Net migration up 20 per cent

Figures show that limiting how many can come into the UK doesn’t necessarily translate to a drop in

Net migration to the UK rose by more than 20 per cent last year, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics annual bulletin showed that net long-term immigration was 196,000, up by 33,000 from 2008. This brings immigration close to record levels.

The number of people arriving in the UK actually fell slightly, by 4 per cent, taking the number from 590,000 to 567,000. However, this was offset by the number of people leaving -- both foreign nationals and British citizens -- which dropped even further, by 13 per cent.

Why are so many more people choosing to remain in Britain? It's possible that foreign nationals living and working in the UK are concerned about the coalition's cap on immigration. Those with UK work permits or other forms of legal status, but not citizenship or "indefinite leave to remain", might be concerned that if they leave the UK re-entry will be problematic.

UK citizens also stayed put, with long-term emigration falling to 371,000 last year from 427,000 in 2008. Why could this be? Difficult economic times are usually a push factor for people to leave the country. Perhaps, in the recession, fewer people are willing to take the risk, or are keen to hang on to their jobs -- it's all speculation.

What is certain, however, is that this highlights a fundamental flaw in the notion of the immigration cap, which David Cameron claimed would bring immigration down into the "tens of thousands".

Fundamentally, limiting the number of people who can come to the UK does not necessarily translate to a drop in net migration. Quite apart from the issue of EU immigration (which will not be included in the cap), we can see that there are numerous other factors, such as people choosing not to leave.

The number of people granted settlement in the UK between June 2009 and June 2010 also rose by 37 per cent. Of these people, 68 per cent were dependants of those already living in the country.

While the coalition plans to tighten rules on English testing for spouses applying for visas, it is difficult to see how it could feasibly (and humanely) limit the number of dependants coming to the UK. There is an ongoing debate about student visas, too; the number granted in the same period went up by 35 per cent, to 362,015.

It's a complex picture, and one that is difficult to decipher. But these figures certainly demonstrate that arbitrarily limiting immigration will, in itself, do nothing to solve the perceived problems. The consultation on how to put the cap into action ends on 17 September -- it will be interesting to see what the report comes up with.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.