Labour veteran slates 'open door' immigration

The economic benefit of immigration is miniscule compared to the cost argues Frank Field as he lays

The Government’s open door policy on immigration has led to an unprecedented level of new arrivals. Over the last three years alone, something like two million newcomers have moved to these shores. Two reports out yesterday showed that the economic benefits are small, compared with the extra costs imposed on social services.

While there is no doubt that most recent migrants have come here to work, the beneficial effects on the economy are less certain. A report by the Home Office claims that migrants add £6 billion a year to the nation’s income.

But, as MigrationWatch point out, the benefit is miniscule when you consider that this amounts to half a percent of total production and that new arrivals add at least half a percent to the population. So the effect on GDP per head is tiny.

Importantly, the Home Office report didn’t focus on the effect migration is having on the Government’s welfare to work programme. The drive to get British unemployed into work is clearly being hampered by migration.

What else can account for the fact that while three million new jobs have been created since 1997, the number of British people on out of work benefits has only fallen from 5.65 to 5.4 million? Most of the new jobs have been taken by immigrant workers.

Why should a business bother to recruit and train the young British unemployed when they can get cheap and already qualified labour from abroad?

The second report from the Migration Impacts Forum, established to look at the social costs of migration, re-stated what everybody from the Local Government Association to the Head of Cambridgeshire police have said time and again.

Eight different regions took part in a consultation and of these, five reported increased difficulties on crime, six experienced growing pressures with health services and seven drew attention to growing housing problems resulting from immigration.

Everybody is now agreed, after years of mis-management, that the level and rate of immigration needs to be checked and brought in line, not only with the particular business needs, but also with the resources available to deliver high quality social services. The open door policy on immigration should be over.

But the Government will be unable to make this work under current EU agreements because new members of the EU have full rights to travel and reside in this country, and apart from temporary restrictions imposed on Bulgaria and Romania, to work here too.

Given that living standards in the old Eastern block are around one third of our own, it is no surprise they want to come here in large numbers. They will continue to do so until their economies catch up. But this will take decades. The Government must therefore begin talks on renegotiating the free movement of labour in the EU.

Frank Field has been Labour MP for Birkenhead since 1979. From 1997 to 1998 he was Minister for Welfare Reform
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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times