The Immigration Bill is a triumph of symbolism over substance

The coalition's reductive focus on numbers and ever-tighter restrictions will not create the fair and effective migration system that it says it wants.

After months of cross-departmental wrangling, the government has finally presented its long-anticipated Immigration Bill to Parliament. According to immigration minister Mark Harper, the Bill has been designed to "stop migrants using public services to which they are not entitled, reduce the pull factors which encourage people to come to the UK and make it easier to remove people who should not be here", and the legislation contains a wide-ranging set of proposals to beef up the enforcement powers of immigration officials and regulate the access that migrants have to housing, NHS treatment and banking, amongst other services. 

The devil of all this will most certainly be in the detail. While the bill and its explanatory notes stretch to nearly 175 pages, it remains light on the specifics of how these measures will be implemented.  The Home Office has promised further details of secondary legislation in coming weeks, yet is already being challenged by experts who are sceptical that the proposals will have their desired impact. For instance, increasing the penalties for landlords who do not conduct proper checks on tenants is unlikely to deter those who are already unscrupulous in their practices, and may make those who are law-abiding more reluctant to rent to people who are perfectly entitled to live in the UK but who may have complex immigration situations. 

Yet Theresa May and her colleagues are unlikely to be too concerned about these criticisms at this point. Essentially, this Immigration Bill is a statement of intent and a triumph of symbolism over substance, designed to send a message that the government is serious about creating a hostile environment for those whose legal right to live and work in the UK is in question. It is also an explicit response to public perceptions that the UK’s welfare system is a magnet for migrants coming to access more generous benefits than they would receive at home, even though there is very little hard evidence of this and, in fact, plenty to suggest that most migrants put more into the system than they get out.

This week's statements will resonate with those who are worried that the UK’s current immigration system is unfair and unfit for purpose.  Their concerns are not misplaced, and the aims of reducing irregular immigration and preventing abuse of the system are legitimate and important policy goals. But the coalition government’s framing of these problems as an enforcement issue that can be dealt with simply by tightening existing restrictions will not create the fair and effective migration system that it says it wants. Rather, it seems calculated to reduce the appeal of the UK as a destination for all migrants, playing into their overarching commitment to reduce net migration to the 'tens of thousands' before the next election.

Given persistently high levels of public and political concern about migration, it is crucial that any further reforms to the UK’s immigration are principled, effective and capable of securing public consent. It is reasonable and indeed right to expect immigrants to make a substantial contribution and play by the rules, but in return, those who do should expect to be treated fairly and not all lumped together as scroungers intent on coming to the UK as 'benefit tourists', an image which does not represent the majority of migrants who come to the UK prepared to put in as much as they get out.

As it stands, the new Immigration Bill will do little to shift the UK’s migration policy or national conversation in this direction. If its proposals prove to be unworkable or unenforceable, it will only reinforce the impression of government incompetence in this area, and increase public distrust of all migrants. It is well past time to move away from a reductive focus on numbers and ever-tighter restrictions, and start a more constructive discussion about how to make migration policies and practices work more fairly and effectively for all.

Alex Glennie is a Senior Research Fellow at IPPR

Home Secretary Theresa May speaks at the Conservative conference in Manchester earlier this month.

Alex Glennie is a Senior Research Fellow at IPPR

Photo: Getty
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Zac Goldsmith is running a patronising and poisonous campaign

When he's not pretending to love Bollywood, he's blowing on the dog whistle, says Seema Malhotra. 

Here’s some movie recommendations for Zac Goldsmith:  Fan, Kapoor & Sons, Rocky Handsome. These are just a few of the current Indian blockbusters a “big fan” of Bollywood might have on the tip of his tongue. The Conservative candidate for Mayor of London thought he would impress voters of Indian heritage by talking of his love of Bollywood.  But he couldn’t name a single title.

This would be funny if it wasn’t typical of a Conservative election campaign which is both patronising and poisonous.

Diversity is one of the strengths of London as a world city. It helped us win the Olympics and deliver an event that was met with praise around the world. The economic benefits for the city of having communities with links with countries around the world are huge. Inward investment and tourism are among the obvious benefits.

Our history has seen us chose diversity and equality as the values we subscribe to as a nation. Sadiq was ahead of the game in calling for a One London Mayor who will unite our many communities, creating the conditions for shared prosperity and security for all our families and businesses.

Sadiq Khan is the candidate for all Londoners – with a hugely contrasting campaign Zac Goldsmith is sowing division and distrust between communities.

Take the leaflets sent to voters with Indian, Sri Lankan or Tamil sounding names claiming there is a threat to tax family jewellery. It’s a scare story that is deeply patronising. It suggests the target voters aren’t interested in the big issues facing this great city – the housing crisis, rocketing fares, air pollution and the problems facing small businesses.

Zac Goldsmith’s campaign has become becomes poisonous as well as patronising, because it effectively asks people to reject Sadiq Khan because he is a Muslim. Of course, the Conservatives don’t say it out right. Using smears and innuendoes it seeks to portray Sadiq as an extremist.  This goes way beyond the normal electoral struggle between two parties. It is divisive and dangerous. It is harming community relations and damaging London’s reputation in the rest of the world. Driving wedges between us is in no one's long term interest.

Some Conservatives seek to defend the Goldsmith campaign by pointing to the row over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. I accept that we in the Labour party do have a problem, and we know it is a problem in wider society also. But there is one big difference. In the Labour party, the leadership – Jeremy Corbyn and the whole of the Shadow Cabinet are committed to rooting out this evil, along with Islamophobia and other forms of hate crime we know are on the rise.

In the Tory party, by contrast, David Cameron is deeply involved in a campaign based on thinly disguised racism – an appeal to people to vote on along ethnic lines.

The low point in the Tory campaign came in a Goldsmith article in the Mail on Sunday seeking to link Sadiq Khan to the 7/7 terrorist bombings which was illustrated with a picture of the wreckage of bus from that awful day.

There are many decent Tories disgusted that their party is sinking so low. Former Tory chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi condemned the the article, saying it was "not the Zac Goldsmith I know." She asked: "Are we Conservatives fighting to destroy Zac or fighting to win this election.

The celebrated Conservative journalist Peter Oborne said “Goldsmith's campaign for mayor has become “the most repulsive I have ever seen as a political reporter”. 

He said the claims that Sadiq Khan is an extremist are “absurd” In fact, he said “Khan is a mainstream Labour politician who has dedicated his career to advocating centrist views…He is a strong opponent of anti-Semitism. He has campaigned constantly against reactionary and so-called "extremist" forces within the Muslim communities.

Shazia Awan was a Tory candidate in the General Election. She is alarmed at what she sees as attempts to “create a wedge and vitriolic rhetoric between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims.” She sees Zac Goldsmith as a man “too weak to stand up to those directing his campaign, and as a result ruining his own reputation and credibility in the fickle pursuit of power.”

Sadiq Khan has been dignified and reasonable in the face of this Tory poison. He is by nature a unifier, fighting for human rights and strong communities and against extremism.

I believe he has been winning the arguments on the issues that matter to Londoners and that is reflected in the opinion polls and the bookmakers’ odds. We have learned to distrust opinion polls but it is clear that Zac Goldsmith believes he is losing and losing badly.

But he should remember this: There is one thing worse than losing. It is losing with dishonour. 

Seema Malhotra is Labour MP for Feltham and Heston and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.