Labour, Lib Dem and Tory immigration policy

The three main UK political parties outline their different positions on immigration


Border and Immigration Minister Phil Woolas said:

My goal is to create consensus for controlled immigration and therefore better treatment of migrants.

The government has made it clear that it will control the numbers coming to the UK from outside Europe to ensure that migration works for the benefit of the country.

The power of our new Australian-style points system comes from the flexibility it gives us to control who is allowed to come here. We keep the system under constant review, taking into account the needs of the labour market, the country as a whole, and population projections.

Migration has brought us considerable benefits but we need to control it carefully. I recognise there can be impacts on public services and communities. That is why the Government will continue to provide fair funding to reduce pressure on housing, health, schools and policing.

By creating a firm but fair immigration system we can build a consensus around controlled migration, which means immigrants themselves should receive a warmer welcome in the UK.

The points system is better than a cap, and we have already demonstrated its flexibility through the suspension of Tier 3 for low-skilled workers and our plans to toughen up the existing Resident Labour Market test for employers.

In addition, we will tighten the criteria for highly skilled migrants by raising the qualifications and salary level needed to enter the UK. In light of the economic climate, we have also asked the independent Migrant Advisory Committee to consider further changes to the way in which foreign workers can come here.

This all builds on the ring of security that already protects Britain, including fingerprint visas and ID cards for foreign nationals that lock people to one identity. We will use electronic controls to count people in and out at the border, while using new technology to screen high risk people. All of this will ensure we know who is here and that people are who they say there.

Lib Dem:

We do not think that population in general is beyond sustainable levels. However we do recognise that there is an asymmetry to the immigration in the UK. With so much of the population focused in the South East it is creating a strain on public services and on resources. However, in Scotland this is less the case. In a recent debate in the House, Chris Huhne, our Home Affairs Spokesperson, floated the idea of incorporating locality into the points based system.

We are quite open to immigration and understand its merits. There are perhaps a few key points about where we stand:

  • We don’t think the Government has done enough for immigration, or that it is competent enough to deal effectively with this issue
  • We believe it is vital to our economy and public services and in a world where borders are lowered we should welcome people who can bring skills and talent to our country and our public services. There are many examples of outstanding contributions from people from overseas
  • It is too easy to blame lack of jobs on immigrants, but the economy is a result of poor economic management by the government. Many people are now going home, such as recent reports about the Polish Communities returning to Poland. We should not forget that many people in Britain benefit from jobs in Europe and around 2 million Brits live in the rest of the EU.
  • Asylum seekers are different to immigrants, and we have international obligations to those who seek sanctuary in our state. However, they should be able to work and not be dependent on benefits.
  • We need exit checks to help manage and monitor the rates of illegal immigration, both Tories and Labour did away with these
  • We should deal with immigration at a regional level, catering to the capacity/resources and needs of different parts of the country – whilst the South East has a very dense population, Scotland has a relatively sparse population, meaning more space for any influx in population
  • Those who come to Britain should learn English, be able to integrate into society and respect our values
  • We would have better cooperation with our partners to tackle illegal immigration and would have a National Border Force with powers of arrest
  • We would also do more to monitor employers who have illegal immigrants on their staff and penalise or prosecute accordingly


Immigration is an important issue, which deserves calm and serious treatment. We believe that Britain would benefit if a consensus could develop about the best way to make sure we benefit from migration. We also believe that a socially responsible immigration policy needs proper controls to build public confidence in the system. This is an attempt to help build that consensus.

Our main conclusions are:

  • Asylum policy should be separated from policy on economic migration
  • Britain benefits economically from immigration, but not all or any immigration
  • We propose a two-stage process for deciding whose application should be successful. The first stage will be to make eligible for admission those who will benefit the economy. The second stage will be to control the numbers with regard to the wider effects on society. These effects include the ability of the public services and infrastructure to cope with new arrivals at both national and local levels, the environmental impact of a rapidly rising population, and the potential effects on community cohesion

Most years, we would expect the result of our approach to be a positive level of net immigration, but the exact figure would only be calculated after an annual consultation exercise with a number of bodies, including local authorities and housing and public service providers. While the precise number for any year cannot be predicted at this point, we would expect it to be significantly less than current levels from the rest of the world outside the EU.

To make this work we need better enforcement methods. This means a border force which is also trained and empowered to concentrate on those who over-stay, and the backlog of those working here illegally. All of this should be put in the context of a proper national debate about demographics, population levels and the distribution of population.

The Science & Society Picture Library
Show Hide image

This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.