaving from within the European Union, owing to the terms of its membership of the EU.
Let’s combine the business stuff with the human rights stuff. There are big reasons why the government cannot meet its target on reducing net migration – because this would be going against a whole bunch of human rights conventions. Then there are equally important reasons why the government does not want to meet its target. Not only would this displease powerful business leaders, it would also be a very bad move for the British economy, which relies on migrants workers both highly- and low- skilled.
Again, there is a simple answer to this: the government wants your vote, and it thinks that what you want are fewer immigrants in the country. So long as the government believes that the electorate is opposed to immigration, it will do all it can to at least appear to be reducing immigration by any means possible, regardless of how many it actually wants to let in.
This is where the targets come in – nothing sends a strong message of a government’s intentions like a solid target for reducing immigration.
Everything this article has explained so far is what fancy-pants people call the ‘liberal constraint theory’. Governments tend to have good reason to want to keep immigration at a good level, but because public opinion tends to be anti-immigration, they have to keep up a tough-on-immigration rhetoric to win votes. Any government who wants to win votes, keep the business sector happy, and uphold international obligations finds itself in this tricky situation. So that goes for basically any liberal democratic government ever, it’s not just a UK thing, it’s not even a left- or right-wing thing.
There’s a loose end to this theory. Does public opinion always tend to be anti-immigration?
It’s not even that clear what the British public actually think about immigration – and we seem to be obsessed with talking about it!
The British Social Attitudes Survey found in 2011 that 77% of the public wish to see immigration reduced, whilst research from think tank British Future found in 2014 that the majority of the public have much more pragmatic and nuanced views, and do not necessarily wish to see it reduced. Is our government pandering to an anti-immigrant public opinion that doesn’t exist?
To be fair – the arguments surrounding the immigration debate are pretty hard to stay on top of. Every argument has a counter-argument, and it’s hard to get our thoughts straight.
Scenes of Reason have put together a graphic that shows why the immigration debate cannot be won.
Politicians know that immigration is ultimately what our economy needs to keep ticking over.
Conversely, every politician feels the need to take seriously people’s legitimate worries about how their towns are changing and how their local services are faring. That makes a lot of sense: people do have genuine worries and problems. Whether these problems are genuinely caused by immigration is an important and complex part of the debate.
What should politicians make of the fact that a lot of people see immigration as a problem not so much for their local area but for Britain as a whole? This trend was found by an Ipsos Mori study:
What should we make of the fact that a lot of the anti-immigration feeling in Britain comes from places which have next to no immigrants living in them? This is the case in Clacton-on-Sea where UKIP member Douglas Carswell won his seat. According to the last census, less than 1 in 20 residents of Clacton were born abroad.
What makes people anti-immigrant?
Local level tactics. It has been proposed that rather than shouting at the government for or against the crisis, members of the public need to contact their local MP and work up rather than down. How immigration affects your town should be more of a concern than how immigration affects the entire of the UK. Whatever you think about these issues, you can contact your MP using the WriteToThem service. Now you’re decoded, there might not be an excuse.
Immigration in the UK explained: The UK government does not want to reduce immigration as much as it says it does because it knows how important immigration is for the UK economy. However, all political parties maintain tough rhetoric on reducing immigration because this is what they believe the UK electorate want to hear. Is this what you want to hear?
How do we form our views on migration? Do we care how immigration impacts the economy? Is it more about how it affects our local area? How can we know what kind of impact immigration is really having? If we have no direct experience with UK immigration, where do our views come from? Are these fears about immigration coming from the press?
Bobbie has just finished an MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford. She writes on politics, the media and migration and lives in North London @MsBobbieMills
The new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is set to shake things up in Westminster;
Jeremy Corbyn is the new Labour leader. The veteran MP for Islington North won with an amazing 59.9% of first preference votes. This is more than Tony Blair won when elected leader in 1994.
Jeremy Corbyn regularly rebelled against Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown; voting against the government over 500 times.
Originally seen as an outsider, Corbyn barely managed to secure enough nominations to join the leadership contest. Many of his nominators didn’t want to vote for him; they wanted to ensure a wider debate.
