Thursday 14 April 2011

Tory immigration policy, lies and spin

The far right British National Party claim that
Cameron has nicked their immigration policies.
On 14 April 2011 Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech about immigration where he made a whole load of misleading and inflammatory claims about the issue. He has been criticised from across the political spectrum, from Vince Cable of their political allies the Liberal Democrats who said that the remarks "risked inflaming extremism" to the far right British National Party who accused Cameron of stealing their fascist policies in order to win votes before the upcoming local elections.

Perhaps it is criticism enough just to note that the BNP fascists are claiming ownership of Tory immigration policy and accusing Cameron of cynical opportunism, however I am going to outline a few of the fundamental flaws in this speech which was clearly aimed at gaining votes from people with extremist attitudes to immigration.

The first major issue is the target of reducing immigration to a net increase of only 50,000 per year. Acceptance of this theme goes further than Tory policy, the policy of reducing immigration to the UK "to the low tens of thousands" is a stated aim of the cross-party parliamentary group on balanced migration. Anyone with the vaguest understanding of current issues in immigration will know that the whole idea of capping inward migration is utterly absurd given the fact that hundreds of millions of Europeans have a legal right to migrate here under European freedom of movement legislation. The majority of migrants to the UK have come here from elsewhere in Europe, it is illegal to turn them away even if they have a long criminal record or no work history. As long as British wages remain significantly higher than eastern and southern European states the inward flow of migration will not stop. It does not matter how hard the British government stamps down on the minority of non-EU migrants if the door is left wide open to anyone who wants to relocate from Europe. Any politician speaking about reducing immigration to a set target would be being utterly disingenuous unless their party's immigration policy included removing Britain from the European Union and/or revoking Britain's acceptance of European freedom of movement legislation (which would have a severe impact on many hundreds of thousands of Brits living and working abroad).

In his speech Cameron also used some highly misleading statistics by claiming that 75% of all newly created jobs since 1997 have gone to foreign born individuals. This claim is clearly just a conflation of two different statistics noting that the number of immigrants working in the UK has risen by 75% of the number of new jobs created in the UK in the same period. The claim that three in every four new jobs are filled by immigrants is clearly just an inaccurate and cynical attempt to stir up anti-immigration sentiments. He used more misleading statistics citing net migration figueres of 2.2 million since 1997 and then later in the speech claiming that European migration only accounted for 27,000 immigrants in 2010. He knows as well as anyone that the majority of the 2.2 million immigrants since 1997 have been Europeans and that the flood of European migrants reduced to a trickle because of the severe economic conditions that his party is intent on exacerbating with their ideologically driven cuts agenda. Picking the 2010 figures ahead of say the 2006 figures or an average since 1997 is a classic example of cherry picking statistics to support a pre-determined agenda.

Cameron also took a swipe at another minority group in seeking to blame the unemployed, claiming that the blame for immigration lies with Labour's failure to deal with the long term unemployed. Cameron should know as well as anyone that many of the biggest hotbeds of long term unemployment are communities that had their principle industries closed down by the Tories in the 1980s (manufacturing, mining, ship building, steel factories etc). Had the Tories supported these industries or implemented policies to find alternative jobs for the communities they decimated then welfare dependency (and other factors like mental health issues, drug use, crime and poor health) in these areas would be a much smaller problem. These places are rarely desired destinations for immigrants, given the lack of jobs, poor services and high crime rates.

Aside from stealing far right policies from the BNP, misusing statistics to stir up anti-immigrant sentiments and seeking to blame the poorest members of society for high immigration there are many other problems with these far-right policies. The Tory policy of limiting the number of skilled immigrants coming from outside the EU to 20,700 is clearly nonsensical. Why are they seeking to reduce the number of economically and socially beneficial skilled migrants coming into the country while simultaneously allowing in hundreds of thousands of unskilled Europeans? Why are they seeking to limit the number of student visas to 80,000 when the high fees paid by non-EU students are a valuable source of revenue for British universities, especially at a time when they are suffering from large cuts in state funding?

Another issue is Cameron's faux concern that immigrants are settling in the UK without learning the English language. If this was a real Conservative party concern surely they would not be imposing big cuts on English language classes for immigrants.

Have £millions in the bank?
One of these could be yours within two years.
Have skills? GO AWAY.
The terrible fact is that the Tories are not alone in this, all of the major parties seem to have agreed on these far right policies as evidenced by the statement from the cross-party parliamentary group on balanced migration when they made the bizarre and unfounded assertion that "the whole country will support" the prime minister's "splitting of the right to come here to work from gaining citizenship". I for one am fundamentally opposed to the discrimanatary policy of reducing non-EU doctors or nurses working in the NHS to second class citizens that can be thrown out of the country as soon as their working lives are over. If someone comes to Britain to work, contribute to British industry or to British welfare and make tax contributions they should be able to earn the right to become a citizen. At a time when the government is actively discouraging young people from training as doctors and nurses by increasing fees and attacking NHS bursaries the policy of refusing citizenship to the immigrants that must come in to fill the gaps seems like it is actually designed to damage the NHS.

As is always the way with the Tory party there is one set of rules for the rich and another set of rules for the poor. As they set arbitrary and economically damaging caps on skilled immigrants and students, make inflammatory anti-immigration speeches and remove rights from economically beneficial working immigrants they quietly announce that any immigrant coming to the UK with at least £5 million in the bank will get a fast track passport in only three years and anyone arriving with more than £10 million in the bank will get their passport within two years.

The reason Cameron chooses to make inflammatory and misleading immigration speeches in the run up to local elections is pretty clear. The people that generally approve most strongly of this kind of bombastic anti-immigration rhetoric are the baby boomers and older generations who are also the people that are statistically most likely to cast their votes in local elections.

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