Cameron sells Britain to the Indians

The PM softens his stance on immigration to encourage more skilled migrants from the subcontinent.

David Cameron has used a trip to India to promote British universities to potential applicants, assuring workers at Hindustan Unilever that there is "no limit" on the number of Indian students who can come to Britain. The promise is, however, conditional on a basic English qualification and the offer of a place.

The announcement is merely a restatement of existing policy, but underscores the difficulty the government is having reconciling two opposing aims.

On the one hand, it is trying to reduce immigration to the UK. Problematically, the target it has set itself — reducing net migration to below 100,000 people per year — is one it can't really affect directly. Around a third of net migration to the UK is made up of EU citizens, whose freedom of movement cannot legally be impaired. The most recent statistics available show a net inward migration of 76,000 EU citizens, against a total net migration of 166,000 people.

Similarly, one of the biggest downward pressures in net migration to the UK is emigration of British citizens. 151,000 British citizens left the UK in the year ending March 2012, and just 73,000 arrived in the same year. For opponents of migration who genuinely believe Britain is "full", encouraging British emigration may be a sensible proposal to reduce net migration; but for those with more nebulous concerns about "culture clashes", it's the last thing they would want.

Those intractable sources of migration increase the pressure for the government to use the only policy levers it does have: those affecting migration from non-EU countries. That is why, for instance, the Home Office launched an actual war on marriage on Valentine's day, arresting people in the registry office for "sham" marriages:

 

 

(Presumably those who thought same sex marriage was an assault on the institution will be speaking up about this literal assault shortly)

Similar pressure has been brought to bear on businesses wanting to hand out visas for work, and on students wanting to come to Britain to study. Even the American director of economics at Oxford University's Smith School finds himself at the behest of a British regime which is less than welcoming, prompting a letter to the Financial Times calling on David Cameron to "make good on the recent promise you made at Davos that 'Britain is back open for business'."

The problem is that, even as these last few avenues by which the government can control the rate of migration are squeezed as tightly as they can be, the economic situation is also making it painfully clear that they should be as wide-open as possible.

The only economic argument against immigration which holds any water is that low-skilled migration may depress the wages of the worst off in Britain, even as it boosts output overall. Such an argument leaves open the question of why the proper response to that isn't redistribution rather than restriction (as well as the more philosophical question of why it's valid to value some people's quality of life over others' based just on where they happened to be born), but even taken at face value, it says nothing about the virtues of restricting "high skilled" immigration.

And so, faced with a rather urgent need to boost the productive capacity of Britain, Cameron has started emphasising that latter aim. No longer is he telling potential overseas students "don't come here, it's cold and wet and you probably won't get any face-to-face teaching anyway"; instead, the UK as a source of high-quality learning and potential business investment gets touted on an overseas trip.

(There is also, of course, the fact that an influx of overseas students will do much to tide over the funding crisis in UK universities, as those students are some of the few who pay more than their education costs).

So don't be fooled into thinking that a mere "restatement" of policy is no new news. If it really does indicate the Government shifting its priorities from ensuring that "Britain is closed" to finally using immigration policy to boost the economy, it could be the biggest story of the week.

David Cameron travels on the Dehli Metro during his last visit, in 2006. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Barack Obama throws a Reaganesque baton of hope to Hillary Clinton

The 44th President's speech backing Clinton was also his swan song. 

Barack Obama looked at ease as he stepped up to praise Hillary Clinton and endorse her as the Democratic Presidential nominee.

To an upbeat soundtrack by U2 and cheers of his 2008 campaign slogan, "yes we can", he took to the podium at the Democratic convention. 

Borrowing the sunny optimism once so skilfully deployed by Republicans, Obama struck back against Republican nominee Donald Trump's "deeply pessimistic vision" of the United States.

He declared: "The America I know is full of courage and optimism and ingenuity. The America I know is decent and generous."

Like his wife Michelle, Obama painted Clinton as a grafter who wasn't in it for the fame. 

He praised her campaign when they were rivals for the Democratic nomination in 2008, and said that when she served as a member of his team he had "a front-row seat" to her intelligence, judgement and discipline. 

He declared: "I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman, not me, not Bill, nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America."

He then joked to Bill Clinton, the former President, who was standing applausing: "I hope you don't mind, Bill, but I was just telling the truth, man."

The two-terms President continually urged Democratic voters, many of whom originally backed Bernie Sanders, to get out and vote. "Democracy isn't a spectator sport," he said.

But while Obama was there to add some sparkle to the Clinton campaign, it was also an opportunity to shape his legacy. 

Commentators have often compared Obama to the popular Democratic President John F Kennedy, or the less popular but idealistic Jimmy Carter. 

Obama, though, has in the past praised the Republican President Ronald Reagan for changing the trajectory of US politics. 

In his speech, he borrowed from the "eternal optimist" to compare the Democrats with the Republicans. 

He said: "Ronald Reagan called America "a shining city on a hill." Donald Trump calls it "a divided crime scene" that only he can fix.

"It doesn't matter to him that illegal immigration and the crime rate are as low as they've been in decades, because he's not actually offering any real solutions to those issues. He's just offering slogans, and he's offering fear. He's betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election."

Obama praised a diverse country, where immigrant cultures combined: "That is America. That is America. Those bonds of affection, that common creed. We don't fear the future; we shape it, embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own."

The 44th President bowed out by referring to his 2008 campaign of hope, and telling voters "America, you have vindicated that hope". And he thanked them "for this incredible journey":

"I'm ready to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen. So this year, in this election, I'm asking you to join me, to reject cynicism and reject fear and to summon what is best in us; to elect Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States."

There is no doubt that Obama's warm audience was ready to pick up that baton and pass it on. Whether the wider country will be warmed up enough by his Reagan rhetoric remains to be seen. 

You can read the full speech here