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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.