More media myths about immigration

Misinformation provides cover for the coalition. Why isn’t Labour doing more to fight it?

Journalistic sleight of hand was at work today once more on the issue of immigration. Following a National Audit Office report that calls for increased checking and management information, a figure mentioned fleetingly in the report – that over 180,000 migrants "could be in Britain illegally", as the Telegraph put it – has hit the headlines.

To quote the report (PDF) at length, something that the media are failing to do, we see that:

The Agency estimates there may be up to 181,000 migrants in total (not just entering through the system) in the UK whose permission to remain has expired since December 2008. It expects to revise this estimate downwards, however, following matching with new data being provided by its e-Borders project.

A sober look at the actual words of the National Audit Office gives a very different understanding from the hysteria of the press. At no point is the figure 181,000 presented as either realistic, or even probable. To say that a figure, preceded by the two provisos "may be" and "up to" – and followed by an expectation of a downwards revision – is circumspect would be an understatement.

But that hasn't prevented headlines like the Telegraph's appearing across the media: "181,000 migrants 'in UK illegally'," said the Daily Star, Express and Evening Standard. Even the Independent, which really should know better, went for "Report claims 181,000 migrants 'in UK illegally'".

As the Home Secretary and her immigration minister Damian Green will benefit from poor information that will make their attacks on immigration more palatable to the populace, it's worth taking a closer look at the figures. Even if "181,000" was a reliable statistic and not an inflated figure, it accounts for just 0.0029 of the population. To get a sense of scale, 181,000 is about a third of the total number of people working in the care industry in the UK.

Still, it's more fuel for the anti-immigration lobby, and there remains little opposition from the Labour benches, seemingly cowed by the issue. Far from confronting the lies, myths and misinformation, the Labour front bench are operating a policy of see-no-evil-speak-no-evil on immigration. They are most likely hoping the matter will abate as a result of the Tory crackdown.

That's no way for Labour to win respect, nor does it work in the interests of the country. The opposition needs to be presenting a policy that would lead to a flexible, demand-based immigration system that would bolster the economy and fill vacancies.

Guy Taylor is campaigns and communications officer at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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