Let's talk about immigration

Because we never do, do we?

Perhaps the most clichéd line one comes across in the intersecting worlds of politics and journalism is that immigration is "the subject no politician wants to talk about".

It's not just inaccurate but annoying. And it's most annoying when, in the midst of a discussion about immigration, a participant claims, with a straight face: ""We just don't talk about immigration." Doh!

As I noted in a Guardian piece during the election campaign last April:

The opening question of the first leaders' debate in British political history was on the subject of -- wait for it! -- immigration.

And, as I pointed out on Channel 4's 10 O'Clock Live programme last night, the newspapers, led by the Mail and the Express, talk of little else -- witness this morning's cover story in the Express:

£250 a week for every migrant

As for politicians, here's a short selection of some of the most egregious, hyperbolic and populist remarks made in relation to immigration and immigrants by leading Conservative and Labour figures in recent years:

Let me take you on a journey to a foreign land -- to Britain after a second term of Tony Blair.

- William Hague's speech to the Conservative Spring Forum in March 2001

Whilst they're going through the process, the children [of asylum seekers] will be educated on the site . . . but importantly not swamping the local school.

- David Blunkett, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme in April 2002

It's not racist to impose limits on immigration

- Michael Howard's 2005 election poster, under the headline, "Are you thinking what we are thinking?"

Our [immigration] system is not fit for purpose.

- John Reid, speaking in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, May 2006

Adopt our values or stay away, says Blair

- Telegraph headline, in response to Tony Blair's speech in December 2006, telling immigrants that they had ''a duty" to integrate

. . . drawing on the talents of all to create British jobs for British workers.

- Gordon Brown's first Labour conference speech as leader of the party in September 2007

I was in Plymouth recently and a 40-year-old black man . . . said, "I came here when I was six, I've served in the Royal Navy for 30 years . . . but I'm so ashamed that we've had this out-of-control system with people abusing it so badly."

- David Cameron, speaking in the first televised leaders' debate in April 2010

 

These are just a small sample, off the top of my head (and don't even get me started on Phil Woolas). There are many more such examples of British politicians using ramped-up rhetoric about immigrants and immigration to fear-monger, distract and/or impress Paul Dacre. I stand by what I said on the telly last night: those people who claim that talk of immigration is "suppressed" and demand a "debate" on immigration tend to be people who hold rather negative, hostile and ill-informed views on the subject. I've yet to come across people who say: "We have to have a debate about immigration because it's so good."

But feel free to prove me wrong below the line. Ready, steady, go . . .

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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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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