Mandelson's "search parties" are the sort of immigration policy the Mail should adore

How do you make sure that migration helps? Pick and choose who you invite.

The Daily Mail's Tim Shipman quotes Peter Mandelson at a rally for the think-tank Progress:

In 2004 when as a Labour government, we were not only welcoming people to come into this country to work, we were sending out search parties for people and encouraging them, in some cases, to take up work in this country.

Shipman frames the comments as "a stunning confirmation that the Blair and Brown governments deliberately engineered mass immigration", but I see no evidence of that. Instead, it sounds like Mandelson is talking about the sort of programmes which were aimed at getting high-skilled immigrants to come to Britain – you know, like that one that David Cameron went to India to promote.

The fact is that programmes to attract migrants who could bring rare skills or high investment to Britain are the absolute least that a minister with a portfolio like Peter Mandelson's should have been doing. The BMA estimates a cost of £270,000 to train a doctor, rising to over half a million pounds for a consultant. Those costs are "for the most part, borne by the wider NHS"; so if nothing else, it makes sense to "send out search parties" for foreign doctors to encourage them to come here. So long as the search parties don't cost £200,000 a person, at least.

And it gets even better if you encourage entrepreneurs to come over to Britain. We're talking about people who will bring money to Britain and spend it on creating work. That's basically the holy grail of immigration policy, and something that even the Daily Mail usually supports.

In fact, the extent to which Britain should run "search parties" is entirely linked to the extent to which the Daily Mail's preferred migration policy becomes law. If we have an open borders policy, it doesn't really matter which people apply to work in Britain – the idea is that the growth in working-age population provides a boost to the economy almost regardless of who comes over. But when we start capping the number of migrants, then it becomes much more important that we encourage those who'll provide the most economic benefit to Britain to apply for visas, while discouraging those who might provide only a marginal boost to the economy. That's the logic of the Government's negative advertising in Romania and Bulgaria, for instance.

Of course, none of that matters if your reasons for not liking migrants aren't economic but, er, "cultural". But the argument that Mandelson's search parties "made it hard for Britons to get work" isn't based in fact, but in that curious sort of common sense economics which has little relation to the real world. In reality, they were exactly the sort of policy which the Daily Mails should adore.

Peter Mandelson in 2008. 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.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.