Election 2010 Lookahead: Monday 12 April

The who, when and where of the campaign.

And so begins week two of the 2010 election campaign:

Labour

Gordon Brown is in Birmingham today to launch Labour's manifesto (the Conservatives follow tomorrow, the Liberal Democrats on Wednesday). There has been much pre-launch speculation, including pledges to keep bus fares and children's clothes free of VAT, and raise tax credits for poor mothers.

Conservatives

The news agenda is likely to be dominated by Labour's manifesto, so Tory plans today have a certain "second division" feel to them (© Yvette Cooper). We have the shadow skills minister John Hayes unveiling a Tory apprenticeship scheme at a debate in Birmingham. The initiative includes a £2,000 incentive for small businesses to take on apprentices. Meanwhile, another senior Tory pitches up in Crawley. This time the party chairman, Eric Pickles, will be touring the constituency where Labour has a wafer-thin majority of 37 votes.

Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg hosts his party's press conference in London this morning.

The media

Television executives are getting excited about the TV leaders' debates, which kick off this Thursday (ITV, 8pm). So, tonight we have Michael Cockerell's How to Win the TV Debate (BBC2, 7pm) and Tonight: Spotlight on the Leaders -- David Cameron (ITV, 8pm). Meanwhile, Panorama (BBC1, 8.30pm) asks Is Britain Full?, to which Ukip answers, "Yes, it is." (Some newspaper listings suggest Jeremy Paxman will be interviewing Nick Clegg at the same time on BBC1, but we're reliably informed that the immigration piece will be going out in its place.)

Away from the campaign

President Barack Obama hosts a global Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC. Gordon Brown has chosen to remain on the campaign trail, so while the PM stays at home the would-be Labour leadership contender, and current Foreign Secretary, David Miliband gets an opportunity to do his international statesman routine, flirt with Hillary Clinton and do his leadership chances no harm at all* (*assuming there's a leadership contest, of course).

Follow the New Statesman team on Facebook.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.