Corbyn wants ordinary people to have a greater say in the political process. Involving the public is a smart move; it was a “grassroots” movement rather than backing from Labour MPs which drove his campaign.
Corbyn has also promised to change the format of Prime Minister’s Questions. The weekly opportunity to quiz the Prime Minister is infamous for being rowdy. Corbyn wants a more serious, respectful debate. Yet when Corbyn asked people to send him questions to put to the Prime Minister the response was… mixed. His first PMQs was a quieter affair, but something he’ll have to push David Cameron harder in future.
Jezza C believes ending cuts to public services; he thinks we should invest in the economy. He would use Quantitative Easing (printing more money) to build more social housing and improve roads, railways and public buildings across the country. This would be paid for partly by clamping down on tax evaders.
Corbyn wants to bring the deficit (gap between what the government spends, and what it collects in tax) down. However, he won’t set a date for when this would be completed. Partly this would be achieved by raising taxes for the rich and by reducing tax cuts for companies.
Corbyn proposes to renationalise the railways and energy companies. This means that consumers, workers and government will collectively own and manage these services, rather than private companies.
For example, British Rail used to be publicly owned, until it was privatised in the 1980s. Similarly the Royal Mail used to be publicly owned. In 2013 the government sold off 70% of the postal service and in 2015, sold a further 15%. The government now owns only 15% of the Royal Mail.
The aim of re-nationalising services like the railways and energy companies is to ensure fairer prices for the consumer, but we need proof that this will actually improve the service we receive?
What does Jeremy Corbyn think about privatisation of the NHS? Err, no. Not ever.
The National Health Service (NHS) was originally created as a publicly owned service. Today it is still mainly publicly owned, but the Health and Social Care Act 2012 allows private companies to bid for some health service contracts.
As campaign group We Own It explains “instead of a publicly funded and publicly owned NHS, the Act created a competitive market for health services in which the government pays for, but does not provide health care.”
Corbyn also wants to create a National Education Service. A bit like an NHS for education, this would be a “lifelong learning service”. Tuition fees for universities would be scrapped (woohoo!) and education grants restored.
This new Labour leader supports nuclear disarmament. He wants to get rid of the UK’s Trident nuclear missile system. He has also proposed leaving the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), stating that a “serious debate” is needed over its power and influence.
Corbyn is against airstrikes against Islamic State in Syria. Bombing Syria “won’t help refugees, it will create more”. Corbyn thinks the answer to the problem is to campaign for peace and for disarmament. The primary objective would be “cutting off the arm supplies and money to ISIL, as well as preventing ISIL selling oil and making money from it.” So far it’s not clear how this would be achieved.
Corbyn has promised that 50% of his shadow cabinet will be female, meaning half the top jobs will go to women. He also wants tougher laws on sexual harassment and for companies to publish their pay details in an attempt to close the pay gap between men and women.
Corbyn courted controversy when he said he would consult with women over the idea of “women-only carriages” to help stop sexual harassment on trains. Despite only saying he would consult on this idea Corbyn faced a huge backlash of anger.
Jeremy Corbyn is also under scrutiny as he has failed to appoint any women in the most senior positions of the shadow cabinet. Corbyn has selected 16 women and 15 men to make up the shadow cabinet, but the top five positions are occupied by men.
Political ideas are all well and good, but they mean nothing unless you win a general election and form a government. Many figures within the Labour party itself (including former Prime Minister Tony Blair) say that voting in Jeremy Corbyn would see Labour become a “party of protest” and result in losing the next general election in 2020.
This is the view shared by many media commentators.
Being a party of “protest” doesn’t necessarily mean you have no influence over policy. Commentators have noted how the Conservatives stole several Labour policies after being voted into power. Yet, many Labour supporters want the party to return to power.
The question is: how to do it?
Labour was born out of the trade union movement and is generally seen as a “left-wing” party. Under Tony Blair’s leadership the party re-branded itself as “New Labour”. New Labour moved towards the centre ground of the political spectrum. Blair supporters say that the only way to win an election is to stay in the centre.
