Show Hide image

“Go Home” vans can go home – the May Doctrine on immigration is dead

Amber Rudd barely mentioned immigration in her speech to Tory party conference. 

We’ve become used over the past seven years to hearing home secretaries announcing ever more punitive policies on immigration at Tory conference. First Theresa May, then her successor Amber Rudd, seemed to believe that it was impossible to overestimate their party faithful's appetite for draconian new rules to drive migration down. But today, something strange happened, that revealed quite how much politics has shifted in the last few months. Rudd barely mentioned immigration at all. And, between the lines, she suggested the May Doctrine on immigration is over.

Since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, the government has proudly vaunted its increasingly harsh migration policies. As home secretary, May, of course, made it her signature theme: from creating the “hostile environment”, complete with "Go Home" vans, to railing against universities who sought to make their institutions hospitable to foreign students, to the infamous man who couldn’t be deported because of his pet cat (sic). Her successor Amber Rudd apparently picked up the tune with gusto. This time last year, she disturbingly pledged to make companies keep a register of the EU migrants they employed.

At a time when the party faithful need rallying after a bruising general election, and when Rudd is rumoured to be mulling a tilt at the Conservative leadership, we might have expected more red meat on immigration restrictions. After all, government policy is firmly to end free movement (even if the precise timings are still unclear). And there is still the whole of non-EU migration to double down further on. But strangely, no such announcements were forthcoming. Ms Rudd instead announced that the government would “consult” on forthcoming immigration legislation, and that she had commissioned the government’s migration experts to provide evidence to form the basis of policy.

To the untrained eye, that announcement might sound so bland as to barely worth noticing. But students of Tory migration policy since 2010, on the other hand, will have sat bolt upright. Because there are three implications from Ms Rudd’s non-announcement. Together, they suggest that the May Doctrine on immigration is dead.

Firstly, the net migration target was not even mentioned. For seven years the government has sought to drive net migration down to the tens of thousands – and for seven years, it has come in for constant criticism. Opponents, including IPPR, have pushed back against a completely arbitrary number. The net migration target treats all migrants the same: a refugee is the same as an EU worker in the NHS, or a Brit returning from a period overseas. Last year, an IPPR report found the government could be getting the numbers wildly off – potentially miscounting international students to the tune of tens of thousands a year. Most of all, it succeeded only in driving up concerns around immigration while failing in its own terms to bring it down. Until today, the government had stuck to it. But Rudd’s silence on the net migration target suggests one of the hallmarks of May’s time in government is being quietly shelved as a policy failure.

Secondly, Rudd pledged to “take decisions based on comprehensive new evidence”, following a series of expert reports she has commissioned from the Migration Advisory Committee. Again, to the uninitiated this may sound innocuous. But immigration policy under May has consistently rejected expert evidence – to the extent that the Home Office allegedly suppressed nine reports showing immigration did not drive down wages. May had expounded an ideological insistence that there is only so much immigration a society can take – and that the UK was far beyond it. The implication of Rudd’s statement is that migration policy will be driven by evidence, not ideology. Implicitly, Rudd has sidelined another totem of the May Doctrine.

Thirdly, and most significantly, Rudd’s speech suggests that she realises the Tories have got as much mileage as they can from bashing immigration. The Tories haemorrhaged support in June among the young, the urban, ethnic minorities and those who are comfortable with immigration. The talk at their conference this week is of little else than how to win these voters over. By skating over migration, Rudd is signalling that, to her, the Tories’ future does not lie in doubling down on her boss’s hallmark policy of ever tougher attacks on migration.

It wasn’t explicit. Amber Rudd hasn’t splashed it in a 4,000-word essay in the Daily Telegraph like Boris Johnson. But, more subtly and with less flourish, the home secretary told Tory conference that Theresa May’s vision isn’t the one guiding Tory policy.

Chris Murray is a research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research. He tweets @ChrisMurray2010.


Show Hide image

The UK is suffering from an extreme case of generational inequality

Millennials across the developed world are struggling. But the UK stands out. 


“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”

Joni Mitchell’s lyrics may refer to her first trip to Hawaii, but they could just as easily apply to UK trends in generational living standards that the Resolution Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission has uncovered. That’s particularly so in light of new analysis comparing these trends internationally.

While there are huge living standards differences between high-income countries, there is also much shared ground, with the financial crisis and demographic patterns putting pressure on younger generations’ living standards everywhere. But the UK stands out. With the partial exception of Spain, no other country in living memory has experienced as large a “boom and bust” in generation-on-generation progress across both incomes and home ownership rates.

On incomes, the millennials (born 1980-2000) who have reached their early 30s are just 6 per cent better off than generation X (born 1966-80) when they were the same age. This is very small progress indeed when compared with the progress older generations are enjoying – baby boomers (born 1946-65) in their late 60s are 29 per cent better off than the silent generation (born 1926-1945).

These sorts of slowdowns have occurred in most countries, but not to the same extent. In the US, millennials in their early 30s are doing 5 per cent worse than their predecessors, but this compares to relatively modest 11 per cent gains for generation X relative to the baby boomers. In fact, in the US – despite higher levels of income – the absence of generational progress is what stands out. Typical incomes in the US for those aged 45-49 are no higher for those born in the late 1960s than they were for those born in the early 1920s.

Back to the UK. The “had it then lost it” story is also clear when we look at housing. Our previous research has shown that young people in the UK face much higher housing costs (relative to incomes) than older generations did when they were making their way in the world. In a large part this is driven by the rise and fall of home ownership.UK home ownership rates surged by 29 percentage points between the greatest generation (born 1911-1926) and the baby boomers, but this generation-on-generation progress has been all but wiped out for millennials. Their home ownership rate in their late 20s, at 33 per cent, is 27 percentage points lower than the rate for the baby boomers at the same age (60 per cent).

This fall between generations is much smaller in other countries in which housing is a key areas of concern such as Australia (a 12 percentage points fall from boomers to millennials) and the US (a 6 percentage point fall). As with incomes, the UK shows the strongest boom and bust – large generation-on-generation gains for today’s older cohorts followed by stagnation or declines for younger ones.

Let’s be clear though, the UK is a relatively good place to grow up. Ours is one of the most advanced economies in the world, with high employment rates for all age groups. In other advanced economies, young people have suffered immensely as a result of the financial crisis. For example, in Greece millennials in their early 30s are a shocking 31 per cent worse off than generation X were at the same age. In Spain today the youth (15-30) unemployment rate is still above 30 per cent, over three times higher than it is in the UK.

But, if everything is relative – before the parking lot came the paradise – then the UK’s situation isn’t one to brush away. Small income gains are, obviously, better than big income falls. But what matters for a young person in the UK today probably isn’t how well they’re doing relative to a young person in Italy but how this compares with their expectations, which have been shaped by the outcomes of their parents and grandparents. It’s no surprise that the UK is one of the most pessimistic countries about the prospects for today’s young.

The good news, though, is that it doesn’t have to be like this. In other parts of the world and at other times, large generation-on-generation progress has happened. Building more homes, having strong collective bargaining and delivering active labour market policies that incentivise work are things we know make a difference. As politicians attempt to tackle the UK’s intergenerational challenges, they should remember to look overseas for lessons.