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Peerage and prejudice: why a MigrationWatch representative in the Lords is bad news

David Cameron gives a peerage to Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatch, which has caused controversy with its use of data, and harsh proposals regarding immigration.

The Prime Minister, for fear of losing more voters to Ukip, is doing everything he can to sound tough on immigration. Moving to the right on this concern is a bad move politically, which I, and many others, have argued won’t work for the Tories in their struggle against Ukip’s rise.

However, ploughing on, David Cameron has today given a peerage to Sir Andrew Green, the founder and chair of MigrationWatch. He will sit in the Lords as a crossbencher, and is one of four figures appointed by Cameron for their “contribution to public life”.

This has caused a mixed reaction, with some – including Nigel Farage and the Times columnist and Tory activist Tim Montgomerie – praising the decision, and others shocked by what they see as the PM’s desperate pandering to Ukip.

MigrationWatch is a think tank founded on the basis that immigration levels in the UK are unacceptably high, which calls for migration to be reduced to the “low tens of thousands”. It has caused controversy in the past with its use of data, and proposals regarding immigration that many view as too harsh.

Here are some reasons why people may feel uncomfortable having a representative of this organisation in the House of Lords, scrutinising policy and influencing legislation:


  • Accused of using dubious data

MigrationWatch is often slammed by its critics for publishing “specious” arguments based on misleading information:

 - A recent example is its report from earlier this year claiming that immigrants have cost UK taxpayers more than £22m a day for 17 years. This conclusion was based on figures from UCL. But academics at the University vociferously disagreed with this conclusion; they said the report was, “based on a serious misinterpretation of the methodology we have used in our work, which leads to fundamental mistakes that invalidate their calculations”.

 - Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, successfully complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) this year that articles about the tax paid by Eastern European migrants in the Telegraph and Mail based on MigrationWatch statistics were inaccurate. Both papers amended their articles.

 - An older example is its 2007 paper on the impact of immigration per head, stating that immigration merely benefited the population by 4p per week: the equivalent of “a Mars Bar a month”. This was based on incorrect data, and was therefore an underestimation of the economic benefit of immigration. It amended the paper, but stood by “the thrust” of its conclusions.


  • The PCC ruling against the PM’s article, seen by some as a “rehash” of MigrationWatch statements

The Prime Minister suffered severe embarrassment earlier this year when the Press Complaints Commission ruled an article he had contributed to the Telegraph breached the editor’s code of practice.

Cameron made the erroneous statement: “while most new jobs used to go to foreign workers, in the past year more than three quarters have gone to British workers.”

It was a claim based on ONS figures relating to net changes in employment, not “new jobs”, and the PPC said it “significantly misrepresented” official statistics.


  • Calls for Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights

In 2006, MigrationWatch called the UK’s adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights “an attraction for terrorists to operate in and from Britain, secure in the knowledge that, even if convicted, they can never be deported and that, if they come under suspicion, they cannot be effectively detained”, advocating what some Conservative party figures are currently, and controversially, discussing.

Rebutting the argument made by those in favour of the Convention that no one should be subjected to torture, MigrationWatch said in the report that terrorists have “been given fair warning”.

I asked if the organisation still holds its position on this, and a spokesperson told me it "favours a UK Bill of Rights, so yes".


  • Hostility towards the UK Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to grant two homosexual asylum seekers asylum

In 2010, the organisation put out a briefing paper following the Supreme Court’s decision, warning about the precedent it sets, and with rather dubious statements about our country’s approach to gay people:

It is understood that in some 80 countries the commission of homosexual acts is still a criminal offence. But the underlying assumption of the Supreme Court's judgment seems to be that if an asylum seeker professes himself unwilling to live discreetly as a homosexual in his home country and the evidence shows that that country's political and social system falls short of the degree of openness enjoyed by the population of the United Kingdom, then he is entitled to asylum here.


  • Past controversy

Though it's no longer the opinion of the organisation, back in 2004, MigrationWatch released a paper calling for HIV testing for potential immigrants, saying Britain should “follow suit without delay” countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand that use such a system. At the time, HIV testing to restrict access to Britain was criticised by the all-party parliamentary group on AIDS in 2003:

It would be in breach of international obligations and human rights to give mandatory HIV tests to asylum seekers upon entry and in addition there is no evidence to support that such a policy would be effective at protecting the public health.

This is notable, as Nigel Farage has recently caused outrage by calling to bar migrants with HIV.

A spokesperson told me the organisation doesn't delete past reports from its website, even if they no longer represent its views, which is why the 2004 HIV-related report remains online.

Here is MigrationWatch's statement on the peerage:

In the early years there was widespread reluctance to discuss the issue at all but MigrationWatch has worked steadily to improve public understanding of the impact of the very high levels of net migration of the past 15 years. Under Sir Andrew's guiding hand MigrationWatch has undeniably become a leading voice in a very necessary debate. 