Corbyn is expected to pull the party back towards the left. He won the backing of the worker’s unions during the contest and now wants to reinstate Clause IV of Labour’s constitution. This commits the party to public ownership and was removed by Tony Blair.
The party is divided between the more left-wing members, and those who want the party to remain more central. If Corbyn can’t unite the party behind him then Labour could end up splitting up. This would almost definitely mean a Tory victory in 2020.
Jeremy Corbyn’s economic policies (nicknamed “Corbynomics”) like Quantitative Easing have been attacked by the Conservatives. Since the economic crisis the Tories and have pushed the idea that Labour can’t be trusted with the economy. However, many economists have backed Corbyn’s ideas.
Corbyn’s newly selected “shadow Cabinet” of advisors and ministers is a mix of Corbyn’s left-wing allies and those who think the party should be more centrist. Will this unite the divided party?
Many people are wondering how long Corbyn will survive as Labour leader. Will Jezza be overthrown? One possibility is that he will be replaced before the 2020 general election.
The Conservatives were initially delighted when Jeremy Corbyn entered the contest. They believed that if he won, it would ensure victory for them in 2020. They encouraged Tory supporters to pay £3 to vote in the Labour leadership and vote for Corbyn. Classic Tory banter.
(It’s worth noting: nearly 50% of fee paying Labour party members voted for Corbyn. It wasn’t just the support of the new £3 voters which won it for him)
Be careful what you wish for – now it would seem the Tories don’t find it as funny;
The Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family's security.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) September 13, 2015
Just after Corbyn won the leadership the Conservatives released an email of Corbyn statements portraying him as a threat to the country. A video followed;
Labour are now a serious threat to our national security – please RT this important video: https://t.co/q5Omnl7ciG
— Conservatives (@Conservatives) September 14, 2015
** Update: The Conservatives seem to have taken down their video. Here it is:
Propaganda much? Were these selectively edited quotes, or do we have something to worry about?
The SNP and the Green Party have both stated that they would work with Corbyn fighting the anti-austerity cause. However the Liberal Democrats state that they are the only party to offer a credible opposition to the Conservatives. They currently have only eight MPs and used to be in coalition with the Tories, but we’ll let that pass.
.@SalBrinton The Corbyn style of politics may generate a lot of noise but only one thing keeps Gov in check – credible opposition (1/3)
— Lib Dem Press Office (@LibDemPress) September 12, 2015
Nigel Farage has stated that if Corbyn supports a British exit from the EU, UKIP would be delighted to unite forces.
A united Labour party with the support of the SNP could do some real damage to the Conservatives. However, it’s yet to be seen whether Corbyn will pull it off.
Is the Labour party doomed, or can Jeremy Corbyn win in 2020? Is this just an experiment in “left-wing” politics, or does the party need to split up? Will involving more ordinary people in the political process actually change things?
Have we missed anything? Get in touch and add to the discussion: firstname.lastname@example.org
In politics you often hear the term “left-wing” and “right-wing” thrown around. For example; left-wing political ideas are usually big on community and believe that government should be involved in society. Taxes are collected (richer people should pay more) and redistributed to support those who cannot look after themselves.
Political parties usually stick to the same side (left or right) but how close they get to the centre ground depends on who leads them. If the party disagrees with where the leader is taking them it can lead to a break up.
The Labour Party is at a crossroads. The original Labour party was born out of trade unions; created to represent the working class and workers in government. It was a “left-wing” party.
Then Tony Blair changed things, re-branding the party as “New Labour” and moving the party more to the centre ground of politics. Having lost two elections in a row the Labour party needs to choose; left or right. Unfortunately they can’t decide, and it may lead to the party breaking up.
When Blair became leader of the party in 1994 he created the concept of “New Labour”. First, he weakened the links to trade unions. He re-wrote Clause 4 of the party’s official constitution which wanted “common ownership of the means of production.” This allowed big business more influence in politics and weakened the power of worker’s unions. New Labour allowed some privatisation of public services, (something the old Labour party was against) believing this would make public services better and was something the public wanted.
