Frank Field is wrong on the BNP

Curbing immigration won't defeat the far right

The argument that mainstream parties should counter the BNP by adopting a hardline position on immigration was discredited long ago. But the bizarre tag team of Nicholas Soames and Frank Field can't resist making it again in today's Telegraph.

To call for harsher curbs on migrants is to perpetuate the myth that it is immigration, rather than a failed neoliberal system, that is to blame for political and social alienation. It is to divide immigrants and natives into "winners" and "losers", rather than recognise that they are all too frequently victims of the same system.

Labour does have a case to answer on immigration. The party's Faustian pact with the City entailed the cynical use of migrant labour to undercut domestic wages. But instead of fostering further division, it should adopt a non-sectarian approach that benefits all through a higher minimum wage and more social housing.

It was not, as Field and Soames suggest, Labour's "cowardice" on immigration that opened the door for the BNP, but its acceptance of an economic system that condemned much of the working class to casual labour.

The declaration that immigration has left Britain without any sense of "cohesion and identity" is particularly egregious. It is not migrants who destroy cohesion, but demagogues like Griffin and the City plutocrats.

Field and Soames do not even pause to offer token praise for migrants' economic contribution. Yet new figures show that in 2008-2009, immigrants paid 37 per cent more in taxes than they cost in welfare payments and public services.

By painting a wholly negative picture of immigration, Field and Soames do not challenge the BNP's agenda, they pander to it.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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