Update, 27 October, 2014: This story originally referred to David Cameron being accused of "rehashing" statistics from Migrationwatch in his article for the Daily Telegraph. This was not accurate: the PCC ruled that the prime minister "significantly misrepresented" official statistics about migration, not MigrationWatch research. The article has been amended accordingly.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Brexit confusion is scuppering my show – what next?

My week, from spinning records with Baconface, Brexit block and visiting comedy graves.

I am a stand-up comedian, and I am in the process of previewing a new live show, which I hope to tour until early 2018. It was supposed to be about how the digital, free-market society is reshaping the idea of the individual, but we are in the pre-Brexit events whirlpool, and there has never been a worse time to try to assemble a show that will still mean anything in 18 months’ time.



A joke written six weeks ago about dep­orting eastern Europeans, intended to be an exaggeration for comic effect, suddenly just reads like an Amber Rudd speech – or, as James O’Brien pointed out on LBC, an extract from Mein Kampf.

A rude riff on Sarah Vine and 2 Girls 1 Cup runs aground because there are fewer people now who remember Vine than recall the briefly notorious Brazilian video clip. I realise that something that gets a cheer on a Tuesday in Harrogate, or Glasgow, or Oxford, could get me lynched the next night in Lincoln. Perhaps I’ll go into the fruit-picking business. I hear there’s about to be some vacancies.



I sit and stare at blocks of text, wondering how to knit them into a homogeneous whole. But it’s Sunday afternoon, a time for supervising homework and finding sports kit. My 11-year-old daughter has a school project on the Victorians and she has decided to do it on dead 19th-century comedians, as we had recently been on a Music Hall Guild tour of their graves at the local cemetery. I wonder if, secretly, she wished I would join them.

I have found living with the background noise of this project depressing. The headstones that she photographed show that most of the performers – even the well-known Champagne Charlie – barely made it past 40, while the owners of the halls outlived them. Herbert Campbell’s obelisk is vast and has the word “comedian” written on it in gold leaf, but it’s in the bushes and he is no longer remembered. Neither are many of the acts I loved in the 1980s – Johnny Immaterial, Paul Ramone, the Iceman.



I would have liked to do some more work on the live show but, one Monday a month, I go to the studios of the largely volunteer-run arts radio station Resonance FM in Borough, south London. Each Wednesday night at 11pm, the masked Canadian stand-up comedian Baconface presents selections from his late brother’s collection of 1950s, 1960s and 1970s jazz, psychedelia, folk, blues and experimental music. I go in to help him pre-record the programmes.

Baconface is a fascinating character, whom I first met at the Cantaloupes Comedy Club in Kamloops in British Columbia in 1994. He sees the radio show as an attempt to atone for his part in his brother’s death, which was the result of a prank gone wrong involving nudity and bacon, though he is often unable to conceal his contempt for the music that he is compelled to play.

The show is recorded in a small, hot room and Baconface doesn’t change the bacon that his mask is made of very often, so the experience can be quite claustrophobic. Whenever we lose tapes or the old vinyl is too warped to play, he just sits back and utters his resigned, philosophical catchphrase, “It’s all bacon!” – which I now find myself using, as I watch the news, with ­depressing regularity.



After the kids go to sleep, I sit up alone and finally watch The Lady in the Van. Last year, I walked along the street in Camden where it was being filmed, and Alan Bennett talked to me, which was amazing.

About a month later, on the same street, we saw Jonathan Miller skirting some dog’s mess and he told me and the kids how annoyed it made him. I tried to explain to them afterwards who Jonathan Miller was, but to the five-year-old the satire pioneer will always be the Shouting Dog’s Mess Man.



I have the second of the final three preview shows at the intimate Leicester Square Theatre in London before the new show, Content Provider, does a week in big rooms around the country. Today, I was supposed to do a BBC Radio 3 show about improvised music but both of the kids were off school with a bug and I had to stay home mopping up. In between the vomiting, in the psychic shadow of the improvisers, I had something of a breakthrough. The guitarist Derek Bailey, for example, would embrace his problems and make them part of the performance.



I drank half a bottle of wine before going on stage, to give me the guts to take some risks. It’s not a long-term strategy for creative problem-solving, and that way lies wandering around Southend with a pet chicken. But by binning the words that I’d written and trying to repoint them, in the moment, to be about how the Brexit confusion is blocking my route to the show I wanted to write, I can suddenly see a way forward. The designer is in, with samples of a nice coat that she is making for me, intended to replicate the clothing of the central figure in Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 German masterpiece Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog.



Richard Branson is on the internet and, just as I’d problem-solved my way around writing about it, he’s suggesting that Brexit might not happen. I drop the kids off and sit in a café reading Alan Moore’s new novel, Jerusalem. I am interviewing him about it for the Guardian in two weeks’ time. It’s 1,174 pages long, but what with the show falling apart I have read only 293 pages. Next week is half-term. I’ll nail it. It’s great, by the way, and seems to be about the small lives of undocumented individuals, buffeted by the random events of their times.

Stewart Lee’s show “Content Provider” will be on in London from 8 November. For more details, visit:

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, American Rage