Though the term “New Labour” was dropped in 2010, the party has pretty much stuck to this new set of ideals. As this position sat more in the centre ground of politics many have accused New Labour of becoming like the right-wing Conservative Party.
Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn believes the Labour party has been pulled too far to the right-wing of the political spectrum.
He wants to bring it back to the left and to regain some of the party’s traditional values. E.g. fighting for the workers, higher taxes for top earners (think; those earning about £150K). Jezza also wants to renationalise public services like the NHS and national railways.
This week Tony Blair made a speech about the future of the Labour party. Several comments could be interpreted as digs at Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn was seen as wildcard when he put himself forwards, but is now reported to be ahead of his rivals.
In fairness to Blair, he didn’t officially endorse any candidate and said the contest shouldn’t be about an individual, but about a political platform which works for the country. What Blair thinks about Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing platform is anyone’s guess, though he gave plenty of clues. “When people say ‘well my heart says I should really be with that politics’…well, get a transplant.” Oh Tony, you joker.
If Corbyn wins the Labour leadership could this lead to a split – with half the political party returning to more left-wing politics, and the rest heading in the opposite direction? The party does have a history of break-ups. In 1981 a group of four Labour MPs decided their political party had become two left-wing and formed the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The whole point of breaking from your party is to get away from the things you didn’t like about them. So many parties try to go it alone. However our electoral system, which is called First Past the Post gives better results for the larger parties. Its design means one party winning overall is more likely.
Take a look at this list of all political parties currently active in the UK, and compare it to this list of the number of parties actually in government. The list of parties in government is a lot shorter. So for a better chance of getting some power, some parties decide to team up.
No point sitting around moping; get back out there and hook up with someone new. After all there is strength in numbers, and you’ll never get anything done in parliament unless you have support.
After the Social Democratic Party was formed by Labour runaways they flirted with the Liberal Party. They eventually hooked up in 1988 to become the party we know today as the Liberal Democrats.
In the 2015 general election the Liberal Democrats lost a tonne of seats. They now only have eight seats left, and their ex-coalition partners the Conservatives have gone solo to take power. Break ups are brutal; one party always ends up better off.
Maybe the Liberal Democrats should team up with another political party – Tinder, anyone?
Ok, not really. That would just be… weird. But apart from jokes about the Lib Dems getting into bed with anyone (sorry Nick Clegg) this also has a historical basis.
In 1973 Scottish National Party (SNP) members broke away to form the Labour Party of Scotland (not to be confused with Scottish Labour). They fought a By-Election in Dundee and lost; only gaining 3% of the vote.
Politically, this could be seen as the equivalent of suddenly being single, going out for the night and ending up being carried home. But they did stop the SNP from winning the seat.
Lots of members of the party returned to the SNP soon afterwards. If you can’t beat them, join them… again.
In 2014, two Conservative back-benchers decided it was time to leave. Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless weren’t forming a new party but were defecting to the UK Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage.
They then both fought, and won by-elections to regain their old parliamentary seats. A future UKIP surge seemed likely.
However, fast forward to the 2015 general election and only Douglas Carswell was voted back in as an MP. Mark Reckless lost his seat, which was taken back by the Conservatives.
There’s not much chance of Reckless being welcomed back by the Tories. This tweet was posted by Conservative candidate Claire Perry;
Not only that, the Tories are also suing Reckless for money spent on campaign materials printed for him before he left for UKIP. All is fair in love and war.
For Douglas Carswell, the next five years in Parliament as the only UKIP MP may be pretty lonely. UKIP want Britain to split up with the European Union. So at least they’ll get the EU referendum they wanted.
Don’t even get us started on the sort of break up that would be.
Stop moaning about immigration and tell me how it works by Mollie Malone.
As IPSOS Mori tells us, immigration is up there with the NHS and the economy as things the British public is most concerned about. We wondered whether anyone had done an explainer on how immigration actually works in this country, there’s not much that’s easy to chew on, but here goes…